Atlanta area families can enjoy a fun day in Chattanooga this summer for less than a 2-hour drive. Visitors can enjoy Lookout Mountain, Ruby Falls, a thundering 145-foot waterfall located deep within Lookout Mountain, the Chattanooga Market, which opens weekly on Saturdays from June through September and features live musical entertainment, fresh produce, herbs and cut flowers, and last, but definitely not least, the Tennessee Aquarium, located on the banks of the Tennessee River.
The aquarium opened in May 1992, with a freshwater and saltwater aquarium building known as River Journey. The aquarium opened its second building, the Ocean Journey, in 2005 to stay on a competitive level with the then-planned Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta.
The aquarium is home to more than 10,000 living animals and holds more than a million gallons of water. It is also the highest rated aquarium in the USA and one of the country's top 10 tourist attractions for overall guest satisfaction. And, the aquarium has a 6-story IMAX screen - the only one big enough to show a life-sized blue whale as big as a school bus.
Most importantly, the aquarium and it's surrounding shops and outdoor areas along the river are a great place for families with special needs children to visit.
Membership for a family of 2 adults and all children or grandchildren is only $115, $75 of which is tax deductible. There are separate member entrances to the River and Ocean Journey buildings and members receive discounts in the gift shops and on Imax 3D Theater Tickets.
Membership also gives special needs families a great deal of flexibility. If your child can only visit a few exhibits, you can always come back again and see more.
Aquariums in general can provide a wonderful calming experience for autistic children, if parents visit during less crowded hours, let their child lead the way toward the exhibits that he/she finds interesting and let their child decide when he/she has had enough.
At the Tennessee Aquarium families can see most of the exhibits in the two buildings in about 2 hours, if just walking through, and kids can take a break and enjoy fun open play in the outdoor stream and fountains that snake around the two aquarium buildings. While the kids play outside, parents can enjoy food, snacks and beverages from the various surrounding shops and vendors.
Two words of advice, though, bring a change of clothes or have your child wear a swimsuit underneath. If they enjoy playing in water, and most do, whether special needs or not, they will get wet. And, bring lots of quarters, because there are a number of parking meters around the aquarium, which will get you 2 hrs of time for only a couple of dollars vs. the pay for the day parking lots at $9 to $10 each.