Saturday, July 26, 2008

Tennessee Aquarium

The second of my usual pair of high points each month (weekends with Griffin and Carlie, what else???) involved a bit more travel than has been customary, but was a nice change.

It makes me feel old, saying I had never been to the Tennessee Aquarium in Chattanooga, as if it's still a new thing. In reality, it's been around since the late 1990s, with one expansion after another since then!

Did not tell the kids where we were going before we left, and had them stumped once we got past the municipal water park in Ashville on out way to I-59.

Random notes about the drive...the surface of I-59 is ROUGH...after we got past Gadsden I noticed not a whole lot has changed since last time I drove it except for more fast food places and brands of diesel I never heard of...and we made it in a little more than two hours....maybe the Chattanooga interstate highway system works better than I remember?

I'd heard a lot of good about the Tennessee Aquarium, and it did not disappoint. Spread across the once-derelict riverfront part of town, the aquarium and its IMAX theater stood as anchors of what obviously had been years of planned development.

Everywhere one looks between Broad Street and Chestnut Street, town is not only attractive, but there's also stuff to do, places to stay. There are also good jobs skirting either side of the commercial/tourism center. I would sure like to see a lot more downtown areas become places people want to be....Birmingham is working on it, but has a LOT of catching up to do.

Good points about the aquarium are many. It's well laid-out, has a very modern design, and is roomy and accessible without being sprawling. Staff was available but not imposing like they are at Six Flags. The exhibits were a nice mix of aquatic life (although I did not quite get the butterfly garden) such as fishes, reptiles, otters, and amphibians. More hands-on live animals than I expected (but those otters will bite, son!) and the whole place was just a lot more kid-friendly than I anticipated...not one DO NOT TAP ON GLASS sign did I see.

We did the two parts of the aquarium with all the many exhibits, and took in an IMAX's currently a whale and dolphin documentary narrated by Daryl Hannah and I could not help thinking about her in Kill Bill the whole time she talked about the fragile world of our brethren with fins. There is also a run up and down the Tenn. river in a go-fast tourist boat but all its trips were sold out by the time we got ticketed..which was OK because the kids were punked out by the time we'd seen it all and besides, that boat ride was pricey! What we saw and did pushed $70, and the "River Gorge" expedition would have jacked the tab on up toward $125.
Down points were few but glaring: Paid parking away from the deck was unnecessarily complicated due to its over-reliance on automation. How hard is it to just pay an attendant?

The process of the buying a ticket to get in was nowhere near as well-organized as it could have been...hmm that is too kind... it was a downright inefficient process! The wait to pay and get in killed almost 30 minutes. At a place that big, on a Saturday that really didn't look that busy, it ought not have taken that long. Folks who had bought their tickets online had their own kiosk to use, but it saved them no time. They waited just as long as we who paid fact, probably took longer if you count the time they spent at home ordering their tickets beforehand.

Even though just having time with my kids is a treat I look forward to like Christmas morning twice a month, this was a good trip for me and them, to get out and see something new without killing all our time traveling.