A Day in Atlanta, by Ted Cookson

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by Ted Cookson
Published in July 2007

Beluga whale at Georgia Aquarium, Atlanta, 32-second video clip
Beluga whale at Georgia Aquarium, Atlanta, 37-second video clip
African (jackass) penguins at Georgia Aquarium, Atlanta, 48-second video clip
African (jackass) penguins at Georgia Aquarium, Atlanta, 35-second video clip
African (jackass) penguins at Georgia Aquarium, Atlanta, 9-second video clip

Southern sea otter sucking paw at Georgia Aquarium, Atlanta, 34-second video clip
Southern sea otters at Georgia Aquarium, Atlanta, 17-second video clip
Southern sea otter with girl at Georgia Aquarium, Atlanta, 31-second video clip
Jellyfish at Georgia Aquarium, Atlanta, 34-second video clip
Jellyfish at Georgia Aquarium, Atlanta, 31-second video clip

Australian leafy sea dragons at Georgia Aquarium, Atlanta, 43-second video clip
Colorful tropical fish at Georgia Aquarium, Atlanta, 21-second video clip
Colorful tropical fish at Georgia Aquarium, Atlanta, 65-second video clip
Bonnethead shark and cownose rays at Georgia Aquarium, Atlanta, 28-second video clip
Asian small-clawed otter at Georgia Aquarium, Atlanta, 28-second video clip
Diver at Georgia Aquarium, Atlanta, 32-second video clip

My fiance Barbara and I had been talking about visiting Atlanta again ever since the new Georgia Aquarium opened to much hoopla in late November 2005.  Finally, on 9 May 2007 while I was on holiday in the U. S., we were able to take advantage of a special airfare of only USD 109 per person to fly from Ft. Lauderdale to Atlanta round trip. 

In Atlanta Barbara and I enjoyed an incredibly full day of sightseeing, returning home late the same night.  In a day that began in Ft. Lauderdale before dawn, we were able to take tours of the spectacular Georgia Aquarium and the nearby CNN studios.  In addition, before heading home we visited Atlanta's acclaimed High Museum of Fine Art and ate dinner at Mary Mac's Tea Room, an Atlanta institution for over 60 years.  Future visitors to Atlanta will also be able to include a visit to the World of Coca-Cola which opened on a site adjacent to the Georgia Aquarium on 23 May 2007.


Upon arrival at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, Barbara and I rented a car for the day.  However, a cheaper option would have been to ride Atlanta's Metropolitan Atlanta Regional Transit Authority (MARTA), which is convenient because it extends all the way out to the airport.  MARTA is the ninth-largest rapid-transit system in the U. S.; and, interestingly, it is the largest U. S. rapid-transit agency which does not receive state operational funding.  The Georgia Aquarium is only a 15-minute walk across Centennial Olympic Park from the CNN/Georgia World Congress Center MARTA stop.


Until the new three-story aquarium in the Dubai Mall opens in 2008, downtown Atlanta's Georgia Aquarium, with more than 100,000 marine animals of 500 different species living in over 30 million liters (8 million U. S. gallons) of water, is currently the largest aquarium in the world by far.  In fact, the Georgia Aquarium is 60% larger than Chicago's Shedd Aquarium with its 19 million liters (5 million U. S. gallons) of water and 20,000 marine animals. 


Although the Georgia Aquarium's adult admission is quite expensive at USD 24 per person, it is worth every penny. A gift to the people of Georgia from Home Depot co-founder Bernard Marcus, who personally provided funding of USD 250 million for the project and then solicited additional corporate contributions to cover cost overruns caused by subsequent design upgrades, the aquarium welcomed its five millionth visitor on 23 May 2007.  Among the most remarkable specimens may be the aquarium's four beluga whales and its three whale sharks, the only whale sharks maintained in an aquarium outside of Asia. 


The aquatic animals are exhibited in five different and massive environments.  "Ocean Voyager" includes whale sharks and nearly 100,000 fish in the museum's largest single tank, a 30-meter (100-foot) underwater tunnel, and the world's second-largest viewing window.  "Cold Water Quest" highlights polar mammals and beluga whales, while California sea lions, African ("jackass") penguins and Japanese spider crabs are also included in this exhibit.  "Tropical Diver" features a display of live coral and other curious aquatic life forms.  The child-oriented "Georgia Explorer" environment features touch tanks for sharks and rays and contains life forms from Gray's Reef, a national marine sanctuary off the coast of Georgia.  Finally, "River Scout" boasts an overhead river where fish from North America can be viewed from underneath.  Piranha and electric fish are also on display here.            


In addition to being a major new attraction for Atlanta, the Georgia Aquarium is also tasked with important environmental and conservation missions, working to help save endangered species through programs of education and research.  Atlanta's two male Beluga whales were rescued from a Mexico City amusement park, for instance.  The Georgia Aquarium boasts three full-time veterinarians as well as a staff of university students from the nearby University of Georgia.  The medical needs of the aquatic animals are handled from a USD 5 million on-site hospital, which is also used to conduct research.  Special facilities such as these can be viewed only on one of the hour-long small group behind-the-scenes guided tours which the aquarium offers for USD 50 per person. 


More information about the Georgia Aquarium can be found online at http://www.georgiaaquarium.org.  Visitors to Atlanta should also note the existence of several joint tickets which allow entry to both the aquarium and another attraction such as Zoo Atlanta or Stone Mountain Park.  These joint tickets are described in full at http://www.georgiaaquarium.org/visitUs/specialoffers.aspx.


For expatriates and others living outside the U. S. who rely on CNN as a major daily news source, a tour of CNN's state-of-the-art studios at CNN Center in downtown Atlanta can be a fascinating experience.  Visitors are able to view the various active studios from elevated glassed-in galleries but do not have direct access to the studio floors.  The USD 12 one-hour tour highlights the history of the studios responsible for bringing 24/7 news to over a billion people around the world.  Due to strong demand, tour tickets should be purchased online in advance at http://edition.cnn.com/tour/atlanta/index.html.


Founded in 1905 as the Atlanta Art Association, today the High Museum of Fine Art boasts a permanent collection in excess of 11,000 works of art. While the collection is strong in nineteenth- and twentieth-century American and European art, it also houses an interesting collection of African masks and sculptures.  Special exhibitions at the museum are often the result of strong partnerships with the Louvre, the Brooklyn Museum, and other institutions.  Information about the museum is available online at http://www.high.org.  Adult admission is USD 15. 

The World of Coca-Cola, which recently re-opened on a site adjacent to the Georgia Aquarium, features the world's largest Coke memorabilia collection, a functioning bottling line that produces commemorative 8-ounce bottles of Coca-Cola, a tasting experience for over 70 different Coke products, and a pop culture gallery featuring works of art by artists such as Andy Warhol.  Details are available online at http://www.woccatlanta.com.  Adult admission is USD 14 online and USD 15 at the door.


Mary Mac's Tea Room was founded in 1945 by Mary McKinsey.  Once but one out of a dozen and a half such tea rooms in "intown" Atlanta, today Mary Mac's Tea Room is the sole surviving tea room.  Noted for its hospitality and reasonable prices, the restaurant, with its period decor, is said to feature Southern cooking almost identical to what was served over sixty years ago.  The restaurant menu and other specifics are available online at http://www.marymacs.com.



ABOUT TED COOKSON:  Egypt's most widely-traveled travel agent, Ted has been to every country in the world!  He has also visited 307 of the 317 destinations on the list of the Travelers' Century Club (visit www.eptours.com and refer to World Travel Club).  A travel agent in Cairo since 1986, Ted manages EGYPT PANORAMA TOURS, a full-service travel agency, at 4 Road 79 (between Roads 9 and 10, near the "El Maadi" metro station) in Maadi.  Contact Egypt Panorama Tours (open 7 days a week 9 AM-5 PM) at:  Tels. 2359-0200, 2358-5880, 2359-1301.  Fax 2359-1199.  E-mail:  ept@link.net.  Web site:  www.eptours.com

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