Nestled in the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains, Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies, is one of the most popular attractions in Gatlinburg. This facility has welcomed over 15 million visitors since opening its doors nearly 13 years ago. After spending the afternoon visiting each exhibit, it’s easy to see why the aquarium has been voted as the #1 most popular aquarium in the United States by TripAdvisor.
Looks can be deceiving because at first glance, as you step inside Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies, you’d have no idea that this attraction encompasses 115,000 square feet of space with 1.4 million gallons of water. Ripley’s Aquarium is home to over 3,500 varieties of fish and marine life- that’s a lot of stingrays, sharks and fish!
Robert Ripley, the namesake of Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies, was an adventurer who sought the odd and unusual from around the globe. In fact, one of the reasons my family enjoyed the aquarium enough to visit again is because we saw creatures at Ripley’s that we’d not seen elsewhere.
From beautifully colored Poison Dart Frogs, to a four eyed fish, to Giant Japanese Spider Crabs, you’ll find an incredible collection of colorful creatures collected from around the world.
You’ll travel through the Tropical Rainforest, along the Coral Reef, to the Ocean Realm, the Stingray Bay and into the Shark Lagoon, the largest and most popular exhibit in the aquarium.
We relaxed as we rode along the moving carpet through the Shark Lagoon, marveling as the giant fish stingrays and sharks swam all around and overhead.
Prepare to be amazed!
When you enter the aquarium, make sure that you pick up a show schedule so you don’t miss any of the hourly dives, talks or educational programs.
You’ll get a close-up look at the stingray in the Touch-a-Ray Bay but if you’d like to do more than touch the soft, silky skin of these magnificent creatures, you can jump right into the tank if you arrange it prior to your visit.
There’s no need to travel to the Southwestern coast of Africa to see penguins. Ripley’s Penguin Playhouse allows you to get up close and personal with these birds. You can crawl through clear tunnels to see the penguins in their indoor and outdoor habitats. The aquarium also offers behind the scenes programming that will have these Black-footed penguins staring you in the face.
The Discovery Center offers interactive exhibits, play stations, a Horseshoe crab touch tank, kids’ costumes, photo opps and a classroom that offers educational programming. This is a great stop for little ones in the family to expound some energy.
I would plan to spend a minimum of 1.5 hours in the aquarium, but that time could easily extend to a full afternoon if you take time to fully enjoy each exhibit or add any of the special programs.
- Penguin Experience
- Sleep with the Sharks
- Behind the Scenes
- Penguin Painting Experience
- Splash with the Rays
If all the excitement leaves your tank empty, you can stop and refuel in the Feeding Frenzy where you can grab a bite to eat as you watch the divers in the Stingray Bay.
Don’t forget to stop by the Cargo Hold on your way out. This unique gift store offers a large variety of gifts and souvenirs. Where else can you buy your very own one of a kind piece of penguin art?
Things to Know Before you Go:
Address: 88 River Rd, Gatlinburg,TN 37738
Phone: 865 430-8808
Cost: Check the website for current pricing. Discounts for homeschool families are offered if arranged in advance. Annual passes are also available to save you money.
Hours: Opens at 9 a.m. 365 days a year
In addition to Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies, you’ll find another aquarium in Myrtle Beach and Toronto.
Have you visited either of the Ripley’s Aquariums? What was your favorite feature?
Disclaimer: My family was invited to visit Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies and received comped admission in exchange for sharing our experience on my site. I was not asked to share a particular viewpoint and all opinions are my own.