Ripleys Aquarium is rated one of the top attractions for families visiting Gatlinburg, Tennessee - and it’s no surprise. We honestly did not even have the aquarium on our to do list. We overheard another family talking about how great the Aquarium visit was, so we decided to go the next day. It turned out to be one of the highlights of our trip. Admission is relatively inexpensive - around twenty dollars for adults, and about ten for kids, with AAA members getting a discount.
One thing the aquarium doesn’t have is a service parking lot, so I would suggest parking in the city garage nearby. However, since the area is so walkable, we just left our car at the hotel and hiked over to Ripley’s Aquarium on foot. We spent around 2-½ hours touring Ripleys Aquarium. That’s fast enough to do other things in the same day.
Just don’t think it’ll be an extremely quick attraction - there’s just too much to see. The aquarium opens at nine, and getting there early can be an advantage. Make sure you pick up a guide book which gives you a lot of inside information. With so much to look at the guide book really helped, so we did not miss anything.
Some people prefer to wait and see specific shows, however - the coral exhibit and Stingray Bay both have shows where you can see the animals being fed by divers, both are awesome. The exhibits were generally big enough that you don’t feel too crowded. This might not be the case on a day when there’s a convention in town, or when Gatlinburg is really crowded, however. Over ten thousand different sea creatures make their home here, making up more than three hundred and fifty species. There are all kinds of different displays and lots to learn.
The attractions at Ripleys Aquarium include the Rainforest, with freshwater stingrays, poison dart frogs, armored catfish, zebra cichlids, iguanas and even piranhas. The Ocean Realm, offers some of the most colorful fish, including angelfish, damselfish, parrotfish and more. Dive shows can be seen in the Coral Reef display, and even more beautiful fish are found here.
We found the most exciting exhibit at Ripleys Aquarium to be Shark Lagoon. The three hundred and fifty foot long glide path has an acrylic tunnel, where you’ll run into all kinds of sea life, including stingrays and sawfish, sea turtles of several kinds, and some really big sharks. These are extremely impressive animals, and the exhibit isn’t just one wall, like a lot of other aquariums. You are actually surrounded by fish on all sides, plus overhead, too. That means you are up close and personal with hammerheads, turtle, eels, and lots of other impressive sea life. We had no problem taking pictures, even with a flash.
There’s also an exhibit that features all the ocean’s most strange and beautiful animals, including jellyfish, corals and seahorses. Our kids absolutely loved the incubators area exhibit where you could see microscopic baby jellyfish and seahorses. After we finished in this area, we moved on to Stingray Bay, where we watched the stingrays eating out of the divers’ hands. Then, we even got to reach out and feel some
stingrays and a few crabs in a special area. Their skin was surprisingly smooth. We had to be careful not to touch their undersides, because of their teeth, but it was an amazing experience. Plus, there’s also an exhibit that shows you how the aquarium runs. You’ll get to see the huge tanks and filters that make sure the animals in Ripleys Aquarium stay healthy and happy.
The gift shop afterwards was a real hit with the kids, too. There were lots of the usual things for sale there, but a few really interesting ones that we didn’t expect, such as the unique mermaid dolls. There’s also a restaurant and a snack bar that are reasonably priced for food at an attraction like this.
The displays were beautiful and brightly lit, and it doesn’t take too long to go through the whole place. Ripleys Aquarium was a really pleasant surprise - not over crowded and a lot of fun for us and the kids. All the exhibits and the other areas, like the bathrooms, kids’ area, and eating area are clean and well designed, so you feel really comfortable there. We’ll definitely be back in the future to see what’s changed at the aquarium and see some more of their beautiful exhibits.
Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies
88 River Road
Gatlinburg, TN 37738
www.ripleysaquariumofthesmokies.com Map Location
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