Apr 16

Abrams Falls Trail:

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Abrams Falls Trail is one of the more popular day hikes in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  On our first trip to the park we skipped the hike to the falls, but it became a must do hike on our second trip to the park.  We loaded up the baby backpack, grabbed plenty of water, and set off for a fun day of hiking.  Unfortunately, about 10 miles down the road from our hotel our 2 year old girl got sick somewhere along the way unbeknownst to us she had contracted a stomach virus.  So, we made a quick turnaround and headed back to the hotel.  After a quick cleanout of the car and unpacking of gear my gracious wife said it was ok for me to head back out on the trail.  At first I thought this was some sort of test by my wife, so I asked her about a half dozen times if that was what she wanted.  I even sat down and said I was not going to go and help her take care of our little girl.  After a few minutes and her constant reassuring that she wanted me to go I headed out the door for my day of hiking.  I have such a great wife!
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The trailhead to the Abrams Falls Trail is located in the Cades Cove area of the national park. Just past stop #10 down a dirt road and at the time that I hiked the trail there was sign posted so it was pretty easy to find.  The trail is 5 miles roundtrip and is considered a moderate level hike due to its length and its hundreds of feet of elevation gain.  On this particular day I saw all ages and fitness levels taking on the Abrams Falls Trail just make sure you know your limitations and take the proper precautions before performing this hike or any other.
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I really enjoyed the hike to Abrams Falls more for the scenery along the way than the falls itself.  The trail roughly follows Abrams Creek as it runs through the old growth forest.  I was there in mid to late March and the spring flowers and trees were not quite in bloom yet, but I imagine the trail must be wonderful when the flora is in full bloom or in fall when the leaves change color.  Still it was a pleasant hike and though the falls are not large just 20 feet in height the amount of water flowing over the rocks made it much more powerful of a sight than one would imagine.
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Abrams Falls Trail has a few climbs or switchbacks but overall they are not very strenuous the only real difficult part of the trail, in my opinion, is the single plank/log bridges over some of the streams in the area.  While the bridges are very secure the narrowness of the bridge might give some hikers problems but there is a rail to hold on to if you have trouble with your balance.
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Overall, the Abrams Falls Trail in my opinion is worth the time and effort.  However if time is short or a 5 mile hike is something you would not want to or are unable to do there are other waterfalls in the area that will give you a better bang for your buck.  Laurel Falls and Mingo Falls are just two examples of scenic waterfalls with shorter trails you might want to choose over Abrams Falls.

To see reviews of all the waterfalls we have visited click here

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Abrams Falls Trail
Distance: 5 miles roundtrip
Trail Difficulty: Moderate

Apr 14

10 National Monuments Worth Visiting

We all know about Yellowstone and Yosemite and dozen s of other national parks throughout the United States, but fewer people make the effort to go out and see the nation’s national monuments.  America’s national monuments are a great place to see natural wonders, historic places, and can be a great family vacation destination.  We hope our short list of 10 national monuments worth visiting inspire you to check out some of the wonderful sights that can be found throughout the United States.

10 National Monuments worth Visiting

10. Statue of Liberty National Monument
 10 National Monuments Worth Visiting
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The Statue of Liberty is one of the few universal symbols that have come to represent the United States.  A gift of friendship from the people of France to the U.S. it has become an historic symbol of freedom, a blending of culture, and democracy.  For more information visit their website at http://www.nps.gov/stli/index.htm

9. Castillo de San Marcos National Monument

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The only 17th century military structure still remaining in the United States.  Castillo de San Marcos National Monument is an historic site that gives its visitors a glimpse of European imperialism and colonization.  For more information visit their website at http://www.nps.gov/casa/index.htm

8. Wright Brothers National Monument

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One of the most significant historical sites as it is the place where Wilbur and Orville Wright took their first successful flight in a heavier-than-air machine.  For more information visit their website at http://www.nps.gov/wrbr/index.htm

7. Fort Sumter National Monument

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The first shots of the Civil War were fired at Fort Sumter and the course of American history and in turn the world was forever changed.   For more information visit their website at http://www.nps.gov/fosu/index.htm

6. Buck Island Reef National Monument

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No trip to St. Croix would be complete without a trip to Buck Island Reef National Monument.  Buck Island is home to one of the best snorkel and scuba diving reefs in the United States.  For more information visit their website at http://www.nps.gov/buis/index.htm

5. Colorado National Monument

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Colorado National Monument is great vacation stop due to its outstanding scenery and easy access right off of I 70 near Grand Junction, Colorado.  It is one of the great western landscapes.  For more information visit their website at http://www.nps.gov/colm/index.htm

4. White Sands National Monument

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An ever-changing landscape of the world’s largest expanse of gypsum sand dunes is what you have at White Sands National Monument.  It has large white sand dunes that become the perfect place to go sledding without having to experience the snow.  For more information visit their website at http://www.nps.gov/whsa/index.htm

3. Natural Bridges National Monument

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Natural Bridges National Monument is home to three natural bridges that shows off what the power of water, wind, and time can do to a landscape.  For more information visit their website at http://www.nps.gov/nabr/index.htm

2. Devils Tower National Monument

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Devils Tower rises out of its prairie surroundings as a towering mythical monolith.  Devils Tower is a unique place that lets the imagination explore just as much as your visual senses.  For more information visit their website at http://www.nps.gov/deto/index.htm

1. World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument

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Pearl Harbor is a must see for every red blooded American as it really hits home the sacrifice and struggle that America’s greatest generation went through to fight and preserve liberty.  A great place to see history and show respect for those that made the ultimate sacrifice for all Americans past, present, and future.  For more information visit their website at http://www.nps.gov/valr/index.htm

Apr 11

Fighting the Wrong Fight: Why Common Core is not the Problem

no to common core Fighting the Wrong Fight: Why Common Core is not the Problem

Certain groups in my state and other groups out there are fighting the fight to end Common Core.  For those that have not been paying much attention to the changes in education, Common Core is a new set of standards trying to establish a common curriculum across the states.  Theoretically if a student from Georgia packed up and moved to New Mexico they would not miss a beat because the curriculum of both states should be somewhat similar.  Now the downside is that the local level is basically giving up its right to set the curriculum of its students.

Now personally I am all for tougher standards if it will help produce a stronger more productive workforce, but what makes no sense to me is the amount of outrage at Common Core but not at the standardized tests.  I know a lot of the outrage is coming from those do not want nationalized education and what to keep it at the state and local level, I hate to break it to you but education is already nationalized.  When No Child Left Behind was passed in 2001, and state-mandated standardized testing as a means of assessing school performance became common place, schools stopped teaching all of the state standards and concentrated on what standards where going to be on the test.

I personally know of schools and districts that have literally gone to teaching the tested subject over and over again to make sure their students pass.  For example, world history is still a class but instead of learning about world history students learn about U.S. history because that is a tested subject.  Another way states have already given up control of their educational agenda is by aligning with the big testing corporations like Pearson which is in over a dozen states.  They make the tests, a lot of teachers are forced to teach to the test, so who is setting the agenda certainly not the local school board.

Every American has freedom of speech and if you want to use that right to protest and go after Common Core then by all means go for it.  I however think those people are fighting the wrong fight.  If they really want to fight back against federal overreach and return schools to the local level then parents and concerned citizens have to go after the standardized tests.  If testing stays the end all be all of the educational system we have in America today then the powers that be can call it Common Core or a dozen other names it will always have the same end game.

Apr 10

Georgia Aquarium: A Whale of a Good Time

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Getting the chance to see the Georgia Aquarium along with seeing giant panda cubs at the Atlanta Zoo were the two main reasons we took a family holiday to the Atlanta area.  While the Georgia Aquarium did not disappoint the rather steep price of a ticket took away some of the excitement of visiting one of the world’s largest aquariums.  Now any visit to an aquarium is going to be slightly on the expensive side, but $70.00 for two adult tickets made us thank our lucky stars that we did not wait one more year to go and have to buy a children’s ticket for our little girl.
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After getting over the sticker shock we really enjoyed our visit to the Georgia Aquarium.  Getting to see the large whale sharks swimming gracefully in their six million plus gallon tank was a sight to see.  The number and variety of ocean going species was impressive.  Besides whale sharks there are also beluga whales, dolphins, penguins, a variety of sharks and rays, and hundreds of other different species of fish.
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The Georgia Aquarium is divided up into seven different themed exhibit areas.  The biggest and most famous area is their Ocean Voyager which has 6.3 million gallons of water and is home to four whale sharks and manta rays.  Tropical Diver exhibit showcases tropical coral reefs as well as a variety of jellyfish.  One of our favorite areas was the Coldwater Quest exhibit which is home to animals that live in cold ocean water like beluga whales, sea otters, and penguins.  Georgia Explorer shows off the marine life that live right off the Georgia Coast.  Freshwater fish are on display at the River Scout area and their newest exhibit Sea Monsters Revealed: Aquatic Bodies lets visitors see both outside and inside the bodies of more than a dozen full-body sea creatures.
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Depending on how much you want to spend the Georgia Aquarium has several animal encounters that you can partake in including being in the tank with the large whale sharks.  They also put on an entertaining dolphin show, but since we just bought the general admission ticket we cannot honestly tell you if it is worth your money or not to see those things.
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We really enjoyed the way the Georgia Aquarium was laid out with a center square and exhibits all around it.  It made it easy to see our favorite exhibit areas multiple times.  The only downside is the large crowds which we knew going in was going to be something that we would have to face.  While we were there on that particular day we saw countless number of school groups which for the most part did a great job it was the adults that seemed to be the most trouble as some of them literally would just inch their way in front of the tanks even if others were trying to see.  Not sure if this true because we left around 1 but we were told that the aquarium usually clears out by 2:30 during the week when all the field trips have to head back to school.  One of the aquarium staffed told us if we wanted a more relaxing time at the aquarium try visiting during that time.
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Overall, we really enjoyed the Georgia Aquarium, but with our limited budget it, like a lot of the stuff that we found to do in Atlanta, it will be probably be a onetime visit for us.  Now if we lived in Atlanta that would be a different story because a season pass to his incredible aquarium would be a must have.  It is a special place and worth seeing at least once.

to see all of our Atlana area reviews click here

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Georgia Aquarium
Located at 225 Baker St. Atlanta, GA
Hours of Operation Sunday through Friday 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. 365 days a year
Cost as of this Posting Adults $35.95, Seniors $31.95, and Children $29.95
For more information http://www.georgiaaquarium.org/

Apr 07

Landscape Photography Number 19: Abrams Falls

13706452825 334fd025e0 z Landscape Photography Number 19: Abrams Falls

Number 18 of my landscape photography series is a picture of Abrams Falls in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  It is one of the premier day hikes in that particular national park and well worth the effort to walk the 5 or so miles roundtrip to see the falls.  While Abrams Falls is not a particularly large waterfall the amount of water flowing over it makes it a pretty one.

I was able to take this particular picture using my tripod which added a little bit of extra weight to the hike but the results were definitely worth it.  What I like about this photograph is that there are objects in the foreground as well as the background of the picture, and the way the two large boulders in the foreground frame the waterfall.  However, the shot would be nicer still if there were more vibrant color in the foliage.

Abrams Falls is a must see if you have the time and energy to make the hike, if you ever find yourself in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  This particular picture was taken in the afternoon on a semi-cloudy day.

To see my list of top 25 landscape photographs click here

Apr 05

3 Day Guide to Yellowstone National Park

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Yellowstone National Park makes for a vacation that will assure you of life long memories.  I remember parts of my first trip there when I was four and have been there three more times in my lifetime.  Each trip there is special in its own way and one of the few places that my wife and I have traveled to that keeps us wanting to go back.
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Our 3 day guide to Yellowstone National Park is designed with families in mind.  If you are looking for spending big bucks for professional tour operators to show you around the park there are plenty out there to be found.  This three day guide is geared more towards activities geared for regular people looking for extraordinary experiences.
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I have divided up each day into two categories, one for the serious vacationer and one for the more laid back approach.  What I mean by the serious vacationer is the person that is up before the sun looking to get the perfect lighting for that perfect picture.  The more laid back approach is leaving the cabin, tent, or hotel room around 9 in the morning.  This 3 day guide to Yellowstone National Park is solely based on our personal experiences in the park and the research we did to get ready for our trip.  It is also written as if you are staying in the park.  Now 3 days is not nearly enough time to see everything in the park in fact 3 months would probably not be enough time to see everything.  We sincerely hope our 3 day guide will help you in your planning and like always we wish you Happy Travels!

Serious Vacationer Laid Back Traveler
Sunrise at the Lamar Valley to see some of the wildlife that has made   Yellowstone Famous including grizzly bears, bison, and wolves.  To get your hiking legs under you take the   short but spectacular hike up to Trout Lake.Visit Tower Falls to see a waterfall that would fit perfectly in some fantasy movie like the Lord of the Rings.If before lunch time head over to Mount Washburn Trail for one of the   best day hikes in Yellowstone and take the spectacular 6.4 mile round trip   trail to some unbelievable views.If after lunch and there is not enough time for Mount Washburn head   over to Mammoth Hot Springs for other worldly views. Start your day by vising the Old Faithful Lodge and Upper Geyser   Basin.  The visitor center there will   give you estimated times of most of the geysers in the area and if you are   lucky you might see some of the local wildlife walking through the area.  Make sure you take the trail all the way to   Morning Glory Pool.Then visit the other geothermal areas on the Grand Loop Road including   Midway Geyser Basin to see Grand Prismatic Spring.  The Lower Geyser Basin with its fountain   paint pots and the Norris Geyser Basin.  Who knows you might be extremely lucky and see the largest active   geyser in the world go off, but don’t beat on it.Finally finish your day at the Artists Paint pots in the Madison Area   of the park.
Sunrise at the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone to see not one but two   breathtaking waterfalls.  Make sure you   take some of the trails that are around there like the Red Rock Trail and   Uncle Tom’s TrailWhen you can finally pull yourself away from those waterfall views   head south on the Grand Loop Road to Hayden Valley for Yellowstone’s other   premier wildlife viewing area.  Take   advantage of some of the roadside turnouts and watch where the buffalo   roam.Continue on south to Yellowstone Lake the largest high-altitude lake   in the continental United States and take the Storm Point Trail a 2 mile loop   to sweeping views of the Yellowstone LakeEnd up at the West Thumb Geyser Basin and see the hydrothermal   features that are on display there and take 2 Mile Lake Overlook Trail for   outstanding views of the surrounding mountainsides overlooking the lake. Use your second day as a waterfall hunting day and see some of the   many roadside waterfalls in Yellowstone.If you can make it Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone before 9 in the morning   you will have the opportunity to see a rainbow develop off of the mist of   Lower Falls.  Make sure you take some   of the trails in the canyon area of the park.    Also visit Gibbon Falls, Rustic Falls, Undine Falls, and Lewis Falls   all of them are next to park roads.If you are up to it take the short day hike to Mystic Falls from   Biscuit Basin
Sunrise at Old Faithful Geyser is the best time to beat the crowds.  Make sure you take the trail up to the  observation point overlooking the famous geyser.Once done take the trail through the Upper Geyser Basin all the way  to Biscuit Basin and Mystic Falls a 70-foot cascading waterfall.Head north until you reach Midway Geyser Basin but before you reach   the parking lot for the geothermal area go to the Fairy Falls trailhead and   take trail for a short ways for incredible views of Grand Prismatic   Spring.  Once you are done overlooking   the spring go take the short boardwalk of the Midway Geyser Basin.End your day by spending some time at the Norris Geyser Basin one the   more popular geyser basins in the park. Spend your last day on the north side of the park.  Morning is a good time for Mammoth Hot Springs   and look for the resident elk.Head east to Tower Junction and visit Tower Falls a wonderful   waterfall and take the short trail to the base of the falls.  If you are up for another short hike right   behind the Roosevelt Lodge in the Tower area of the park there is the Lost   Creek Falls Trail.Spend your afternoon all the way to dusk looking at the wildlife in the Lamar Area of the park with some luck you might see a grizzly bear and  the resident wolf pack especially if you stay until twilight.

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Remember that you are in wild country and it can be dangerous if you do not use common sense and sound judgment. Not only are the animals wild but so is the land and getting too close to either can make a great vacation go sour and even be deadly real quick. Animals will protect themselves, their area, and young while the geothermal areas are fragile and dangerous so stay on assigned paths. If you use caution and are prepared Yellowstone will be a great life experience and please leave it just as you found it so the next person can enjoy. Happy Travels!!!

To see our reviews of things to see or do in Yellowstone National Park click here

Apr 04

What Makes Our Marriage Work: Count Your Blessings

It seems like in the day to day normal life of marriage it’s easy to get in a bit of a rut or get bogged down with the stresses of life.  One of the things that helps us keep things in perspective is to count our blessings.  Instead of dwelling on ‘oh, she forgot to put those clothes in the dryer’ or ‘oh, he forgot to take the trash out’, we try to think about the things in our lives that are blessings that we truly don’t deserve- a nice home, a healthy baby girl, friends, family, a loving spouse.

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You might think that is just a silly thing but it really works.  It’s just like any aspect of life, when your mind is focused on the positive things there just isn’t room for the negativity anymore.

Apr 03

Teacher Tip: Dealing with Frustration

Frustration 300x195 Teacher Tip: Dealing with Frustration

The biggest highlight of teaching is seeing how much the students improve throughout the year.  Also the lowest moment of teaching is seeing some of the students not improve as much as you would like.  When they do not improve or attempt to improve the frustration level of the job rises to almost unbearable proportions.

Dealing with frustration is part of the job and after a decade of teaching and seeing lots of teachers come and go, from what I have seen the ability to deal with frustration is what separates career teachers from those that are just passing through.  Unfortunately with the ever increasing pressure of high stakes testing from getting students to graduate to teachers keeping their job it seems like it is getting harder to deal with the those things that frustrate teachers.

For example, this year while getting my students ready for their big end of the year test, a test that not only will mean if they graduate or not, but will also help determine if my school is considered failing or passing by the state department, I have reviewed the material in a variety of ways at least a half dozen times, given them an end of the year test study guide 6 weeks ago, placed that information online, and will spend the next two weeks reviewing in class.  Despite all of those things, I still have 4 or 5 students per class that are probably going to struggle.  It can all be a little frustrating but what takes that frustration level up another notch is when my principal asks me what else am I going to do to get those other students passing. At that point when I am at my wits end I take a deep breath and ask myself a simple question.  Did I give it my best shot to teach all of my students and give them their best opportunity that I could to pass the test?

After a decade of teaching I have been able to say yes to that question and the frustrating part of the job just melts away.  As longs I know that I did my best then all that is left is for the students to do their part.

Click here to see my other teaching tips

picture via http://www.unlockingthegrowth.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/11/Frustration-Eats-Pencil2.jpg

Apr 02

Gone with the Wind Museum:

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The Gone with the Wind Museum was not all that my wife hoped it would be, but she enjoyed the visit to the museum.  Not being a fan of the movie myself I could have gone for nice walk around the town square in Marietta and been perfectly happy.  Now I have the best wife in the world and she has gone and seen countless number of things that would not be high on her list, so when she heard that there was a Gone with the Wind Museum near Atlanta we had to visit.
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The museum housed a lot of memorabilia from the movie as well as the novel.  There were personal hand written letters back and forth from the cast, movie props, costumes, mostly reproductions but one that was actually worn in the movie by Vivian Leigh.  There was also a lot of information about Margaret Mitchell, the author.  The have a gift shop that sells different kinds of collectable items and even costumes if you are interested.
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Not being a fan of the movie I would say that the museum was more of a personal collection that somebody put on display.  I have to admit there were some interesting things at the museum even for me to see including some old letters and a variety of movie posters in different languages representing just how enduring and popular the movie was throughout the world.  My tour of the museum was a little on the short side because I wanted my wife to enjoy her visit as much as possible so I had a little daddy daughter time.
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Gone with the Wind Museum
Located at 18 Whitlock Avenue, Marietta Georgia
Hours of Operation Monday through Saturday 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
Cost as of this Posting Adults $7.00 Seniors and Students $6.00
For more information visit their website at http://www.gwtwmarietta.com/

Apr 01

Atlanta Zoo: They have Panda cubs too!

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The Atlanta Zoo is a wonderful zoo experience that is the ideal size for families with young children.  At 40 acres the zoo is large enough to have a high number of quality exhibits, but small enough a visitor is not worn out by a visit.  Zoo Atlanta has over 1,000 animals from more than 200 different species including the largest collection of gorillas and orangutans in the United States.  It is also one of only four zoos in the United States to currently house giant pandas including two panda cubs that were born in 2013.
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On our particular visit to the Atlanta Zoo it was a colder spring day so not all the animals were out on display which was a shame.  However the zoo was nice enough to tell us before we paid for our admission and they gave everybody a 50% discount for the day.  Other zoos could learn a thing or two from that example.
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The Atlanta Zoo is divided into three main sections.  The first being a KidZone with a petting zoo, small animal enclosures, a carousel, and playground, second an Asian animal area including Giant Pandas, tigers, and orangutans, and third an African area with a gorillas, lions, and elephants.  The highlights of the zoo of course is the Giant Panda area which currently houses 6 pandas including two cubs, a very large well laid out gorilla exhibit, and their African Plains area that houses giraffes, zebras, and black rhinos. Also their gorilla and orangutan exhibits were two of the largest primate exhibits that we have ever seen.
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Other animals worth spending some time seeing were their World of Reptiles house which is a dated reptile house but it does have a nice variety of different species of reptiles.  The parakeet aviary was a highlight for our 21 month old daughter with all the birds flying around her.  The sun bear exhibit was well designed as well as their living tree house which is home to different types of small primates.
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Overall, we enjoyed our visit to the Atlanta Zoo though the regular price of the zoo seems to be a bit steep for as small as the zoo is.  Of course, just about every attraction in Atlanta seemed a bit on the expensive side to us.  Despite the cost the Atlanta Zoo is worth a visit especially while there are still panda cubs on display.

to read all of our zoo reviews click here

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Atlanta Zoo
Located at 800 Cherokee Ave, Atlanta, GA
Hours of Operation Monday through Friday 9:30 to 5:30 p.m.  Year round extended hours on the weekends between sometime in March and lasting to the beginning of November Closed Thanksgiving and Christmas Day
Cost as of this Posting Adults 12 and over 21.99 Seniors 65 and Over $17.99 and children 3 to 11 $16.99
For more information visit their website at http://www.zooatlanta.org/

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