Georgia Aquarium – Tips to Making the Best of Your Visit and Enjoying It, Too

Have you ever been so excited to visit somewhere, but when you visit it just didn’t turn out the way you wanted it to?  Is there a city or an attraction that you really want to love but just couldn’t for one reason or another?

I really, really want to love the Georgia Aquarium. If there is an aquarium nearby, we visit it.  We love wandering around and looking at all the fish.  There is so much to love about the world’s largest aquarium from the beautiful displays to the hands-on activities.  It is one of the few places to see whale sharks, there is a dolphin show that the kids love and a 4D theater.  We have been to the aquarium several times and I just can’t love-LOVE-it…until now.  Sort of.

The number one reason that I just can’t love the Georgia Aquarium the way I want to is because it has always been ridiculously crowded when we have been.  It is crowded with grown adults who are acting like they don’t see the little children all around them just wanting to catch a glimpse of a fish swimming through the water.  People are pushing and shoving to get past you.  Just when you get to a viewing window, someone jumps in front of you.  I have been to the aquarium during holidays, the middle of the week, early in the morning, and late in the afternoon but it is always packed wall to wall with people.

On this visit, though, we took one of several behind the scenes tours that are offered.  We were able to see the top of the Ocean Voyager exhibit which houses the whale sharks.  We got there just in time for the 10:30am feeding where we watched aquarium staff float on top of the water dropping the whale sharks their mid-morning snack.

We also saw the top of the live coral reef exhibit, the commissary where they prepare the food for the fish, and the veterinary clinic.  We learned how you can look up to see a water wonderland and not this:

There are several options for Behind the Scenes tours for various budgets.

Here are a few of our tips to help you make the best of your visit and enjoy it.

Book a Behind the Scenes tour in advance if it is in the budget.  This will give you a look at some things you might have missed and tours are limited in size.  The Quick Dip tour is only about twenty minutes in length and costs $14+tax per person.

If you haven’t already booked a time, head to Guest Services as soon as you arrive to pick up your show times for the Dolphin Tales Show and the Deepo’s Undersea Wondershow. Both are included in your ticket but times are limited and are first come, first serve.  We got our movie times booked at 12noon and the next available show was 4pm.

Get in line early.  Ticket entry is done on a timed basis.  You will choose your time when you purchase your tickets.  If your entry time is 2pm, do not expect to walk up to the aquarium at 1:59pm and be inside by 2.  We waited in line for almost 30m before we got into the aquarium.

Save money by visiting during off-peak times.  Ticket prices vary and they are lower during the traditionally off-peak periods.

Leave the strollers at home unless absolutely necessary.  Because the aquarium gets crowded, strollers just get in the way.  Consider wearing your little one in a sling or something similar.  There are a number of places where you have to leave the stroller to enter an exhibit.

Leave the guns, knives, matches, lighters, and fishing poles (yes, it really does say fishing poles on the website) at home.  This may seem silly but my husband had to turn in his pocket knife, which he carries everywhere.  You aren’t surrendering it forever; you check it, and get it back later.  When we were picking up the knife at the end of our visit, we saw the box of lighters that had been collected during the day.  There must have been 1000 lighters in the box!

Know that there is a security check.  Purses and bags are all checked before you are allowed to enter the aquarium.

See the Dolphin Tales show and get there early.  I thought the Dolphin Tales show was a little bit Sea World meets Las Vegas and my kids adored it.  They loved the storyline, the dolphins jumping in and out of the water, and the performers swimming with them.

You can not bring food into the aquarium.  There is a small restaurant, but it is pricey.  We needed a snack so we bought a  brownie, a bottle of soda and a bottle of water for 10 dollars.  If you are buying your ticket online, you can purchase one of three meals ahead of time, Cafe Aquaria Combos, for $10 each (at a savings of up to 17% compared to regular pricing).  A sample meal is a hamburger, french fries, whole fruit and a fountain drink.  No substitutions can be made at time of purchase.

You will have to pay to park.  You can also purchase parking ahead of time with your ticket.  We walked from our hotel during the visit but we have parked in a nearby parking garage during past visits.

Have you ever had an activity or city that you wanted to love but something prevented it?  Was there something that made you change your mind (like the Behind the Scenes tour changed my mind about the Georgia Aquarium)?  Share with us in the comments!

*Thank you to the Omni at the CNN Center for providing us with tickets to the Georgia Aquarium.  As always, opinions are mine with no outside influences.

Virginia Aquarium and Marine Science Center

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I have always been fascinated by aquariums.  When I was younger, I wanted to be an oceanographer…that is until I found out that most oceanographers actually got off the boat into the ocean.  Being bizarrely afraid of ocean animals that might attack me, I quickly changed my career path.  My love for all things water has never dissipated and now my children are also mesmerized by even a tiny fish tank.  If I find out that there is an aquarium in our destination city, it moves up to the top of the list of places to visit.  We have been to huge aquariums, we have been to humble teeny tiny aquariums, and we have been to everything in between.  The Virginia Aquarium and Marine Science Center in Virginia Beach ranks at the top of my list of favorite aquariums right next to the Baltimore Aquarium.

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The first thing I noticed was that admission into the aquarium was fairly reasonable.  They have a special package that gets you aquarium admission, an IMAX movie, and a Creek Cruise for only $22.50 (adults) or $18.50 (children).  We chose to just get admission to the aquarium because of time constraints.  When you arrive at the aquarium, you purchase your tickets and the first thing that you get to is the huge beautiful wall of nothing but beautiful fish and other sea animals.  My two kids could have sat all day in front of this tank. 

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We saw sea turtles, sharks, otters, harbor seals, and rays. 

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There are many hands on activities throughout – the kids got to touch horseshoe crabs, rays and a skink. 

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I loved this aquarium because so many of the exhibits concentrate on the marine environment of Virginia.  It was a great way to learn more about the area that my sister was moving to. 

There is a boardwalk in between the two buildings where you can spot some more wildlife. 

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Beware though…the website states that the boardwalk is about a ten minute walk.  With small children, it is definitely longer than ten minutes.  After much whining, we ended up heading back when we hit the halfway point 20 minutes later.  We were mainly worried about the walk back.  We were afraid that the kids would not make it back if we walked all the way!

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A few of my favorite things about the Virginia Aquarium and Marine Science Center:

  • The Osprey Cafe – We didn’t have a chance to grab lunch before the aquarium visit so we ate at the cafe.  The prices were reasonable and the food was good. 
  • Crowd Control – The layout of the aquarium lends itself to large crowds.  It was very crowded but as we wandered through the exhibits the only sections that got bottlenecked were at the touch/interactive exhibits.
  • Large Exhibits – The exhibits are all very large…the touch pools are huge and the aquarium windows are gigantic.

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A few things that fall under the “not my favorite” category:

  • Parking – The parking is ridiculous.  Nobody was paying attention to the direction that you were supposed to go.  There is a second  parking lot directly across the street from the aquarium.  If we returned, I would go straight to that lot.
  • Gift Shop – The gift shop is very small and super crowded.  If you plan on heading into the gift shop, leave the whiny kids outside or skip it all together.

Virginia Beach Things To Do