Went to the Georgia Aquarium today, where I had a fine time (well, I wanted to have a fine time, and did in parts) up to about the point that we finished viewing the exhibits and then a kind of sensory overload hit and that was pretty much it for me. My initial plan had been to make this a leisurely, long visit with a lunch break, but even H.o.p. was overdone after two hours and ready to leave.
We got in cheap courtesy a group rate, going with a number of homeschoolers, and have been looking forward to the visit since its September scheduling. Once inside however most split off to each their own and the aquarium is sprawling and broken up enough that only a couple of times did I again pass even a couple of those faces with which we’d made our way through the long entry maze culminating in the bag search and body wand check.
Why the sensory overload? I’m not sure, because I wasn’t exactly overwhelmed this second visit (our first was within the first months after it had opened) and the crowd was a manageable size, even spare to what I would have expected, and I overheard a conversation amongst employees in which it was mentioned how the economic situation has made an impact on the number of visitors they’re getting. This visit we could get close to the viewing windows and not worry about constantly moving along, nor was I crashing into a stroller every time I took a step.
It’s a huge, ambitious installation and one only wishes for success, but as with the first visit I felt as if I’d learned very little, educational content lacking, though we enjoyed the employee at the Beluga whale attraction who offered continual commentary and was taking and answering questions. She was informative as well as entertaining.
We liked the man at the horseshoe crab touching tank. H.o.p. was suddenly talking Pre-Cambrian period with him and the attendant replied something about the age of the dinosaurs, then when the attendant mentioned the sea turtle in the tank behind (H.o.p. had remembered from the first time and had entered this area specifically to see the sea turtle) H.o.p. went off to to that tank while I stuck around a few moments more, the attendant having mentioned something about spider crabs and doing his best to locate one for me.
If H.o.p. had cared to take advantage of the touching tanks, there was more than ample opportunity this visit, again there wasn’t the crush of bodies that made getting near them an impossibility for those not willing to push and shove their way to the front, but his preference was to watch.
I was sorry to see the penguin exhibit was closed and would be until 2010, as during our first visit they were so popular that we pretty much passed them by, afforded only a couple of seconds’ distant appreciation because of the milling crush of people in that viewing area. H.o.p. was pretty disappointed.
He wasn’t disappointed overall. He enjoyed himself and eagerly took my camera into the kiddy crawl areas behind some exhibits and tried for stills for a movie as he’s always thinking in terms of what he can make into a movie.
I tried to pinpoint this time what I find so exhausting about the aquarium. The way it’s broken up into these smaller cave-like portions (often with fake rock) that spider arm off a large open dining area for the food court that shakes the senses with a continual reverberation of bottled-up noise so that talking on my cell phone to Marty, even using my earplugs, demanded turning the volume all the way up? Going from one exhibit to the next means entering this central court each time and with its discotheque styled lights it’s not exactly a pleasant experience. At a museum I want something a little more meditative, calming adrenalin-amped children rather than overstimulating. The feel I get in the dark and hemmed-in cavernous parts is traffic flow impelling you though, even when there’s no traffic flow, as if the architecture treadmills with an artificially created stimulus to scurry, the effect being not unlike visiting Santa at Macy’s in New York last Christmas where you’re purposefully steamrolled in past and out; then when out in the main court the invitation is not to visit the various arms of the aquarium, that seem almost hidden, the psychological push instead seems to be for food, and not particularly inviting food at that. It’s like a high voltage mall court lined with peculiarly reticent shops, which is bizarre as those shops are the supposed heart of the aquarium, its attractions.
“Here’s food. OK, go see this arm of the aquarium. Now you’re back to the food court. Eat! Eat! Sigh, no? All right, here’s another arm of the aquarium if you’d prefer to do that rather than eat. Done? Back to the food court! Come on! Haven’t you eaten yet? Eat! OK, if you insist, here’s another arm of the aquarium. And now that you’re done with that little cavernous arm that offers no seating for viewing the marine life, back to the food court where there’s plenty of seating for eating! Come on, eat, will you? Eat! And get out! There! Through the gift shop!”
What’s weird is I love eating at museums. Nearly every single museum I’ve been to, I thoroughly enjoy taking a break and getting a sandwich or a snack and coffee, even if the cafeteria is packed to the gills with people. H.o.p. likes it and I like it and I don’t mind spending the money to sit and relax a bit and fuel up for more touring of the museum. Getting a little something to eat at the museum and discussing what we’ve seen and what we’re going to do next is part and parcel of the celebration of going to the museum.
We ate nothing at the aquarium. We purchased nothing to drink. We just made trips to the water fountain in the main restroom area. Which meant crossing through the dining court.
Museums are usually an exhilarating experience for me. Malls drain me. I don’t like shopping, I hate malls, I stay away from malls. The Georgia Aquarium is, for me, like visiting a mall and is draining. I enter excited and full of anticipation. I exit the gift shop exhausted (one must go through the large gift shop to exit), glad to see the skyline, and wondering why–given this is a rare opportunity to experience Beluga whales and diverse salt water marine life–I didn’t enjoy myself more than I did.