We knew we wanted to take a little vacation this year, but with boys ages four and one, I had to really think about where and what we did. I wanted both boys to have a good time. My other criteria was that we go far enough away that it is a getaway, but we are close enough that if need be, we could throw everything in the car and get back home fast. I also needed convenience, affordability and an easy schedule.
We finally settled on Atlanta, GA. It was far enough away that we really felt like we were getting out of town and both children would enjoy the Georgia Aquarium and Zoo Atlanta. There, our getaway was all set!
I knew we would visit both the aquarium and zoo, so I purchased a Pandas and Penquins Combo Ticket in advance after researching ticket options online, and I wanted to save money over regular admission. Also, both the zoo and aquarium offer free admission to kids under three, so I only had to purchase tickets for two adults and one child. I ordered our tickets through the Georgia Aquarium’s website as they have timed entry and we found it most convenient to plan around our aquarium entry time.
There are many different combo ticket options for all kinds of Atlanta attractions, including:
- Six Flags
- World of Coca-Cola
- Catching an Atlanta Braves game
- Seeing something weird like Bodies the Exhibition
- And much more
Doing some online research ahead of time is definitely worth it. There are also endless ways to save on attraction tickets.
I have an old friend who is a volunteer at the Georgia Aquarium, and asked him for tips in advance. He told us that on Friday nights in the summer, the aquarium stays open late and has a live band playing in the main area from 7:00 – 9:00 pm. He thought it would be less crowded if we could stay later, but with small kids, that can be a challenge.
We decided on a 5:00 pm entry time and couldn’t have been happier. Purchasing advance tickets online lets you bypass the long entry lines and we were inside the aquarium in about 5 minutes. And even though it was pretty crowded, the lines thinned out around 6:30 and by 8:30, when we left, there were very few people still in the galleries. This worked out great for the kids as we got to take our time and really look.
What did we think? My whole family loved it. It’s very kid-friendly, and my youngest was able to toddle right up to look at the fish at many of the exhibits since there are floor to ceiling glass walls. The galleries are gorgeous and flow off of a central hub which makes getting lost impossible. It’s all very majestic and camera-friendly and with so much to look at, please don’t be in any rush. If you love aquariums, visiting the largest aquarium in the world is worth it!
- They will search your bag when you enter. Most people like to know this up front.
- We missed the Dolphin Tales show by going late on a Friday. If they are not handing out dolphin show tickets at the entrance (they are free), ask someone at the information desk. If there are no tickets left, ask about going stand-by.
- There is an attended stroller corral for the dolphin show, but you can leave your stroller there any time you want. The smaller the stroller the better for navigating the crowded galleries.
- Going late, we ended up eating in the cafeteria, Café Aquaria, which had a great selection for both adults and kids. For the safety of the animals, straws are prohibited (at both the aquarium and zoo), so make sure you bring your own sippy cup for the little ones.
- We chose to stay at a hotel within walking distance to the aquarium. If you park in their deck, it cost $10.
The next day, a gorgeous Saturday, we got up and headed to Zoo Atlanta. Parking is free and the lot was crowded, but we scored a spot near the entrance. Totally worth it with small kids. We again got to bypass the long entry line since we had our tickets!
Zoo Atlanta was also super fun for my family. It was hot, but to their credit most of the walking paths are shaded. The animal exhibits are great, and we really enjoyed the gorillas, orangutans and of course, the pandas. There are lots of shady places to stop and look at the animals and lots of fun photo ops throughout.
The children’s zoo was closed while we were there, but all my four-year-old needed was to ride the train and he was in heaven. The zoo wasn’t quite as fun for my one-year-old since he was confined to the stroller most of the time, but the panda exhibit allowed him to get up close and point and coo at the black and white bears.
- Don’t forget hats and sunscreen.
- Take the time to go into the indoor exhibits. We really enjoyed the reptile room.
- The train and other rides cost extra. $2.50 per person for a single ride, or $8.50 for an unlimited ride day-pass.
- Lots of options for grabbing lunch, and all very kid-friendly. We ate at the Wild Planet Cafe and they not only had kid’s meals but toddler meals (toddler-size servings of three different foods)!
I do not recommend the hotel we stayed in, which was the Days Inn Atlanta Downtown. I chose the Days Inn based on convenience (it was easy walking distance to the aquarium), affordable price and consumer reviews on Travelocity, which were good. We arrived to a run-down facility and a very disappointing room. The hotel in general is long overdue for a renovation and update. The staff was very professional and responded to our requests promptly, but overall, we were not comfortable there. I would recommend visiting this page of hotels recommended by the Georgia Aquarium.
Since our aquarium entry time was 5:00 pm, we spent that morning in Centennial Olympic Park. It’s a beautiful park with lots of fun things to see. My kids had a blast in the kid’s play area. It’s right across the street from the aquarium and definitely worth a visit.
No matter where you go on your family vacation or weekend getaways and no matter what you do, remember the Jones family motto, “We’re making memories.” Have fun this summer!