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March 18, 2013

So I have been wanting to visit the Georgia Aquarium since it opened in 2005. I finally made it, and it did not disappoint. I mean really, FOUR whale sharks in captivity. The only other aquarium in the world with a whale shark is in Tokyo!

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The Georgia Aquarium is the largest in the world, with tanks holding 8 million gallons of water. 6.3 million gallons of water are reserved for the whales sharks that also share their space with FOUR manta rays, guitar sharks, enormous groupers, rays, and lots of other fish. The whale shark exhibit is the size of a football field and thirty feet deep.

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The whale sharks, that grow to forty feet in length feed on krill. The largest at the aquarium was 26 feet, but the tank is large enough to handle all four when they are fully grown. Each shark has an individual handler and is fed from a boat. The krill cannot be dumped into the water because the filtering system circulates 1 million gallons of water an hour!

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The sharks were actually saved from a Taiwan fishing kill and delivered to the USA by UPS! Now fishing for whale sharks, the largest FISH in the sea, is banned. The exhibit was so fantastic. There were multiple viewing areas, a presentation, and even a moving walkway that transported visitors through a tunnel. I could have stayed at this one exhibit, Ocean Voyager, for hours.  I think I was there for at least one hour anyway.

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What was special about the Georgia Aquarium was the amount of species of fish on display I had never seen before despite being a SCUBA diver. I went through the River Scout exhibit twice! This exhibit included albino alligators, piranhas, elephantnose fish, and an electric eel. I’ve never heard of an elephantnose fish that has electric organs in its tail to help it sense things in the dark. And while I have heard of an electric eel, I haven’t seen one and certainly didn’t know it could emit an electric shock of 500 volts!! It was so creepy looking.

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The Tropical Diver exhibit included a large coral reef with numerous tropical fish populating it. Since I dive reefs like this regularly, I probably took it for granted, but I loved the jellyfish display and the sea horse display. They were both fantastic, and I stood mesmerized by them. Sea horses are so hard to spot in the wild and the lighting in case made the jellyfish look beautiful instead of frightening.

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The Cold Water Quest Area was home to otters, Penguins (a type that a didn’t see in Antarctica), and FOUR beluga whales. The beluga whales were so curious and active as they whipped around the tank. They were so fun to watch. I also loved the sea dragons. I have only read about them and never seen one, so they were super cool to see float around.

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I never got my hands on one of the baby hammerhead sharks in the touch pool, just the rays, but really, a baby hammerhead!! Totally awesome. The only time I ever saw a hammerhead I was snorkeling around sea lions, and the hammerhead was hunting. I got out of the water…I didn’t want to be accidentally mistaken!

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The frog exhibit was hopping…pun intended because I’m running out of descriptive adjectives to use about this place! The most poisonous animal is not a snake or a spider, it is the Dart Poison Frog from Central and South America. It is beautiful too…multicolored…bright yellow and purple with a black, striped pattern. There were other neat amphibians too!

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I didn’t see the dolphin show because I had to head to the airport, but suspect it was as good everything else. I was pleasantly surprised by the aquarium. I knew it was the best around, but being spoiled by diving in the ocean and wanting to go see it for so long, I was afraid it might not meet my expectations. I must say, the Georgia Aquarium exceeded them…a must see!

I also completed a tour of the World of Coca-Cola. The World of Coca-Cola includes 13 exhibits ranging from meeting the Polar Bear mascot to tasting different colas from around the world, to unlocking the secret Coke formula, to admiring old Coke memorabilia and Coke commercials as well as surviving the 4D movie theatre. I would only recommend the 4D movie only if you choose the non-moving seats or unless you want a free chiropractic session. You don’t have to worry about motion sickness as suggested, only whiplash, as the row of seats jerk back and forth.

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My favorite exhibit, as always in places like this, was the Bottle Works center which explained the bottling process. I’m always amazed by the machines used to complete the process so efficiently. The bottling process starts with the clean in place unit which sends sanitizer and 180° F water to all the equipment in the bottling line.

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The syrup tank holds 1,000 gallons of syrup (a mixture of the Coke formula, sweetener, and water), which is enough to make 104,000 8 ounce bottles of Cola. Before the bottles can be filled, the bottles must be pressurized, drawing the beverage into the bottle with little or no foaming.

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A Bottle Inspector Machine takes a picture of every bottle to examine its interior for any defects. Good bottles are rinsed with de-ionized air and bad bottles are discarded. De-ionized air breaks the static charge and removes any particles clinging to the bottles.

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The Packaging Robot unloads empty bottles and puts them into production to be filled. It also stacks filled bottles as they come off the line. Most bottling plants use two different machines for these tasks.

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The syrup and treated water are mixed in the Blender. Then carbon dioxide is added to create the finished beverage. Once the bottle is filled and capped, a Fill Inspector measures the density of each bottle. If the fill level is incorrect, the bottle is discarded.

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With the exception of four year stay in a vault in a bank in New York, the secret Coca-Cola formula has always been protected in Atlanta. The formula was purchased by Asa Griggs Chandler for $2,300 is the late 1800’s.

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The Coca-Cola Company was incorporated in 1892 in Georgia. By 1912, Chandler was elected mayor of Atlanta. In 1919, the Chandler family sold The Coca-Cola Company for $25 million. Not a bad ROI!

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After my tour, I met up with another cousin, Fontaine and his girlfriend Cassie, for dinner. We went to the Juke Joint. It was packed on a Sunday night. I couldn’t help my curiosity and asked our waiter, “If it was always like this or was there a special event?”

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He replied, “Oh, on the weekends, you have to have a reservation. There is live music seven days a weeks, R&B, jazz…”

It was great. We had the best southern, comfort food! I went with grilled shrimp and grits (at least the shrimp were healthy). Fontaine and Cassie got fried chicken, greens, and Mac ‘n cheese (at least the greens were healthy) haha. That meal definitely called for an extra workout, but it was mouth watering good and fed a small army!! The jazz was good too! We got totally lucky that Fontaine randomly made a reservation on the website because he could…good move…and good times to catch up. It had been a few years given his service in the Air Force (Thank You!). A nice afternoon and evening in Atlanta…I’m looking forward to a morning at the Georgia Aquarium before heading back to Denver.

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