Traveling down South: the Georgia Aquarium and Disney World

8 Aug

We knew that the next RAW (Regional Aquatics Workshop) was going to happen in Georgia two years before the actual date and I was counting the days until the trip.  It would be my first trip to Georgia and I was excited, I love it in the South because people are usually so friendly and everything is nicer then in LA.  I had just enough time to get one dive in before the trip where me and my buddy Corey both scored some nice white seabass :).  Our families feasted on the fish and it was soon time for me to start packing.

A day or two later, the super shuttle picked me up bright and early.   I kissed my wife and newborn son goodbye and headed out the door.  I was pleased that I was the only guy in there but it wouldn’t last long.  Jeez, the shuttle stopped like 5 times picking up wary travelers from all over OC. I laughed when it stopped at a familiar address and one of my coworkers peeked inside. “Bitch get to the back of the bus” I laughed, he shoved me aside and sat next to me and we took off for the airport.

When we landed in Hartford I was impressed.   Welcome to Hotlanta!!  Everything was clean and well managed, no sticky floors, trash strewn about like LAX!  Wow even the bathrooms were shiny and clean!  We navigated to our luggage and took off for the Embassy Suites.  We had arranged to stay at the hotel thru the Georgia Aquarium, they were hosting the conference and the sessions were held in the conference rooms of the hotel, with the aquarium within walking distance. We dropped our stuff off and went out to explore.

The area seemed like it had been recently redeveloped, it was pretty new and the park was very clean and welcoming. In fact that whole area had a great feel to it, it was like everyone was so clean and green, I liked that a lot. Pretty much every night the Georgia Aquarium had arranged for some sort of icebreaker, we clicked bottles and glasses and met other aquarists from around the country.  It was a fairly large conference with hundreds of Aquarists from around the country.  Each day was packed with presentations, wide ranges from vet talks, to education, white sharks to whale sharks.   The conference was pretty much elbow to elbow with people.  My presentation was on collecting fish using a net I developed, it is unique because it is run with two freedivers.  Since both me and my coworker are well versed in freediving, the net works well and we are able to collect thousands of fish in one scoop.

I’m one of those guys blessed with a short attention span, nowadays it’s called ADD and kids take meds. In the old days you would pretty much just get wacked or else you learned how to deal with it. I chose to hide it with the latter.  Because of this fault, I worked my powerpoint with a lot of pictures and a video that was synced with music. I’m the first to admit I have no faith in microsoft I was nervous when I started my presentation.  I tried to get the shakiness out of my voice,  took a deep breath and ran through it. To my relief the techs were running macs and the video ran perfect and we ended with applause instead of the rotten apples and tomatoes hurled at me like I’m used to.  Mission accomplished!  Time to kick back and relax.  All of my close friends were now done with our presentations and we celebrated with a round of shots, followed by another round of drinks and an open bar.  We almost overslept and barely made it to the icebreaker that night.

On one of the nights Georgia Aquarium hosted a behind the scenes tour. We met with a ton of their aquarists, I’d have to say among other things besides the spotless pumps, filters, skimmers and even a tool room/workshop that looked like something in a magazine with every tool in it’s place. We were more amazed by their hospitality, after a week of hosting the conference we knew their aquarists had to be dead tired but they were so inviting, so quick to answer any questions we had that I immediately envied their facility. If you’ve never been there I’d highly recommend it. Many of their tanks were huge, and what they might lack in numbers they sure made up with wonderful displays. Our favorite would be standing above the whale shark/manta ray tank. I’ve swam with these behmouths in the wild during my freediving/fishing trips but man seeing a full grown whale shark pass below you is absolutely freaking amazing. We sat in the big room later and watched manta rays doing barrel rolls as they tried to scoop up food and watched gigantic jacks schooling in the 6.3 million gallon tank.  It is the largest indoor tank in the world.   I could spend hours in that exhibit alone, the only thing I’ve seen that rivaled it is the tuna tank at Tokyo Sea Life Park and the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s open ocean tank. What can I say, I’m a sucker for big fish!

Above and below the Ocean Voyager Tank

I so wish our workshop looked like this!!!

Food Prep Room                                                    Pump Room

Belugas                                                                                        Kids Exploration Area

Freshwater cichlid tank

The third day of sessions had another great gathering of interesting talks.  This was the last full day of presentations and  that evening somewhere in the blur of the night we ended up on the rooftop of  Ventanas for a cocktail reception.  It’s a high end lounge complete with a really awesome city view. We clinked bottles and chatted with old friends and made contacts with new ones. It was one of the highlights of my trip, but it would only be the beginning of many highlights to follow.

The conference was over too soon, we regrettably said our goodbyes and made plans to hit up our new friends for visits sometime soon. My trip would not be over just yet, even though my two month old begged for my attention back home with my loving wife I had a chance to see my brother and his wife.  They had moved to Georgia a few years ago and I had never visited their new house.  At the end of the conference I would be greeted by a BMW (black of course because it’s a family trademark) and slid in the black leather seats as we headed towards the airport. In a couple of hours we touched down in Orlando, one of my favorite places to visit.   For a guy who loves Disneyland, it’s a playground for the short attention spanned. I hadn’t been back to Orlando in probably 20 something years but it was pretty much how I remembered it, green and full of adventure.  Disneyworld is the number one tourist destination in the world and when you get there you’ll know why.  Theme parks all around, lots of water all around (probably teaming with largemouth bass), and full of more southern hospitality.   We stayed at Disney’s animal kingdom lodge, a place where you could see giraffes walking in front of your room and hippos bathing in the pools.  We would not even have time to enjoy the facilities as we were trying to pack as much as possible into a few days.   Most amazing to me was the attention to detail, it seemed like you were in a real african lodge, an extension of Disneyland, with air conditioning of course. We had a huge dinner at one of their restaurants and I had a hard time choosing between all of the meats, chicken dishes, salads and desserts. We headed back to our room and fell asleep.

Inside of the Animal kingdom Lodge
Too early the alarm shrieked and we dragged ourselves out of bed, we only had 1.5 days to see a lot. The first stop was Disneys Animal Kingdom. If you have kids it would be a must see, like a living zoo complete with rides.  I think the Yeti ride was probably my favorite, it reminded me of a combination of space mountain and the mummy ride at universal studios.  We hit the animal kingdom for half a day and then headed out to Epcot to finish off the day. So much to do and see!  Chinese acrobats, test track roller coaster, finding nemo ride, spaceflight simulator, test track ride and a lot of heat.  I can’t remember it all but we finished up the night with a fantastic firework show and then headed back to the lodge.

The Tree of Life.  The more you look at it the more animals you’ll see!

The icon of Epcot

Finding Nemo ride                                                                                    Flight Stimulator

My chinese army collection                                        Soda Tasting from around the world.   Some countries like some really nasty ass soda

This is really really cool.  It’s an integrated aquaculture/hydroponics display where the fish feed off the leftovers from the plants.  I really want to do a display like this at my aquarium and have been raising tilapia in a tank in the back for it.

We limped back to the hotel room and promptly fell asleep.  Once again the alarm would shriek too early and we headed to Disney Studios for our last day.  It’s very much like a combination of Disneyland and universal studios with stunt shows (the car stunt show was amazing), aerosmith roller coaster, dinosaur ride and even star tours. When you step through the gates you will immediately get the feeling of how california adventure got a lot of its ideas because some parts are very similar.

Disney Studios                                                    New interactive exhibit for the upcoming Pirates of the Caribbean Movie

The whole trip was over too soon, we finished our day at about 2 pm and headed back to the airport to catch a flight back to Georgia. I only had time to marvel at my brothers gigantic house, you can fit three of my houses into it, it was immense!  In the morning we all got up early and my brother drove me back to the airport where I’d somehow climb aboard my flight and head back to LA.
When the jet began to descend I had to let out a sigh. There were no more green fields filled with lakes, no clear skies.  I returned to a concrete jungle with fake palm trees, smog and a lot of trash on the ground.  After such a great vacation, if most of my family and friends were not here I would have tried harder to get my wife to move to the south, I can’t tell you how tired I am of the crowded city.  I love living in places where nature is close, were people are civilized and pick up their trash and are a little nicer.  It would only make it an easier decision for our move further into Orange County.  But I’ll save that for another story, for now I’ll just say that I was definitely impressed all around with Georgia and of the people as well as the hospitality of the Georgia Aquarium and of course I’ll be heading back there as well as Disneyworld.


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