We recently visited the Georgia Aquarium and noticed that they offered what they call a Behind the Seas Tour. We couldn’t resist the chance to get behind the scenes and see how the Aquarium is run. We have visited Aquariums all over the country and beyond and have been heavily into the Marine Aquarium Hobby, so getting behind the scenes of the Pros is of great interest. Naturally, we jumped at the chance.
Anyone with a real interest will be naturally drawn to these tours but the more layman might still be interested in seeing how the Aqautiums Tick. So we have created our Georgia Aquarium Behind the Seas Review to find out if the Behind The Seas Tours are Worth It.
- Attraction: Georgia Aquarium
- Location: Pemberton Place, Atlanta, Georgia
- Cost: General Admission: $39.95 – Walk-Up $44.95
- Upgrade: from $34-$38
- Aquarium Size: 11+ Million Gallons
- Largest Tank: 6.3 million US Gallons!
- Total Gallons: 11+ Million Gallons
- Species: 200+
- Number of Animals: 100,000+
First up we need to touch on the Georgia Aquarium itself. This is our top-rated Aquarium in the United States and is a truly impressive facility. The Ginat Ocean Explorer tank is a modern marvel and gazing in through the Ocean heater Window is a soul-warming, memorizing, and pretty moving experience. Seeing the Ocean Giants glide around the Tank is really something to behold.
The Tank holds the Aquariums Whale Sharks, Manta Rays, and a Giant Green Sea Turtle along with literally thousands of other fish, from Ginat Goliath Grouper, huge Jacks, and Trevally, a multitude of sharks and rays and is just timing with life despite its giant size.
Outside of the main tank, there is still so much more to see, from the incredible Beluga Whales, Dolphins, Sharks, Moray Eel, Giant Octopus, Alligators, and breathtaking Coral Reefs. It is a beautiful Aquarium packed with life, read our full review here. But for this article, we want to focus on the Tours.
- Cost: $15 (you can save $1 by becoming a member)
- Duration: 30 mins
The Behind the Seas tour is a short guided tour that takes you behind the scenes to see how the aquarium ticks. You are issued a tour guide who is an actual marine biologist who works behind the seas and really knows their stuff. You visit three different areas of the Aquarium and get to see the real goings on.
The Tour is not included in the regular entry fee and requires you to purchase entry as well, we entered using the Atlanta CityPASS and just paid the extra for the tours. These tours are popular so it is VERY advisable to pre-book. As we used the Pass we just pre-booked and paid for the tour.
Meeting and introduction
You are asked to check in for your tour 15mins before your time. The Check-in is located on the upper floor and after checking in we wandered over to the touch pool to check out the Rays. Your Guide, who is a real Aquarium worker then calls you over for their introduction.
Having a real Marine Biologist as a guide is a bit of a double-edged sword. First, they really know their stuff and can answer any question you may have during the tour. The downside is they are not always the most entertaining or enthusiastic. Our guide was a little dry and was mainly delivering lines from a script. Honestly, we would prefer this over a fantastically engaging guide who actually knows very little, but it’s something to bear in mind. We also go the impression they would rather be doing their job rather than pandering to a bunch of tourists, but again, this is just the downside of having really knowledgeable guides.
The Guide was clear that photos and videos are allowed but we should be mindful that they are providing a guided tour and our attention should be more on the guide and not on the selfie! So we got loads of photos and short Video clips, but they did not want us filming the whole time or ignoring their directions or information. As we actually really wanted to hear what the guide had to say this was fine by us.
After a short intro, we headed off to the first exhibit.
The first stop was the Beluga Whales. You are not actually allowed into the Whale Habitat but instead, enter a quarantine facility that overlooks the Whale Enclosure. We have some issues with keeping Whales in Captivity and are still unsure how we feel when we see them. We go into this in our Review of the Aquarium as it’s not to be ignored but it is a complex issue with no easy answer.
The Guide did not really touch on this and instead just focused on the care and conservation the Aquarium provides for the whales.
The quarantine area had a few interesting specimens such as the Epaulette Shark and a large Hermit Crab. Overall this was the shortest and least interesting part of the tour.
The Coral Reef was the most interesting for me as this reflected my knowledge of the Aquarium Hobby. It was fascinating to see all the various components I have used and set up myself but on a colossal and Industrial Scale.
The lighting rigs used to provide enough artificial sunlight to the Coral were very similar to my lighting rigs, just much bigger, you could feel the heat coming off them! The filtration and water pumps were all basically the same only much bigger and more complicated.
We loved seeing the back-end areas of the tank as this display is a large and complex eco-system and there are off-display areas that provide other functions for the tank’s system. These are where the Clean-up Crews, filter feeders, and Mangroves provide vital cleaning and cleansing of the water. It’s exactly the same as the Sump Tanks we use in the Hoby Aquariums, but again on a grander and more beautiful scale, the various Clams they had in the “really” were really beautiful!
The Guide also showed us the Frag Tank and explained how small cuttings were taken from large Corals and grown into large specimens, for use in the Tank, or to replace wild reef stocks. This was fascinating for most people, but dealing with Coral Frags is part and parcel of the Aquarium hobby, so it was cool to see the aquarium do it just the same way.
While the Coral Reef Tank was the most interesting, the Ocean Explorer Tank was the most mind-blowing! The Ocean Explorer tank is the Aquarium’s premier attraction and it is HUGE. 6.3 million gallons, nearly double the rest of the aquarium and larger than its nearist rival’s (The Shedd Aquarium, Chicago) total aquarium volume!
That’s the same 10 Olympic Swimming pools, and the surface area, which is what we were looking at here is nearly 2 times an Olympic pool and is a vast and huge tank, unlike anything we have seen before. The water is crystal clear and you can peer down and see the huge abundance of life milling around in the tank, at points the surface literally bubbling with movement. It was stunning.
Then, every now and then something truly moving occurs and one of the tank’s largest residents looms into view. They swim past incredible close, you can almost touch them and this is a truly emotional spectacle. To see a Whale Shark, even one in captivity, is seriously impressive stuff, and the oos and ahhs of the tour group really showed how special this was. The Guide here really tried to get the group to listen and engage in what they were saying, but they were competing with the Whale Sharks and I am afraid they lost.
The Whale sharks are truly incredible from the Ocean Explorers Theater window, but to see them from not behind glass, to be almost able to reach out and touch them was the highlight of our visit!
Are the Behind The Seas Tours Worth It?
Let’s break this down into two perspectives, the view of someone who is really into Aquariums, Fishkeeping, and marine life in general (That would be me) and the perspective of a more casual observer (such as Kate)
For me, this is a no-brainer, I preferred the Behind The Sea portion of the visit more than the actual Aquarium. For $15 this was a bargain! Just seeing the workings and goings on of the Coral Reef tank would have been enough!
For Kate it was less of a phenomenal experience, the reef tank was interesting, and listening to the guide explain how things work added a new element to the Visit, but on the whole, it was something she could have taken or left, it didn’t make her day shall we say.
But the Ocean Explorer is a totally different thing, getting to see this top side is something we both agree was worth the $15 and more, we would have liked a bit longer, like a whole hour there, but it was still just so amazing to see the Whales that close, to see the Manta Rays Flippers breaking the surface and generally gazing down into the teaming blue depth of the tank. It was incredible.
For a mere $15 this really is one of the best value add-ons for any attraction of this kind we have visited. We really can whole-heartedly say these tours are worth both your time AND money.
Have Your Say
Have you done the Behind The Seas tour at Georgia Aquarium? What did you think of the tour? Did you find the information valuable and did you enjoy getting to see how the aquarium ticks? Did you think the tour was worth it? Let us know in the comments below and let us know if you have any questions.