Metro attractions getting holiday visitation pickup

Operators of Atlanta attractions say they are seeing a swell in visitation, even if the warm temperatures are causing headaches for some this weekend and promising rewards for others.

Tourists, including Auburn and Virginia football fans in town for the Chick-fil-A Bowl at the Georgia Dome, are pouring in from all over the world and giving metro Atlanta's $11 billion hospitality industry a strong holiday jolt, leaders said. Many hotels are sold out, restaurants are busy and downtown foot traffic is stronger than usual on weekends.

Underground Atlanta officials think attendance for the annual Peach Drop, which was more than 100,000 last year, could skyrocket Saturday because of temperatures expected to be around 50 degrees when the peach drops at midnight.

"The better the weather is, the earlier people come and the longer they stay," said Underground spokeswoman Michelle Lawrence.

Lawrence expects many of those revelers to include Auburn-Virginia fans, before and after the game. "A lot of school colors will be represented during the festivities," she said.

But the unusually warm weather forced Centennial Olympic Park officials to close its ice rink a couple of days this season. Stone Mountain Park opened its Snow Mountain attraction later than expected and has had to pump out 360 tons of snow round the clock in warmer temperatures than preferred.

"We want the experience to be memorable so we'd rather shut down than leave visitors with the wrong impressions," said Rick Glueckert, the vendor for the rink, who said overall use is up slightly.

Stone Mountain spokeswoman Jeanine Jones said despite the temperatures, Snow Mountain has been a hit this holiday season. It has been so popular, attracting many from neighboring Florida, that officials have expanded the number of two-hour tubing sessions it offers daily to keep up with demand.

"Snow Mountain has definitely provided an attendance boost for us," Jones said, declining to reveal specific numbers.

The Georgia Aquarium, the world's largest fish tank, said December visitation is up 5 percent over 2010. Since Monday -- the day after Christmas -- more than 36,000 people have stopped in to watch beluga whales and dolphins.

The World of Coca-Cola has also seen a spike in visitation, though marketing director Karen Brunke declined to make numbers available. Much of the visitation, she said, is coming from international travelers as well as locals who are returning to the attraction to see its newest addition, a vault where the brand's secret formula was transferred earlier this month from its longtime home at SunTrust Bank.

"We do think the vault is doing a lot of the heavy lifting," Brunke said. "We're having a record breaking season."