Day Two In Atlanta
Posted on August 5, 2022 Posted by Athena Scalzi 27 Comments
First off, thank you to everyone that commented on my first day post that recommended me places to check out, welcomed me to the city, or just said they enjoyed the post. I especially appreciate y’all saying that I’m good at this whole travel writing thing, it means a lot to me!
So, I was planning to start day two of my vacation with brunch, but the place I went to (Atlanta Breakfast Club) was far too crowded and loud for my enjoyment, so I went across the street to the aquarium, which was where I was planning to go after eating, anyways.
The aquarium was the thing I was most excited for on this trip. However, I didn’t really have a very good time.
Upon entering, it was immediately cool and dark, and there was a huge wall of moon jelly fish leading up to the ticket scanning machines. I love jellyfish, and moon jellies are by far one of the best types, so I was instantly happy to see them. There was a sign next to the tank with a QR code that said you could donate and name a jellyfish! I was super excited about this opportunity, but upon opening the link, the only option is to donate $50 to name one. I thought that that was a little more than I wanted to spend, considering the tickets to get in are about $40.
Moving on, after you scan your ticket and walk through the little gate thing, you will be standing in the central lobby area. Everything in the aquarium is like a branch that loops and comes back to this central part.
I took some pretty not good photos, so I’ll tell you a bit about what you see here. Like I said, each section goes away from the main area, and then loops back to it. Here we have “River Scouts”, “Dolphin Coast”, and “Cold Water Quest”. In the first photo, there’s the cafeteria called “Cafe Aquaria”, and another exhibit section called “Ocean Voyage”. Not pictured are two sections called “Predators of the Deep”, and “Tropic” something. Also a gift shop called “Sunken Treasures” or something corny like that.
I decided to get overpriced food from the cafe first, since I hadn’t eaten before coming, and ended up getting a corndog and cotton candy mini melts. It was about ten dollars.
And talk about southern hospitality, look at all the sauces they gave me!
I don’t even like yellow mustard.
The cafeteria was crowded, and I decided to sit in the upstairs seating in hopes that it would be a little quieter.
After finishing, I went to the section right next to it, “Ocean Voyage”, and was met with this sixty foot long tank:
This was obviously the main attraction of the exhibit, so people were swarming it like they were never gonna see a fish again in their lives. Besides the variety of fish you see here, there were sting-rays, manta-rays, and most interestingly, a whale shark. It was huge, and the star of the show. Everyone got riled up when it swam into view, only to disappear just as quickly.
That was pretty much all there was to see in that section, so I moved on to “River Scouts”.
Here we had tiny tank after tiny tank of small fish. Honestly, the only exciting thing to see in this area were the otters. And since that was the case, everyone was so crowded around the glass that you wouldn’t be able to see them unless you shoved your way to the front. Which, I didn’t, so I only caught a glimpse of them when someone would move to leave, only to be instantly replaced by someone else gunning for the spot. (This ended up being a common thing throughout the day.)
It was definitely an underwhelming section, so I moved on to the one next to it, “Dolphin Coast”. At the entrance of this section, there’s a staircase upwards, and two escalators that both go down. I thought that to be an odd choice, especially considering there are so many people with strollers. After heading up the stairs, there was a long corridor with screens, all displaying grainy ass videos of dolphins. I was beginning to be convinced that there were no actual dolphins here, only screens of them, when I finally reached a tank with a little viewing area that everyone was pressed up against.
Lo and behold, dolphins in a depressingly small tank. The viewing window was pretty pathetic, you could barely see anything, and there were signs everywhere promoting the dolphin shows. Basically, if you really want to see the dolphins, you have to go to a show. “Dolphin Coast” ended up being supremely underwhelming, as well.
I went back down the long corridor, down the escalator, and into “Cold Water Quest”. Now here was a cool exhibit. There were tons of freaky looking creatures in darkly lit tanks, like Japanese spider-crabs and sea dragons.
I really wish I had some photos of any of these things for y’all, but it’s so hard to get a shot with everyone being so close to the glass that their breathing fogs it up. Plus the glare and reflections on the glass was so bad that I couldn’t really take a photo even if the place wasn’t filled to the brim with people and strollers. God, it’s so hard to move around so many strollers all the time. They’re so big, and the areas are so small. Sheesh.
Anyways, every exhibit was pretty quick, once you could find a clear path through the crowd, so I was already moving on to “Predators of the Deep”. This section was basically just one big shark tank with several viewing windows throughout the wall. I was starting to get really tired of everyone basically smushing themselves against the glass, and then screaming “there it is!” whenever they saw an inkling of a fish. I like aquariums for the dark, quiet, atmosphere. They always seem like such peaceful places, but I guess anything can become unpeaceful when you get enough people in an area.
After the sharks, there was another beautiful wall of jellyfish, and it was the loudest, most impossible to get through area I’d been in all day. There were blockades of strollers, people having conversations louder than you have to talk at a rave, kids banging on the glass, and tons of blinding flash photography despite all the signs saying not to do that.
Right next to it was a smaller window of white-spotted jellyfish. So small that only one person could view it at a time. So I waited as patiently as I could for a chance to look, but every time the person in front of me would leave, someone would shove their way in front of me before I had time to fill the space. I got so fed-up of people cutting and being inconsiderate. It was hard to believe that other adults could be so rude.
I was definitely having sensory overload after that, so I headed to the gift shop to check the fuck outta the aquarium. The line was a mile long, and everything was overpriced, but I got a plushie, so it was all worth it in the end.
This is Percy:
I also got this bag of chocolate covered pretzels, but upon opening was disappointed to see that there’s a completely unnecessary divider in the plastic to intentionally cut down on the amount of pretzels they give you:
All in all, I would say if you have any problem at all with crowds, or noise, or claustrophobia, do not go to the aquarium. I have never encountered so many rude, inconsiderate people with rude, loud kids to match. I don’t really blame kids for being kids, but I do have an issue when kids do things like bang on glass, scream, run around and bump into strangers, and the parents do nothing to stop them.
Also, practically all the exhibits were underwhelming because there was a lot of “pay-to-play” action going on. It felt like you had to cough up cash at basically every turn. Speaking of which, after I purchased my items from the gift shop, I noticed they didn’t put my items in a bag (which normally isn’t an issue but I was going to be walking back to the hotel after so I didn’t want to carry them), so I asked for one and they said they don’t have bags, but you can purchase a five dollar reusable tote if you want. Sheesh.
I would say that I did have a positive experience at the aquarium, but just barely. Like it was negative a lot of the time, and almost enough to make me regret going, but I did see some cool fish, and got a stuffed animal, so whatevs.
After decompressing at the hotel for a couple hours, it was time to go to dinner. This was the one dinner this trip I had a reservation for, and have been looking forward to since I decided to come to Atlanta in the first place.
I went to the Sundial, which is on the 71st/72nd story of the Westin Hotel, and I definitely think I had dinner with a view.
The menu was fairly small, but had seafood, steak, chicken, lamb, a porkchop, and a vegetarian option of gnocchi, so there’s certainly something for everyone.
I decided to start with a peach lemonade.
They also brought out some fresh bread that was quite soft and fluffy, with whipped butter.
I totally filled up on bread before the appetizer even came, but I have no regrets.
I ended up getting the wagyu as the starter.
It was so tasty. The meat was super tender, and the contrast between the softness of the meat and the crunch of the flaky sea salt was superb. The cilantro sauce was light, bright, and had a slight kick to it. I absolutely loved this appetizer and would totally recommend it to anyone who loves a good steak.
For the entree, I knew the salmon was the right call for me.
While the salmon was perfectly cooked and moist, the risotto was more on the meh side than the delicious side, though I can’t say I’ve ever really been the biggest fan of risotto, so maybe I’m not the best person to judge it. As for the asparagus, I think a few more pieces would’ve been nice, but the pieces I did get were tender and juicy. It was definitely an enjoyable dish, but I think I liked the appetizer better. I ended up getting a box because I just had to get dessert.
As many of you know, I am on a quest for the world’s greatest crème brûlée, so this was an obvious choice for me.
This crème brûlée was certainly good, and I thoroughly enjoyed it, but it was not the best in the world, so my search continues. This one in particular was lacking in that perfect crystalline top layer. As you can see, it has some, but it was rather sparse. So much so in fact, there was no cracking when I tapped it with my spoon because there was so much space in between each section of burnt sugar. The berries were really fresh, though!
I would love to go back to the Sundial sometime, it’s been the best part of Atlanta so far.
I was totally stuffed after dinner, so I went back to the hotel and fell asleep almost immediately! This second night indicated the halfway mark of my trip! Let’s hope the third day is totally bangin’.
Never go to an aquarium unless school is in session.
That said, the Georgia Aquarium is very poorly designed. That whole hub and spoke idea means you are colliding with people all the time.
The Tennessee Aquarium in Chattanooga has it totally beat. You get on a huge escalator to the top of a tall building and everyone walks back down in the same direction on a ramp. You can spend time looking at things because no one is moving across your path.
I’ve found “Southern Hospitality” Atlanta-Style to be akin to MAD Magazine’s joke about a pair of Suthrin’ers going on about how they HATE Yankees, but they LOVE them Yankee dollars!
The one time I went to Atlanta was for the brief period in the Nineties where E3 was held there, as Senior Editor for a short-lived PC gaming magazine. The only place I didn’t have to fork out for a meal was the Holiday Inn breakfast (that was where our “lean&mean” publisher put us). We even had to pay up to go to industry parties with food and drinks (something I had never encountered before at trade show events) – which was here I first heard “Southern Hospitality” used….
Moreover, everything I ate was deep-fat fried and greasy (breakfast was scrambled eggs, bacon and sausage all swimming in lard), to the point where in desperation I fled to a diner and ate the healthiest meal I’d had in Atlanta – a hamburger with onion, tomato and lettuce, which was more fruits and vegetables than I’d gotten the rest of the time I was there.
After a week at E3 in Atlanta, I left with an extremely jaded view of the city and no desire to ever return. So hearing about Georgia being blackballed by various film producers thanks to their state’s abortion ban and anti-LGBTQia+ laws? I send them thoughts and prayers that they NEVER get another bit of out-of-state business until they start behaving like human beings!
If you have a chance, try Agave restaurant next to the Fulton Cotton mill lofts. It is my absolute favorite place to eat in Atlanta (I’ve been here since the 1987).
The High Museum is also a nice spot to browse and enjoy.
The Little Tart Bakeshop is also a wonderful place to visit.
What brings you to Atlanta? DragonCon is not until September.
You are good at this! It’s like we’re right there with you. I was feeling your irritation at the aquarium, I wanted to slap some sense into those inconsiderate (at best) aquarium goers!
But dinner, oh I am drooling, even over the merely acceptable crème brûlée.
I second the Tennessee Aquarium in Chattanooga. It’s a class act and well worth a stop on the way home.
BTW, if you really want to experience old school Atlanta, you need to go down to historic soul food restaurant Busy Bee Cafe for some fried chicken. It’s the best in town since Deacon Burton and his son closed down. It was once patronized by Martin Luther King Jr. and a number of other civil rights leaders.
Sorry you didn’t have a good time at the aquarium. I think it’d be lovely if they could reduce crowding at least part of the time. But that’s not how exhibit spaces in Atlanta work. Not ever. I’ve been overwhelmed by crowds in Atlanta’s orchid house, ffs.
For anyone else considering visiting, I’d strongly suggest doing one of the behind the scenes tours. It’s a much more thoughtful, less overwhelming view of the place. You don’t see the carefully styled fronts of the exhibits, but you can’t see them through the hordes anyway.
Just don’t go to aquaria other than Monterey. EVERYTHING in the US pales after Monterey. I will say the National Aquarium in Baltimore isn’t horrible. But beyond that? Uhhh … no.
And I’m happy to see the concessionaire offered you Heinz mustard with your corndog. My wife swears that Heinz is the best American mustard, more vinegar-y and far above French’s, especially for dipping onion rings into. Used to was you could only get it in restaurants, but in recent years it’s begun to appear on supermarket shelves. (Me? I grab Colman’s, which is also used for making “Chinese” mustard that you get in restaurants.)
hey Athena, I live in ATL. You’re probably booked up with suggestions and ideas, but if you need guidance, email me with Qs or needs.
It would be good to get you out of the downtown/tourist area, because there’s a big conference there starting Sunday (infectious diseases, AKA my jam) that will book things up. Can you take the MARTA out to Decatur? It is a small attached suburb, the place where Emory and the CDC are, and the “downtown” is cute and chill.
I’ll third the Tennessee Aquarium in Chattanooga over the Atlanta one any day. It’s not much bigger but it’s not as much of a cash-grab and it tends to be less crowded.
I’ve been to the Atlanta Aquarium twice and it’s not worth the hype.
I’ve never been to the sundial but that wagyu starter looked fantastic.
Also agree with everyone else that you do travel blogs well. You include all the details, positive and negative. That’s the kind of travel blog I like – I want to know what the real experience is!
Looking forward to Day 3.
Sounds like you’re having a good time!
You may one day eat the most sublime crème brûlée that makes you go, “That’s it, all done, I can die happy now.” Meanwhile, I hope you enjoy the search; your investigations make fun reading.
Marine critters in pens, urgh. After seeing Blackfish (archive dot org) and reading Peter Watts & Laurie Channer’s “Bulk Food” (Watts’s web site), I’ve lost any desire I once had to visit aquaria.
Sorry to hear the aquarium didn’t work out so well. I agree with the others that mentioned Chattanooga aquarium. I also enjoy it more.
I don’t know if anyone else mentioned it, but you should walk a few blocks down North Ave toward Georgia Tech and visit the Varsity at least once. You don’t go for great food, but it is an iconic place you should at least experience while in town.
While the whole white supremacy thing is there, Stone Mountain is worth visiting as well. Consider it a history lesson visit. It’s about 18 miles east straight shot on Ponce/78 to get there. MARTA doesn’t go there, so if you don’t have a car you’ll have to figure out a ride if you go.
Downtown Decatur is a very nice area to walk around as mentioned.
Hopefully you’ll have more fun than the aquarium for the rest of your stay.
For a better Aquarium, go to the New York Aquarium in Coney Island or the Aquarium of the Americas in New Orleans.
I’m sorry you had a bad time at the aquarium. We’ve only been on weekdays when school is in session, and it’s never been anywhere near that crowded. The River exhibit is absolutely amazing. Sorry you couldn’t see it. It also sounds like you missed out on the best parts of the Ocean tank, if you only saw the one view of it. There are also top views, and a moving walkway underneath that are both incredible.
There’s no way you could have known this, but things are especially wacky in Atlanta right now because many public school are starting back (we start early!), so a lot of folks may have been there for “one last trip to the aquarium before school starts”.
If you are a big aquarium fan, you might want to check out https://www.thesmokies.com/gatlinburg-aquarium/
From the review, it is far superior to the Atlanta aquarium. On the downside – you have to go to Gatlinburg which is a major tourist trap. Suggest only going in the off-season.
The Tennessee Aquarium in Chattanooga is vastly superior to the Georgia Aquarium. Try it if you ever get the chance. I’m enjoying your writing!
My mother wants us to go to the Atlanta aquaruim, but we haven’t been yet.
My one time in Atlanta my wife at the time and I visited the “World of Coca-Cola”, basically the Coke museum. I remember enjoying it. They had an area where you could try the various flavors of coke around the world. Yes, the recipe is different. It was silly fun.
We also enjoyed the tour at the CNN center. Though checking now I see it is closed due to COVID. But it was interesting to see the sets. They had an area (extra costs) where they would tape you reading a news segment of about 3 minutes. That was fun.
Anyways, thanks for your day 2 report. I also am a huge fan of crème brûlée. Sorry yours was missing the top layer of melted sugar. Love using my spoon to tap on it. “Hello, is delicious goodness home?” Then cracking it and… pure joy.
My problem-solving brain kicks in when I read all these (nice, juicy) details.
I think the aquarium should have risers or bleachers. It looks like many of the tanks are tall enough to make that work.
I think that the good advice here from commenters can be generalized: always plan to go to “family friendly” places on school days. We, the child-free, can do this!
Also, August is probably the single biggest month for family vacations in the US (Europe, even more so). I’d suggest avoiding travel then if you can (same as avoiding travel at spring break, Christmas, Thanksgiving, and even long weekends). Generally, we have way fewer (pre-pandemic) travel horror stories than many of our friends.
The problem with searching for “the Best Ever” anything is you never know which one WAS best until (right before) you die. At the moment you can only say it’s the Best So Far.
I have been a member of the Long Beach Aquarium since it opened. The advice about not going during school breaks is wise. During school there will be field trips, so go after 2pm, when all the little squealers are herded back to buses to return to suburbia. LB has wisely surrounded almost all their exhibits with wide open areas, big enough for all the strollers except at max crowd. My personal favorites are the leafy sea dragons, in an exhibit of curved glass about 12 feet in diameter. Plenty of space to gaze. Even here though, wheelchair & strollers must use 2 small elevators to get from floor to floor. Kind of a drag (I use a wheelchair). They also have a large outdoor lorikeet exhibit, with astonishingly pricey nectar. Ounce for ounce the stuff costs more than Chanel No. 5. But I gotta do it when I’m there.
Hope your day 3 is bangin’ too.
I am sorry to say that children who could be better behaved in public (and sometimes the parents are equally disruptive) is definitely A Thing; we see it a lot in the library. Since I will be in Chattanooga in September for a conference, and you have gotten a lot of recommendations for it, I will take a field trip to the aquarium there under heavy consideration. We have a good aquarium where I live (and an ocean, FFS), but whale sharks?!?
If we’re mentioning aquariums everywhere, let’s not forget the Baltimore Aquarium, now the National Aquarium.
I am so sorry day two was such a downer. it is sad people are not more aware of others and try to be considerate
I hope the rest of the trip is better
The irony of going to an aquarium and then ordering salmon for dinner…
I was going to echo thoughts on never go to the aquarium, any big attraction unless school is in session. You might still have sleep deprived mummies. Truly, they are. Might as well be high functioning zombies. I hate going into loud places. I have ear plugs for that. I even sometimes bring my range ear muffs that cancel noise but let me hear conversations.
I read Day 1 too late to comment. Neat looking place. Although I’d be in their faces about the towels. That’s just rude.
Sorry the aquarium was so crowded, I also enjoy the quiet, slightly other-worldly gloom, which you didn’t get.