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Swim with the Whales in Atlanta

A family-friendly visit in the South

By Phyllis Steinberg

I’ve always been a fish lover, but I never got to swim with a Beluga whale, but my adventuresome friends did at the Georgia Aquarium on a visit to Atlanta. My friends donned sweat suits, goggles and fins and loaded oxygen tanks on their backs and dived right in to the largest aquarium in the world. The program, called Swim with Gentle Giants, gives visitors to the aquarium the once in a life-time opportunity to swim alongside hundreds of species of fish including four beluga whales.

The aquarium is divided into five spectacular galleries. I was amazed at the collection of species from stunning whale sharks and groupers to hammerhead sharks. There are many viewing spots including tunnels with swarms of fish swimming above and beyond.

Just across the street from the aquarium is the new world of Coca-Cola where visitors can sample 70 different variations of Coke from around the world. The bottling line producing eight-ounce commemorative Cokes is a real eye-catcher.

Lines of tourists enjoy the Inside CNN Atlanta Studio tour. I enjoyed being a tourist and waiting in line to see where my favorite news anchors work. The CNN building is located in the Omni Hotel in Atlanta right above a large food court. The behind-the-scenes tour demonstrates how anchors read the news and let volunteers try their hand at reading a news story. Of course, I was one of the volunteers.

There is always something to do in Atlanta. The High Museum of Art is a must. The Museum recently developed a partnership with the Musee du Louvre. Masterpieces from Paris’ famous museum are exhibited outside its permanent galleries. The Louvre Atlanta showcases furniture, tapestries, silver and other items used in royal households. Also, interesting is the museum’s folk art exhibit.

Even the Imax Theater is extraordinary in Atlanta. The Fernbank Museum is a part of the Imax and is home to a world of dinosaurs, artifacts, science interactive exhibits, shells, wildlife and more. I enjoyed a dinner in the museum and there was entertainment.

A Friday evening gathering place for locals, tables were artistically arranged indoors and out around the museum while guests have dinner, listen to music and have drinks in the lower level surrounded by a giant dinosaur.

Another popular tourist attraction is the home of Margaret Mitchell, author of “Gone With the Wind.” Guests get the inside scoop on why Mitchell wrote her famous novel, the desk that she sat at to write it and interesting tidbits about the local residents that inspired the novel. There is also a museum next to the house which contains special exhibitions and a gift shop with commemorative “Gone With the Wind” memorabilia.

The Atlanta Botanical Garden has a fabulous Fuqua Orchid Center and 15-acres of botanical gardens, walking trails, a children’s garden, a conservatory that houses rare and endangered plants from tropical rainforests and desert regions. I enjoyed mixing and mingling with families who brought their children to view this beautiful assortment of plants. Artists such as Dale Chihuly and Niki de Saint Phalle also have their works on display in the gardens.

I am a foodie and there are no shortages of great restaurants in Atlanta. For breakfast, Murphy’s is a well-established local hangout with wonderful brunch items from homemade muffins and croissants to dozens of omelet varieties with whopping portions that even those with the heartiest appetites can never finish.

Other outstanding restaurants are South City Kitchen located in Midtown, which serves up Southern cuisine in a vibrant cosmopolitan setting and Ecco, also in Midtown. Ecco serves seasonally inspired cuisine in a sophisticated yet causal elegance.

Atlanta is a college city. Emory University has a beautiful campus and houses the Michael C. Carlos Museum which features art of ancient cultures of the Mediterranean and the Americas including several fascinating Egyptian mummies; pre-Columbian pottery; ancient Greek and Roman sculptures and artifacts from the Middle and Far East. This is no little museum. It houses more than 15,000 objects that span 9,000 years.

This was my first visit to Atlanta, but not my last as there were so many interesting attractions and great places to eat. Next time, I plan to do as my friends did and swim with the gentle giants. They said it was the experience of a lifetime and I didn’t want to get my hair wet, so I didn’t do it.

Photos by Phyllis Steinberg

Additional Information

* Atlanta Convention and Visitors Bureau
* Atlanta Botanical Garden, Inc.
* Georgia Aquarium, Inc.
* Fernbank Museum of Natural History
* Inside CNN Atlanta
* World of Coca-Cola
* Margaret Mitchell House and Museum
* High Museum of Art
* Michael C. Carlos Museum (Emory University)

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