In Atlanta, Think Segways + Sharks

In Atlanta Think Segways SharksIn Atlanta’s Centennial Olympic Park, we’re actively trying to maintain balance with knees slightly bent and helmets askew during practice runs for our Segway urban adventure. The 2-wheel electric “Human Transporters” use gyroscopes and tilt sensors to stay upright, and the experience is awkwardly amusing initially, like trying to stand up in a waterborne canoe. But once you master it, you can’t help breaking away from your group for a few 360s.

Olympic Park is located downtown, next to Georgia World Congress Center. We drove our Segways from there up to Piedmont Park in the booming Midtown district to the north, which is exploding in popularity due to all the open green spaces, new restaurants and cultural venues like the High Museum of Art and historic Fox Theatre.

“The biggest advantage of a Segway tour over a walking or trolley tour is that you definitely see more in three hours,” says Kristie Krabe, operations manager at Atlanta Segway Tours. “We stop and take the time to talk about the spots we visit as opposed to just driving by them.” Tours are customized for groups, with an option for teambuilding events like scavenger hunts. Capacity is 25 people per guide.

The Georgia Aquarium is a surprise to say the least, at first seeming incongruous with a landlocked metropolis. It’s even more surreal when you’re participating in one of the Behind the Scenes Tours and come upon a giant UPS package the size of railway boxcar, with a whale shark inside.

Holding an amazing eight million gallons of water, the Aquarium is the largest in the world and it’s getting bigger. The newest buzz is the 84,000-sf Bottlenose Dolphin exhibit set to open in November that will feature live shows and Swim-With programs. It’s that interactive experience that perpetuates genuine excitement here. For instance, standing under the 100-ft clear acrylic tunnel in the Ocean Voyager exhibit as a whale shark swims overhead produces an uncontrollable collective sigh throughout the tunnel. The facility is the country’s only integrated aquarium and veterinarian teaching conservation of aquatic biodiversity, so there’s a slew of varied educational programs for groups.

Like snorkeling with sharks.

“Our Journey with the Gentle Giants has been wildly popular,” says spokesperson MacKenzie Whalen. “It’s the only place in the world where you are guaranteed to swim with four whale sharks, two manta rays and hundreds of hammerheads.” Groups are limited to eight participants.

Back on terra firma, total function space is 23,000 sf, with F&B provided by Wolfgang Puck Catering.

Adjacent to Piedmont, the Atlanta Botanical Gardens features 12 different, lovingly landscaped indoor and outdoor group venues, the largest of which is Day Hall for 500-person receptions. We highly recommend the indoor Fuqua Orchid Center with a overwhelming collection of exotic orchids from around the world. These are not your, um, garden variety orchids, and the vividness of so many of them in bloom will entrance your group. Ask about the group Tai Chi, watercolor painting and drawing classes within the gardens.

This time in town, we checked into the fun and comfy 140-room Hotel Indigo Atlanta Midtown. The color scheme is designed to sooth with soft purples, clean whites and loads of natural light bouncing off the wood floors. Its portico faces Peachtree street and has umbrella covered tables for the hotel’s café/bar. Rooms feature overblown graphics of Granny Smith apples and blueberries, and little haiku cards around the room explain various eco-isms.