Ripley's is known for tourist venues throughout the world. One area that Ripley's does very well are their aquariums. Myrtle Beach and Toronto aquariums are also operated by Ripley's, but the Aquarium of the Smokies is one of the better aquariums. What it provides is a high quality aquarium with great views of aquatic life at a convenient location close to other tourist destinations. Within Gatlinburg it is one of the most visited places for visitors to the area with its convenient location near the heart of town. The Aquarium is also reasonably priced compared to other tourist spots around Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge.
The Aquarium of the Smokies in downtown Gatlinburg, Tennessee
Highlights of the Aquarium of the Smokies
Inside Ripleys Aquarium of the Smokies
Overall the Aquarium of the Smokies is very inviting. It has open spaces and plenty of natural light. The exhibits are easy to see for kids and adults. Even though the aquarium can get crowded, there are usually places to find a less crowded space.
The Rainforest at Ripley's Aquarium of the Smokies
The Tropic Rainforest is the first section of the aquarium. This area features unique aquatic life found in rainforests around the world. One of the fish on display are South American piranha.
At the end of this section is the control area of the Aquarium. Here guests can see the large volume of saltwater and freshwater is treated and monitored to provide ideal conditions for the aquatic life in the Aquarium.
The Underwater Viewing Tunnel is one of the Best in the U.S.
Do not miss the 340 foot long underwater viewing tunnel. It is one of the best and longest in the United States. The tunnel features a slow-moving conveyor system so guests can stand still and enjoy all of the sea life including sharks, rays, sea turtles and a large variety of fish. It has been our experience that underwater tunnels without a moving conveyor system do not flow well. Guests typically stop in one area causing back-ups. Many guests also stop and spend a long time in one area, so other guests who do not want to wait may miss the best part of the aquarium. This is not the case at Ripley's. The viewing tunnel travels through several different underwater scenes and different tanks so there are many different kinds of sea animals to see along the way. Sharks are very plentiful throughout the experience. The great thing about the underwater viewing tunnel at Ripley's is that you can experience it as many times as you want during your visit. There is no extra charge per trip through the tunnel.
Hands-On Activity Area
Horseshoe Crab Touch Tank at the Hands-on Activity Area
The most interactive area in the Aquarium of the Smokies is the Hands-on Activity Area. Kids can touch horseshoe crabs in this area. There are sea life displays that make great photo props in this section. Information displays here help kids learn about ocean life. Kids can climb through tunnels and pop up in the middle of an aquarium. There are also interactive audio-visual displays where kids can learn as they play.
Sting Ray Bay
The Large Ray Tank at the Aquarium of the Smokies
As you explore the underwater viewing tunnel you will see large rays. Many more rays are found in one of the aquarium's largest tanks called Sting Ray Bay. This tank features several types of rays. There are regular shows at the Sting Ray Bay viewing area near the aquarium restaurant. Divers feed the rays and perform some underwater tricks. The rays are typically very aggressive, so it is a good show. After the show, kids can walk up the ramp to the other side of the tank and experience touching a ray while the diver assists.
One Area of the Penguin Section at the Aquarium of the Smokies
The most recent addition to Ripley's Aquarium of the Smokies is the Penguin Playhouse opened in 2010. This area of the aquarium features indoor and outdoor spaces where penguins are free to swim back and forth. Penguin Playhouse features African Blackfoot penguins. Kids enjoy this area because they can crawl through tunnels and pop up in the middle of a bubble in the penguin area. They can also watch the penguins swim through transparent tunnels in the floor leading from the indoor area to the outdoor area. Everyday there is a feeding schedule where guests can watch the penguins eat.
Aquarium Live Shows
Ripley's Aquarium features some great live shows. Check the daily schedule when you arrive.
Ripley's Aquarium of the Smokies offers live shows throughout the day. The Coral Reef Dive and Stingray Ray Dive are two of the most popular shows. In each show a diver enters the tank and interacts with the sea life, while offering some food to the animals. An announcer provides the audience with information about the animals and about each specific aquarium exhibit. They are fun shows to watch, particularly for the kids. Plan to arrive 10-15 minutes early for the shows when it is busy because viewing is limited by the floor space around each exhibit.
Summary of our visit to Ripley's Aquarium of the Smokies
Our Visit to Ripley's Aquarium of the Smokies
One of the most popular tourist locations from spring break through winter ski season is Gatlinburg, Tennessee. Gatlinburg is the gateway to the Great Smoky Mountains. It is a beautiful place to visit, but there are many tourist stops that can quickly add cost to a vacation to the area. Ripley's Aquarium of the Smokies has a prominent location in downtown Gatlinburg, so kids are always curious to see what is inside.
Our visit the Ripley's Aquarium of the Smokies provided a nice surprise. Many tourist activities around Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge offer fun, but not much in terms of content. Our experience was rewarding, filled with many opportunities to see and learn new things. Being located in such a tourist-oriented location, the quality of the aquarium and emphasis on the visitor experience was a surprise.
This is the top of a part of the largest tank in the Aquarium of the Smokies.
Seeing how the water control room works is part of the experience at the Aquarium of the Smokies