Driving into Gatlinburg, it’s one of the first sights you see. Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies has a prime location, right behind and above the beginning of the downtown strip. It sits majestically on the river, with flags flying and a quaint bridge in front. You can’t help but wonder about it.
Now, I know for years my in-laws wondered about this aquarium without stopping in. In fact, we usually park in its garage when visiting downtown (it’s fairly inexpensive and very centrally located), but we never so much as peeked in the windows. I think the problem is that people are used to Ripley’s putting on very tourist-type attractions. A crazy museum, for example, or a haunted house, but not something that is to be taken seriously. Well, when we finally went to try out the aquarium, we were pleasantly surprised. It is, after all, a serious aquarium. It’s got a lot of fun added in, but it has big, serious fish, sharks, etc. We all learned a lot, the least of which is not to underestimate Ripley’s. They hit it out of the park on this one.
It’s a great aquarium and a great use of part of a day in Gatlinburg, but it’s not cheap. Adults weigh in at a whopping $21.99, while kids age 6-11 cost $10.99 and even the little 2-to-5-year-olds cost $4.99. There is a (small) reduction available online here.
So what can you expect to see there? Well, my favorite exhibit was the Shark Lagoon, where you are literally in a glass tunnel in the middle of a large aquarium filled with sharks, stingrays, sea turtles and sawfish, among many others. You travel along it on a 340-foot glide path. Seriously gives even a brave adult the willies to see a shark charging right at you. Ripley’s only adds to the chill down your spine by leaving a few dents in the glass, accompanied by plaques telling about the date sharks tried to ram through the glass in this spot.
But there’s oh-so-much-more to this aquarium. My kids loved the Stingray Bay, where we saw a show with a diver right in the tank with the rays. New since we’ve been there is the Penguin Playhouse, which features a clear tunnel that visitors can crawl through and watch penguins swimming above and below them. Other areas are: the Rainforest, the Ocean, Systems Ctrl, the Coral Reef, the Discovery Center, and the Sea Gallery. Whew! We actually didn’t make it through the whole thing!
In addition to all these displays, the aquarium often has visiting displays. You can keep up-to-date with those through its blog.
If you’re in the aquarium during a meal time, the Feeding Frenzy Eatery offers a large selection of snacks and sandwiches for a (semi) reasonable price. Check out a list of available foods here. Though it is convenient, I’d still recommend heading down the strip for an Ogle Dog, if you have time. The gift shop is a lot of fun. I collect salt and pepper shakers every where I go, and I was pleased to find fish-shaped ones there.
I hope you have the time to enjoy a stop at the Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies next time you’re in Gatlinburg. If you do, leave us a comment with your story. We’d love to hear it!