Georgia Aquarium

Journey with the Gentle Giants Dive

by Laura Smith



The "Journey with Gentle Giants at Atlanta Aquarium" program provides a unique opportunity for certified Scuba divers (aged 12 and older), to come face-to-face with the largest sharks in captivity, whale sharks! Guests are invited to scuba dive within the Aquarium's largest tank, Ocean Voyager, in warm clear water to come up close with whale sharks, moray eels and more!

Dive Program Description:

Journey with Gentle Giants is the only opportunity in the world where you are guaranteed to SCUBA dive with the largest fish in the world, the whale shark, in Georgia Aquarium's Ocean Voyager gallery built by The Home Depot. Open Water certified divers are eligible to participate in the SCUBA dive program with the all the necessary scuba equipment provided. No personal scuba gear, other than the divers own mask, is permitted.

Location:

The Aquarium is located in downtown Atlanta, right next to the World of Coca-Cola and Centennial Olympic Park.

Their address is:
225 Baker Street Northwest
Atlanta, GA 30313


Driving directions from Dayo Scuba Dive Center: (Drive time: 7 hours, 447 miles)

1. Start out going north on Executive Dr toward Lee Rd/SR-423 N. (go 0.06 miles)
2. Turn right onto Lee Rd/SR-423 N. (go 0.09 miles)
3. Make a U-turn at Lewis Dr onto SR-423 S. (go 7.23 miles)
4. Merge onto SR-408-TOLL W/East-West Expy toward SR-408-TOLL W/Ocoee (Portions toll).
5. Take EXIT 6 toward CR-431/Pine Hills Rd (Portions toll). (go 3.15 miles)
6. Keep right at the fork to continue on SR-408-TOLL W/East-West Expy (Portions toll). (go 2.37 miles)
7. Take the Florida's Tpke exit toward Ocala. (go 0.56 miles)
8. Merge onto Florida's Turnpike N (Portions toll). (go 42.7 miles)
9. Stay straight to go onto I-75 N (Crossing into Georgia). (go 300.48 miles)
10. Merge onto I-475 N/GA-408 N via EXIT 156 on the left toward Atlanta. (go 15.48 miles)
11. Merge onto I-75 N. (go 71.27 miles)
12. Take the Spring St exit, EXIT 249D, toward US-19/US-29/W Peachtree St. (go 0.16 miles)
13. Keep right to take the Spring St ramp toward US-29 S/Centennial Olympic Park Drive. (go 0.04 miles)
14. Turn slight right onto Spring St NW. (go 0.43 miles)
15. Turn slight left onto Centennial Olympic Park Dr NW. (go 0.12 miles)
16. Turn right onto Baker St NW.(go 0.12 miles)
17. 225 BAKER ST NW is on the right.

Contact Info:

Reserve your spot today by calling 404.581.4000 or online by clicking here. Advance reservations are essential.


Opening Hours:

The Georgia Aquarium dive is available daily at 3 p.m. and with an additional dive on Saturday and Sunday at 11 a.m. This is a 2.5 hour experience. The dive portion will last approximately 30 minutes, and participants will also get to view some behind-the-scenes areas of the Georgia Aquarium. You may need to arrive earlier if you wish to experience the AT&T Dolphin Tales show and 4D Theater, or participate in one of the Unique Dive Specialties offered by the Georgia Aquarium.

Cost:

As of Jan 2012 the price per person is $324.95 plus tax; $295.95 plus tax for Aquarium Members.

Program price includes admission to the Aquarium, AT&T Dolphin Tales show, 4D Theater, all equipment, the dive, certificate of participation, t-shirt and souvenir photo. A CD is available of your dive for $35.


A date may be changed if it is made more than 48 hours in advance with a change fee of $50. Cancellations and no-shows will not be refunded or rescheduled.

Car parking fee is $10.

Amenities available:

- All dive equipment is included in the fee
- Restaurants on site
- Gift shop
- Comfortable changing rooms with lockers and showers with plenty of towels, hot water, shampoo available.
- All dive areas and changing facilities are handicapped accessible


Diving:

Divers must bring their bathing suit and dive certification card, everything else will be taken care of at the aquarium. You may not use any of your own dive equipment or camera. Personal dive masks are permitted, but will be required to be disinfected. All participants must be ages 12 and older. Guests under the age of 18 must be accompanied by a participating adult. Proof of Open Water SCUBA certification from a nationally or internationally recognized organization must be provided, along with photo identification.

The diver’s scuba gear is prepared by the staff, as liability forms are filled in and a detailed safety briefing and orientation to the rules of the aquarium is given. For those who choose to get the additional add on PADI Whale Shark Distinctive Specialty Certification or the Manta Ray Distinctive Specialty Certification, will be assigned an earlier arrival time in order to go over paperwork, classwork, a tour through the facility and a chance to watch the four whale sharks fed (more info below).

A detailed dive briefing is given before the dive, and the actual dive itself lasts 30 minutes, or until divers reach ~800 psi.


The divers will enter the tank from a seated position on a dive platform. A dive master will give each diver the ok to enter when it is safe to do so. Once everyone is in the water, the dive master will lead and pairs of divers will follow. Divers will spend time diving throughout the tank, including going over the acrylic tunnel and arriving in front of a gigantic acrylic viewing window where family and friends can view the divers during all phases of the dive. In fact, family and friends will be given star treatment, having their own guide (an aquarium volunteer) leading them between the tunnel and window for the best viewing! Once your dive is complete, family members will be given a chance to go above the tank, watching you exit, and while you change, they will have a small behind the scenes tour. When everyone is together again, you will get a chance to watch your video and purchase if you’d like.

A note for those with special needs:

All of the Georgia Aquarium's facilities are handicapped accessible. There is even a specially designed locker room and dive platform to meet ADA regulations. When you call to make a reservation, please let the reservists know you have special needs and someone from the dive program will call you prior to your visit to review your special needs, mobility issues and equipment.

Can my size be accommodated?

The Atlanta Aquarium can accommodate wetsuit sizes and equipment sizes for people who weigh between 45 lbs and 320 lbs.

Are my guests welcome to watch? Do they have to buy a ticket?

Yes, friends and family can watch you in the Ocean Voyager exhibit at the tunnel and big window. They must purchase general admission tickets. Guests will be escorted around the dry side during the event for the best opportunity to see the participants. Please do not leave minor children (under age 12) unattended with the Aquarium Volunteers during your swim/dive experience.


Unique Specialties available at the Georgia Aquarium:

The PADI Whale Shark Distinctive Specialty Certification and the PADI Manta Ray Distinctive Specialty Certification at Georgia Aquarium offer the unique opportunity for guests to learn more about whale sharks or manta rays through academic lecture and direct observation. Participants will receive a Student Manual beforehand, an educational tour, additional time in the water for the opportunity of an intimate whale shark or manta ray encounter, collector's pin, bracelet and a PADI Whale Shark or Manta Ray Distinctive Specialty certification card, depending on the program in which you are participating.


Georgia Aquarium is the only environment in the world to offer these unique distinctive specialty certifications. Guests have a guaranteed opportunity to dive with manta rays, whale sharks and thousands of magnificent animals in the Ocean Voyager exhibit, built by The Home Depot. Any certified diver from a recognized dive organization is qualified to participate in either of these specialty certifications. Either specialty is available as an add-on to your Journey with the Gentle Giants dive when you purchase online or over the phone. Both the Whale Shark and Manta Ray Specialties are a $69.95 plus tax add-on each to your purchased dive. You may only participate in one specialty per dive.


PADI Whale Shark Specialty:

Certified Open Water Divers participating in the Journey with the Gentle Giants Dive Immersion Program will now have an opportunity to earn a unique PADI Distinctive Specialty Certification offered nowhere else in the world. Become one of the few to earn the Georgia Aquarium Whale Shark Distinctive Specialty Certification. This unique opportunity is available to all divers certified by any recognized national or international training organization, similar to the PADI Open Water Diver Certification.

PADI Manta Ray Specialty:

Certified Open Water Divers participating in the Journey with the Gentle Giants Dive Immersion Program will now have an opportunity to earn a unique PADI Distinctive Specialty Certification offered nowhere else in the world. Become one of the first to earn the Georgia Aquarium Manta Ray Distinctive Specialty Certification. This unique opportunity is available to all divers certified by any recognized national or international training organization, similar to the PADI Open Water Diver Certification.



Pre-dive Safety Check:

The dive masters guide and supervise the entire dive, it is very important that you follow the dive masters instructions. Up to ten people may dive at one time. There are at least two dive masters in the exhibit with the divers at all times, and one videographer present during all dives. It is a very well-run and efficient affair.

All divers are buddied up and buddy pairs should do a pre-dive safety check on the platform to make sure that regulators and inflators are working, and there are no leaks. Also, make sure you go over your buddies gear, and have your buddy go over your gear to make sure you are both familiar with each other’s equipment. The dive masters will double check that your air is on, and attend to any gear issues.


Water temperature and conditions:

The water temperature ranges between 74 to 76 degrees F. The staff provides wetsuits for all the divers, these are quite adequate for the dive.

The visibility is in the aquarium is 100+ feet.


What you can expect to see:


The Ocean Voyager exhibit was specially designed to house whale sharks, the largest fish species in the world. Schools of predatory trevally jacks, squadrons of stingrays, enormous goliath grouper and several sharks all share the waters of this ocean habitat containing more than six million gallons of saltwater.

With 4,574 square feet of viewing windows, a 100-foot-long underwater tunnel, 185 tons of acrylic windows and the second largest viewing window in the world at 23 feet tall by 61 feet wide and 2 feet thick, family and friends will have multiple opportunities to view you scuba diving, and all of these magnificent animals. No other aquarium in the world has ever attempted to manage the variety and size of fish in this major exhibit. This will be a dive you will never forget!



Environmental Interaction Suggestions:

PLEASE RESPECT THE ENVIRONMENT AND WILDLIFE. There is no touching or feeding of animals permitted. Do not harass and of the sea creatures! If you are found to be harassing any of the animals in the tank, you will be asked to leave and will not be refunded your money.

Please keep your buoyancy and trim in check at all times. The more natural you are in the water, the less afraid fish will be of you, so you will have more close up encounters!

Dive Procedures:

Maintain visual contact with your buddy and the dive master at all times.

Dive time is limited to 30 minutes and/or until divers reach ~800 psi.

Divers who add on the Whale Specialty will split from the other divers and spend more time in the water with the whale sharks; usually floating about three feet off the surface in order to see the whale sharks swim beneath them.


Emergency Procedures:

Due to the incredible visibility and small area, it is not really possible to lose sight of your buddy or dive master in the tank.

If a diver runs low on air, signal the tour guide or any of the dive masters with the appropriate hand signal and begin your ascent with one of them. They will swim you back to the platform.

For an unusual out of air emergency, all the dive masters are equipped with spare air bottles, and can bring divers back to the surface.

Any emergencies will be handled by the well-equipped and well trained dive masters on the scene. Emergency oxygen and first aid kits are onsite for all diving operations. The dive and security team have a well-practiced emergency action plan in order to handle medical emergencies. All team members are trained in the use of emergency oxygen, first aid and CPR.


Enjoy your dive, be safe and have fun!



Article and photos courtesy of Laura Smith