Last month our family was blessed with a much-needed break from the real world as we traveled to Gatlinburg, TN for a week of family time and relaxation. It was wonderful. We truly didn’t want to leave.
While we were in Gatlinburg, we got the chance to visit Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies, which happens to be right in the midst of Downtown Gatlinburg.
We received complimentary admission in exchange of this review. However, all thoughts and opinions are mine.
Sidenote: Having never visited Gatlinburg before, I was surprised at how many shops and businesses were packed into one street. I’m not sure what I was expecting – maybe a bit more spread out across town like Branson, MO? Anyway, it was really cool to see a large Aquarium sticking up in the middle of all that!
We were a bit worried about parking at first. There is ample parking spaces, but there’s no way our big van would fit in the parking garage. There’s a large parking lot just down the street though, so it wasn’t a big deal at all.
Anywho, back to our trip to the Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies!
Lots of oceanlife, hands on learning areas, 2 play areas, a snackbar/restaurant, a Pearl Harbor exhibit, and more! Yes, you can see all that in one building, in Gatlinburg, TN. Yes, sharks and penguins in the mountains!
The main level exhibits start just a few feet from the front door, and they did not disappoint! Beautiful, exotic fish and amphibians, a waterfall, many types of jellyfish, seahorses, crabs, and other sea life. I really enjoyed moving from display to display as my boys told me things they already knew about many of the species and my oldest read some of the information provided about others we weren’t familiar with.
I could have watched the jellyfish for hours. They are just amazing creatures – as long as they are in an aquarium that is. 😀
There are so many fun and interesting things to see an do at Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies, you will have to check it out for yourself. I’m certain with 5 kids in tow I missed some things. However, one exhibit I found to be very unique was the aquarium filtration and monitoring systems are visible to guests and explained through fun, interactive displays!
The most impressive feature of Ripley’s Aquarium for our family is the Shark Lagoon exhibit. With a moving sidewalk, you can ride through the 340 feet long tunnel as sharks, giant stingrays, sawfish, tarpon, and other sea life swim around and above you. (Our crew had to go through multiple times.) We happened to reach this area just in time for the sharks’ lunchtime! That was awesome. My boys are still talking about it.
Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies has two playground structures for the kids to climb and slide to their hearts’ content while parents can sit on benches nearby and rest their feet, feed babies, etc. Much to this mama-of-five’s joy, the two structures, which are beside one another, have entrances on separate levels of the building and are NOT connected. So don’t worry – your little one can’t enter on the ground level and escape on the second level. 😀 My kids had a great time playing though.
Throughout the aquarium, I was very impressed by the hands-on and interactivity elements of so many exhibits. From touching crabs, rays, and jellyfish, to being under and inside tanks and exhibits, my children loved every minute of the experience and learned a lot.
The newest exhibit at Ripley’s Aquarium is the Pearl Harbor Exhibit, a one of a kind exhibit, combining both history and aquatic life!
Again, more interactivity! I was pleasantly surprised at how much my boys really enjoyed the Pearl Harbor exhibit – playing, reading, learning, observing, and asking questions! The Pearl Harbor exhibit is brand new this year, and just like Ripley’s Aquarium’s other exhibits, this one has something for everyone. Visitors of all ages were enjoying it the day we were there.
As a homeschool family, I was also excited to learn that Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies offers special programs for homeschool students! Unfortunately we didn’t get a chance to attend one on this trip, but if you would like to learn more, they have information on their web site HERE. They also offer several other unique experiences for all visitors. (Swimming with a stingray, anyone?)
Overall, Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies was one of the highlights of our vacation. I’m really glad we chose to visit at the beginning of the week, when our little kids were more well-rested and could enjoy the experience as much as the big kids. Definitely plan to spend at least 2-3 hours on your visit and have exhausted kiddos when you leave! We had a
To order tickets or for more info:
Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies is located at:
88 River Rd, Gatlinburg,TN 37738
Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies is open 365 days a year, but hours of operation vary by season. That info can be found HERE.