(this portion of the TR is largely OT for RRC and features no serious coaster/park discussion. If you read it and complain later, I don't feel for you, son. TR with pictures is at realtalkguidetoawesome.wordpress.com)
During our prior trip to Atlanta in 2010, we talked a big game about wanting to visit the Georgia Aquarium. We just didnt get around to doing it. The deciding factor was cost; its more than double the price of its next-door neighbor, World of Coke. Having paid the money though to basically experience a Coke commercial last time, we went through and paid the $35 entry charge to see the Aquarium this time.
At the 9AM opening, there was a decent line of folk waiting to get in. Advance tickets could be purchased online or, as we did, at the Aquarium itself from touch screen machines, a la Busch Gardens parks. Only one of 4 was working, causing a little bit of a bottleneck, but we still managed to buy our ticket and line up before the aquarium itself had even opened for business. Skipping past the souvenir photo setup prior to entering to get in sooner, we found ourselves inside the massive center hub of the facility with few people around. Meredith suggested I take us to the most cramped place first. Having no idea what it was, I just turned right into Tropical Diver, which was a collection of reef fish and jellies. It is definitely pretty big, but no match for what was next door.
Ocean Explorer is the name given to the enormous tank used to contain the two whale sharks, a manta ray, and other large ocean fish, and it happens to be the largest sal***er tank in the world, surpassing Living Seas at Disney by about a million gallons. The sharks were part of Chinas whale shark hunt quota and would have been eaten otherwise, and actually are its second set (the original two died after just a couple years). Theyre enormous beasts and the scope of the tank is really something to behold. Theres a moving walkway that looks kinda like an airports luggage carousel to use and admire the creatures with.
Outside of the giant ocean tank, theres a few other exhibits. Well done as they may be, they arent nearly as awe inspiring for obvious reasons. Having Beluga whales would be a signature for most facilities; here they seem almost like an afterthought once you pass by 20 foot rays and sharks as big as a semi-truck. Theres several freshwater tanks areas to look at also, a touch tank, and so on. Honestly, if theres an issue, its that with Ocean Explorers size, it almost demands more space and seating areas to see it with. It seems logical to have a public restaurant or food court there to eat while looking at the animals, yet there isnt. As a result, while it is very impressive, ultimately you dont spend enormous periods of time in it. Theres a space reserved for those renting the ballroom, but that is of little value to the general public.
Outside of the main fish exhibits, theres a space utilized for travelling or temporary exhibits (at the time we were there, it was used for one on Frogs), as well as two shows. The lesser of the two is the Deepos Undersea Adventure 3-D movie, which has a number of 4-D sorta effects like water spraying the audience and streamers coming from the ceiling. The animation on the video is very well done, though my wife thought it a bit preachy in tone (humans have an effect on the oceans, dont dump trash, etc etc). I have horrible periods where I imagine to be exceedingly self aware, and I realized that the m***of the movie essentially couldnt be stopped. Humans will destroy the planet to have I-Pads and there is no way to stop us. A building filled with incredible wrapping LED displays isnt going to wow people into stopping their ways. But I digress before I start to sound too preachy. For what it was, which is a computer generated cartoon featuring an obvious ripoff of Nemo, it isnt bad at all. It looks very professional.
The more major of the two shows at the Aquarium is Dolphin Tales Presented by AT&T, a completely over the top dolphin show featuring tricks, fancy projections, expensive fountains with lighting effects, an original soundtrack, and oh yeah, dolphins jumping in the air for food. To be very blunt, I didnt like it. Stylistically, what the dolphin show aimed for, I didnt like or care for. My wife thought it was enjoyable. If you dont want to see a show that lacks self awareness or irony, is clearly colorful and deeply innocent, and you dont care about educational shit involving dolphins, then I can understand being pleased with the show. I think maybe the innocently pleasing nature of the show along with the dolphin tricks made my wife smile. I just found it hokey and ridiculous, myself.
To briefly summarize, a man called the Starspinner who makes the constellations had his boat sunk by Sea Monsters long ago, and requires the assistance of the audience and dolphins to raise it, which is preceeded and followed by some fancy digital projections and songs. Eventually the Starspinners ship does battle with the Sea Monsters, theyre defeated, and he makes a constellation for the dolphins. If that story sounds appealing to you, and you want to see it play out with lots of technical wizardry (and dolphins), I suggest Dolphin Tales. If it doesnt, dont go see it just because people tell you it is really well known and a thing to be seen.
Probably clouding my opinion of the dolphin show a bit was the entrance procedure for the theater. When you book your aquarium ticket, youre given an option of several dolphin show times, and you have a separate ticket then for that. Its a bit like the Indianapolis Zoo in that respect. However, to get into the dolphin show, you ascend an escalator where you meet an unorganized crowd trying to pare themselves down into two single file lanes. There has to be a better way to do it. Maybe have single file lines all the way down the escalator? How about checking the tickets before ascending the escalator? Something like that.
When the show ended, I was kinda done. Meredith felt like we should have spent more time at the Aquarium, but I honestly had no idea what we should have spent more time with. I saw all the exhibits and we didnt have any interest in eating there. We walked across the way to World of Coke to try and find a plush Umami figure we had foolishly not bought last time we were there and came up empty handed. On the way back to the car, we debated our options. I argued for Fun Junction, and Meredith agreed to it.
Meredith never wanted to go to Fun Junction. She referred to it as Bowcraft Junction in reference to the strip mall like amu***t park we tried and failed to go to the previous October. One of the strong reasons I agreed was that it was a pay-one-price facility for years under the name Dixieland Fun Park, and was exorbitantly priced as such. But it was renamed and re-envisioned recently, becoming Fun Junction probably some time we were on the trip. Now a facility offering individual ride tickets, I could reasonably justify it and pick up a much wanted *** miler coaster. At least I could if it were open. Which it wasnt. This was the case last time too in 2010 when the threat of potential bad weather was enough for it to not bother that day. This time, it just happens to open at 2PM on a Sunday.
For the second straight trip to Atlanta, our final stop was a meal at La Parrilla Mexican Restaurant. Chain mexican or not, Ive eaten worse. Its better than some of the options around here in Michigan, I know that much. And full and confused, we wandered back to the rental car area and then to check in for our flight.
Coaster Con is not about the picnic. Its not about the park. Its about the people. And the people are here and having a lot of fun.
One of the things you so often hear from people in discussing participation in one of these great big coaster dork events is that its about the people. Mark McKenzie wrote the preceding passage over a decade ago at what seems likely to have been the last Coaster Con he ever attended. When you dont go to parks because you love doing it (or getting paid), youre not going for what Id consider the right reasons. Our friend Chris was an often necessary component to keep our sanity, but he knows we didnt book the trip just to hang out with him. He didnt originally book the trip down there for us either. As strange as this may sound to a lot of people out there, we booked a trip to CoasterCon for, yes, wait for itthe coasters.
Now, the Con was busy, we were often very hot in the parks, and we came home about as tired as we left. Does that mean we didnt like it? No. Ive said this before in previous installments, but ACE provided a great itinerary, lots of meals, lots of fun, etc etc etc. If the parks were right, wed gladly go to another big coaster shindig like this in the future. But it has to be right, and by right, I mean parks that have awesome stuff, and not Carowinds. If that doesnt happen, we can always book our own vacations again.
Maybe to some we dont get it. Thats fine. Were still out there doing this kinda stuff because we enjoy it. We dont need another motivation.