Review: Is the Georgia Aquarium Worth It?

The Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta is widely regarded as one of the best aquariums in the United States. It’s the world’s largest aquarium, holding 10,000,000 gallons of water. It’s also one of the busiest, with huge crowds gathering on a daily basis. The Aquarium includes a variety of exhibits and touts itself as having a greater variety of marine life than any other aquarium in the world.

Price-wise, the Georgia Aquarium was $35/adult at the time we visited (click here for current pricing), with a multitude of combo tickets available. There are a number of attractions in Atlanta worth seeing, so we highly recommend purchasing one of these combo tickets.

If you have a few days to explore Atlanta, the Atlanta City Pass is the best option in terms of value, but we had less time and only wanted to hit the “flagship” Atlanta attractions. Based on our research, those were the Georgia Aquarium, World of Coke, and Inside CNN Atlanta Studio Tour. We purchased the combo-ticket that included the Georgia Aquarium and CNN Atlanta Studio Tour.

A few other museums are included on the City Pass, but none are considered marquee attractions (possibly debatable), whereas the three we visited are all “distinctly Atlanta” draws.

The upside to the CityPass is that its total cost is basically the normal price of those three things, so the other two things on the Pass (Atlanta Zoo and Museum of Natural History look like the best options) are essentially free. Regardless of what you buy, it’s recommended that you pre-purchase online. Ticket window lines were long during our visit.

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If you do intend to visit the Georgia Aquarium, we highly recommend arriving when it opens. In fact, we had heard about its reputation for drawing crowds, and since we had limited time in Atlanta, we decided to show up at the Georgia Aquarium prior to its opening to get tickets.

Even then, there was a large line to get inside. This was on an off-season (based on hotel and airfare prices) weekend in January. Once inside, the Aquarium quickly absorbed the crowds, and was quite pleasant for the first few hours we were there.

By about noon, it was a little busier than we would have liked, and by the time we left, it was quite crowded. Presumably, weekends are the busiest days to visit, and crowds get progressively bad as the day goes on. Arrive at opening or go on a weekday, especially if you’re visiting during spring break or summer.

The Georgia Aquarium includes six permanent exhibits, including Cold Water Quest, Georgia Explorer, Ocean Voyager, River Scout, Tropical Diver, and Dolphin Quest, each marine life related to the environments. Dolphin Quest is the newest of these, with both an exhibit and a show.

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Cold Water Quest features Beluga Whales, African Penguins, and Sea Otters, as well as other marine life. The Beluga window here is huge, and the whales put on a show for guests. The penguin exhibit is fully “explorable,” as you can crawl under it through tunnels (these are small and probably are aimed at kids–but no one was around when we were in this exhibit, so I crawled through them; most adults won’t fit, though).

The penguins themselves are a lot of fun and highly engaged. We’re pretty sure one had a crush on Sarah, too. Okay, not really, but it kept following her as she moved through the exhibit and was making dreamy eyes on her. Likewise, the otters are a lot of fun. We recommend doing Cold Water Quest first, as it seemed to get the busiest later.

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The Ocean Voyager exhibit is essentially a tunnel that goes through the aquarium. You can either stand on the moving conveyor belt and be enveloped in the experience, or wander at your own pace.

Gigantic whale sharks and manta rays are the highlight of this tunnel, and it’s pretty spectacular when they swim overhead. We recommend making this your second stop in the Georgia Aquarium. The tunnel gets packed, and it’s better to experience the sights without tons of other guests and noise.

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Georgia Explorer is primarily an interactive gallery with touch pools of horseshoe crabs, sea stars, stingrays, and shrimp. Several large habitats feature a loggerhead sea turtle and the fish of Gray’s Reef, which is an underwater area off the Georgia coast designated a National Marine Sanctuary. We don’t recommend prioritizing this exhibit, but since it is visually prominent, it can be the first thing to draw crowds.

River Scout contains creatures found in the rivers of Africa, South America, Asia and in Georgia. River Scout’s big draw is its otter exhibit, which is a veritable play area for the fun-loving otters. There are also alligator, tree boa, and piranha. The otter viewing area gets busy here, but not as busy as the two preceding exhibits, so prioritize those.

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Tropical Diver, contains corals bustling with colorful fish (including “Nemo”) and hundreds of other fish. Jellyfish exhibits are also located here, as well as seahorses, fairy basslets, yellow-head jawfish, and many other creatures. This “gallery” can be explored at your leisure, the Georgia Aquarium recommends doing this last, and so do we.

In addition to these permanent exhibits, there are also temporary exhibits and upcharge experiences that require a more expensive ticket (some of these are included in the combo-tickets).

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With all of that said, is the Georgia Aquarium worth it? Putting aside the fact that value is subjective and varies based upon circumstances…Yes, yes the Georgia Aquarium is worth it. The Georgia Aquarium is world class, even if it didn’t quite live up to the hype for us. It’s going to take the average visitor at least three hours to explore, putting the cost at around $10/hour even if you do not purchase a combo-ticket. $10/hour for a world class aquarium is good value, and the value is significantly better if you purchase a combo-ticket, which we assume most wise visitors will do.

This, of course, assumes you follow our advice and visit early in the day. If you visit later and have to deal with the crowds, it may still be worth the money, but it’s less likely to be worth your time and aggravation. Speaking of time, that’s another important consideration with regard to whether the Georgia Aquarium is worth it. Again, we say “yes” here, but of the attractions in Atlanta that we visited, we’d rank it below both the CNN Tour and World of Coke.

Obviously, this will vary from person to person based upon interest in marine life versus media and crass consumerism, I guess, so weigh accordingly. It is a great aquarium, but those attractions are both incredibly unique and relate to brands intimately associated with Atlanta. All three can be done in a single weekend, but if you don’t want to spend your entire time doing touristy attractions, this may not exactly be desirable. Regardless, we say that the Georgia Aquarium is “worth it” in all regards, subject to the above caveats.

Your Thoughts…

If you’ve experienced the Georgia Aquarium, how would you rate it? Was it worth it to you? Please share your thoughts in the comments!

22 replies
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  2. Amy B.
    Amy B. says:

    If you’ve never been to the Chattanooga Aquarium, you are really missing out! The Chattanooga Aquarium is so much more comfortable…so spacious, tons of room for strollers, and room for a large family group to spread out and not lose one another. It’s relaxing, and enjoyable, whereas the GA Aquarium can be a nightmare with the crowds. The first time we visited the GA Aquarium we lost our child, for a few heart-stopping minutes, in the crowded chaos. Check out the fairly nearby Chattanooga Aquarium (it’s cheaper, too)!

    Reply
  3. Melissa S.
    Melissa S. says:

    I’m local, and we have purchased season passes the past two years. Two lovely changes/additions over the past year have really made this a visit worth repeating…Dolphin Quest (admittedly a poorly-scripted, cheesy original show) is now Dolphin Celebration – an informative, more guest-interactive session, highlighting interactions between the dolphins and their trainers and featuring more “tricks” (which is what the audience primarily wants to see from a dolphin show, IMO). The newest expansion, Under the Boardwalk, is a theater and presentation that includes a live training session of California sea lions, highlighting animal care at the Aquarium (all of these are rescue animals.) Both of these new shows are stellar presentations, and should not be missed. (It should be noted that Dolphin Celebration is now included in the base ticket pricing – it is no longer an add-on charge.) In addition, we’ve done several of the “behind the scenes” tours – the All Access Backstage Pass ($15 for non-members) is a worthwhile addition to your base ticket, if one is interested in that sort of thing. My children (8, 11, 17 and 18) all found it fascinating, as did their parents! The “pipe room” (my words) alone is worth the price – just a maze of supersize plumbing and salt maintenance activity – incredible. You also learn things like GA Aquarium employs (on-site) one of only a handful of nutritionists in the world for aquatic animals. (Literally, like less than 5 people hold this specialized degree.) And you’ll see where (and how) the whale sharks were first introduced to Ocean Voyager. Catching a feeding from atop this exhibit (a vantage point only accessible via this add-on tour), is also a highlight. I could go on…but suffice to say, I would now budget 1/2 to 2/3 of a day for a first visit, excluding any behind the scenes or add-on tours. (Oh, and we’ve also spent the night for a birthday celebration – what an experience, having the exhibits all to yourself and sleeping “under the reef”!) Pemberton Place has a HUGE parking structure, and there are tons of surface lots with day parking available – we’ve even attended over the 4th of July weekend – NOT recommended – and have had no trouble parking. One could easily manage the Aquarium, World of Coke, Centennial Olympic Park and the SkyWheel all in one day. (We then recommend heading 5+ miles over to Buckhead to the InterContinental Hotel to Southern Art and Bourbon Bar for dinner – yes, Chef Art Smith’s place – divine!) Sorry this got so long, but one more quick note Tom – when next you find yourself in the ATL, The Fox Theatre is a must-see. DO the backstage tour – it has such an incredible history, and it’s the only real way you’ll be able to see/tour the facility without attending a ticketed event.

    Reply
  4. Shefali
    Shefali says:

    Outside food is not allowed but 2 hours before the close food runs out
    Staff has no mannerism to inform while we wait 15 mins at the pizza bar
    Nachos are available but no cheese it was put away
    So we starve and cut short the trip

    Reply
  5. Me
    Me says:

    Visited the aquarium recently and was amazed at the cost. Thought the pricing was very expensive and they automatically add a $1 for “conservation and research” hence “non-profit”. The business closed early (5 pm) for a “$pecial event” so unfortunately didn’t get to utilize the full day (until 9pm). Found the staff to be less inviting with the exception of a few employees. Inquired at guest relations regarding the early closing and the employee seemed more interested in babbling on about something I had no clue what she was talking about instead of making my experience a “turn around”. As another poster commented on another site this place is a for profit business whereby they contain aquatic species as their commodity. I felt so guilty watching the dolphin show thinking how they really needed to be in their natural habitat (huge ocean) instead of the container they were housed in. Overall not impressed on so many levels and as I’m sure one would surmise I won’t be going back nor encouraging others to go.

    Reply
  6. Emma Bail
    Emma Bail says:

    Wow… Amazing Amazing Amazing… just a awesome place to Visit in Atlanta.Now i really can’t wait to visit this place in my upcoming Atlanta trip.Well written post with beautiful photos.Thanks for sharing

    Reply
  7. Bryan
    Bryan says:

    We visited Atlanta for a friends birthday, had a wonderful weekend until the aquarium. I will not get into too many details here today, but don’t waste your time and money. There are so many lovely attractions in Atlanta worth so much more…Fox Theatre, Agatha’s Mystery House, Skyview Ferris Wheel or even Ikea! Parking is a joke unless you want to get there at 6am to park less than 2 miles away. Bring a credit card and eat before you go. Tickets are way over priced as well as the concessions. Leave all personal belongings in your car, after searching you and treating you like a criminal, they take them from you at the door and then loose them, true story. Good luck!

    Reply
    • Tom Bricker
      Tom Bricker says:

      Was your experience as to the substance of the Aquarium itself a letdown, or was the experience just tainted by security and the whole process of getting in? (I totally understand why that would taint the experience, by the way.)

      Reply
      • Bryan
        Bryan says:

        Well Tom, it did taint the entire visit, but even if we hadn’t had our privacy violated it was over priced, there was no parking (well not friendly, close, easy parking) and generally lame. For the money spent there are some great things to do in Atlanta. The exhibits were just not breathtaking. However, the name is an aquarium, so maybe my bar was too high. Fish in a tank, that’s about it!

        Reply
  8. Dan Heaton
    Dan Heaton says:

    Wow, that tunnel looks incredible! they put in something similar but on a much-smaller scale at the St. Louis Zoo, but this just blows that away. Great job with the photos; I think this is going to be a must-see at some point when we head south towards Florida.

    Reply
  9. Laura B
    Laura B says:

    I’m an Atlanta-area resident, and the Georgia Aquarium is one of the things that I take all my visitors to. I’ve been to many, many aquariums over the years, but GA’s is a cut above, IMHO. I struggle to justify the cost sometimes (and let’s not even start talking about the cost to dive the exhibit – it makes Epcot’s DiveQuest look like pocket change), but I have to go at least once a year. Now, if I can only get my photos to look like yours…

    Reply
  10. Laura B
    Laura B says:

    I think the Georgia Aquarium is the best aquarium in the country. I live in Northern California and have been to the Monterey Bay Aquarium many times and I think the Georgia Aquarium is far superior. I could spend all day staring at the whale sharks and ray tank. I think it’s definitely a must do and even a reason to travel just to Atlanta.

    Reply
    • Tom Bricker
      Tom Bricker says:

      Interesting. Those are usualy #1 and #2 in ratings I see. The only other top-tier aquarium I’ve visited is Shedd Aquarium in Chicago, and I haven’t been there since I was a little kid. At the time, it was the greatest thing ever. If I went solely by memory, it was much better than the Georgia Aquarium, but I suspect seeing it through the eyes of a child (and remembering it as such) definitely skew my opinion. We’ll have to revisit it.

      Reply
  11. Doug Lambert
    Doug Lambert says:

    As an Atlanta resident, I try to go once every few years. If you’ve never been, it’s a must-do when you visit the city. Tom’s correct that it will end up taking you about 3 hours to see everything while taking your time. Repeat visits take about 1.5-2 to two hours.

    The aquarium also introduced a new dolphin show which was bundled with the admission ticket price. The show script is absurd and sounds like it was written by a ten year old, but the dolphins were impressive. It’s now, however, a show I would go back to see or opt to pay money for (again, opting out wasn’t an option). Also of note, you will need to pick up show tickets prior to the actual show. You pick up the tickets once you’re inside the aquarium. Many people were confused by this as they believed their admission ticket allowed them to go to whichever show they wanted. While your admission price covers the dolphin show, you must pick up the tickets separately once you’re inside.

    Finally, check the guide for special event times. We saw the otter feeding time, and it was easily the highlight of our last trip.

    Great review, Tom, and thanks for sharing!

    Reply
    • Tom Bricker
      Tom Bricker says:

      Great tip on checking the guide. Nothing special (at least that we wanted to see) was occurring while we were there, and we didn’t care to wait around, but it looked like there were some cool things worth seeing. I could see spending more time there if you really wanted to stretch it out.

      What do you have against shows written by 10-year olds?! 😉

      Reply

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