Atlanta families to leave town in droves for solar eclipse

When Audra Dial heard about the upcoming the solar eclipse, she immediately thought about seeing the astronomical phenomenon back in 1979 when she was 7 years old.

Dial was living in California at the time, and she and her parents traveled to Indiana, to watch the solar eclipse with her grandparents. She remembers using a homemade cardboard eclipse viewer with a pinhole, and being side by side with her family marveling at the sky.

Today, Dial is 45. Her son, Duncan, is 7 years old.

That gives the solar eclipse on Monday special significance.

“At first, it sounded fun, but it has become more important and significant to me in having a sort of family history moment,” said Dial, who is managing partner of Kilpatrick Townsend’s Atlanta office.

She and her son will travel to Rabun Gap — along with her parents (and Duncan’s grandparents) — to watch the solar eclipse.

Dial said Duncan is deeply interested in science, space and “everything about space and what’s up there in the sky.”

Dial, her son, and her parents, Phil and Myrna Dial, plan to leave at 8 a.m. Monday for a special viewing party at the Hambidge Center in Rabun Gap, a nationally known retreat for writers and artists. (Meanwhile, Dial’s husband, Matthew Ford, also an attorney, plans to stay behind in Atlanta but is taking a team of employees to a special viewing party at Bistro Niko in Buckhead.)

In just a matter of days, Americans will experience the first total solar eclipse to cross the country coast to coast in nearly 100 years.

In Atlanta, viewers will notice a partial eclipse around 2:35 p.m., but traveling is necessary to see a total eclipse in personThrongs of Atlanta-area families have made plans to leave metro Atlanta on Monday for a better view with trips planned for everywhere from the North Georgia mountains to Nashville to Columbia, S.C., and beyond.

Sara Butler is planning to head to the Nashville area on Sunday with her twin boys, Jacob and Owen, who turn 9 in September. (Her husband, Jason, may not be able to join them due to work obligations.)

“We are a real NASA-nerd family,” said Butler, who lives in Atlanta. “We’ve done Huntsville and Johnson Space Center in Houston, and we have done the Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C. And the Udvar-Hazy Center. … This is a big deal. It is a big science moment.”

Butler said she and her husband often plan trips around science-inspired learning adventures — whether it’s climbing in Olympic National Park, going geocaching in the great outdoors or now finding a remote spot in the Nashville area to experience the totality zone of the eclipse.

“For the past week every night before going to bed, Owen and Jacob will say, ‘I am so excited for the eclipse,’” said Butler. “And I say, ‘I know, buddy. Me too.’”

In metro Atlanta, schools are holding special viewing parties, but officials realize some students will skip school to watch the eclipse with family members.

With the moon moving between the sun and the Earth and blocking the light of the sun, metro Atlanta school systems are delaying dismissals anywhere between 30 minutes and an hour.

It’s hard to know just how many families will opt to keep their children home or check them out early, and while most schools will consider an absence on Monday as “unexcused,” local school systems say students who take time off next Monday will be allowed to make up any work missed that day.

Meanwhile, Bill McConnell and his family are embarking on Royal Caribbean’s seven-day cruise coined “Total Eclipse Cruise,” which will cruise to an optimal spot at sea for guests to witness the total solar eclipse. Guests will also be treated to a full slate of eclipse-themed activities, including dance parties, trivia, enrichment lectures, interactive science fun for kids, and tasty cocktails and dishes with names like the “Cosmic Cosmo,” “Planetary Punch” and “Moon Pie.” The band DNCE will also perform.

McConnell said he booked the cruise over a year ago, and didn’t realize at first that it was a special eclipse cruise. In fact, Peyton, his stepson who is 18, expressed disappointment they might miss the eclipse on the cruise.

“But then we realized there was an eclipse viewing party and we were not going to miss it,” said McConnell. “Now we are all super pumped about it and really glad we booked the cruise a long time ago.”

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