As I wandered the halls of Atlanta's newest attraction, the Georgia Aquarium, I came to realize something. As much fun as it was for me at 27 years old, I would have had even more fun as a 10-year-old.
Don't get me wrong; the aquarium is fun for all ages, but one of its charms is that it's so kid-friendly.
As a child, I learned early on that fish are really just for looking at, catching or eating. I was quickly taught not to take them out of their tanks to watch them "dance" on the tabletop, and I was definitely not allowed to touch them or tap on the glass.
It's a good thing my mom couldn't take me on my first trip to the Georgia Aquarium. There, they encourage fish-touching. Kids can come nose-to-nose with the fish and other animals; they can reach into tanks and touch live sea urchins, shrimp and even sharks. Plus, there's a
4-D theater for kids to enjoy.
The aquarium has several areas where you can touch different kinds of fish. In the Georgia Explorer gallery, you can touch bonnethead sharks, two different kinds of stingrays, horseshoe crabs, hermit crabs and even shrimp. In the Tropical Diver gallery, you can touch sea anemones, sea urchins and starfish.
All the areas are supervised, so you can't take the fish and animals out to watch them dance on the floor, but you can spend as much time as you'd like petting them. And there's a sink nearby where you can wash your hands, so Mom doesn't have to worry about getting fish germs.
Another neat thing about the aquarium is many of the tanks have floor-to-ceiling viewing areas. That way, kids can walk right up to the animals and be face to face with them. Even smaller children will be able to see into most tanks without being picked up by their parents.
Next to each tank is a small fact about the fish or animals inside. The aquarium doesn't try to bog you down with how big the fish will get or where it lives. (That can be found in the program.) Instead, you'll get interesting information such as: "The Asian small-clawed otters are not like other otters. They use their paws instead of their mouths to catch prey."
Inside these huge aquariums are thousands of fish, so there's always something to look at and enjoy. The two youngest grandchildren of aquarium founder Bernie Marcus - Catherine and Alexandra Morris, ages 7 and 10 - said the sea otter exhibit was their favorite in the aquarium, while one of his older grandchildren, Jacqueline Morris, 12, liked the live coral reef because it "had a ton of fish in it."
In many of the galleries, there are places for kids to interact with the exhibits. There are small tunnels that allow kids to put themselves in the middle of the tank surrounded by fish. Kids can even crawl under the penguin exhibit and pop up into a bubble in the middle. The penguins will come right up and look at the kids like they're the one in a fish tank.
Scattered around the aquarium are different play areas. Near the cafe are child-sized mermaid chairs that hold pop-up books with different fish tales. The Georgia Explorer exhibit holds a playground with tunnels, a ship and a giant two-story whale slide.
If your kids love "Finding Nemo," they'll love the 4-D theater at the aquarium. There, you can watch a 3-D cartoon about the dangers of polluting the sea, starring a singing sea turtle, a baby dolphin and the aquarium's fish mascot, Deepo. Be prepared to get a little wet while watching, though, when the fourth dimension of the movie kicks in.
As I walked through all the exhibits in the aquarium, I almost felt like a kid again, filled with wonder and amazement at the sheer size of the tanks and the fish.
I think the next time I go to the aquarium, I'll take my mom just to show her that sometimes it is OK to touch the fish.
Corinne Nicholson can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.