Visit: Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies {Gatlinburg, Tennessee}

by Cate on May 21, 2014


It’s a given that probably 75% of our outings involve animals. Or Ripley’s. And our Spring Break in Tennessee is no exception.

It actually involved a lot of both.

And that 75% is purely an unscientific guess.

When I was researching things we could do in Tennessee and saw that there was an aquarium in the general vicinity of our second hotel, it was pretty much a given that we would stop there.

On our second night in Tennessee, we made the three hour drive from Nashville to Gatlinburg, checked in at the hotel and took off for the aquarium right away.

It might not take the average person three hours to drive that distance, but that’s the beauty of road trips, isn’t it? You can stop along the way whenever you want.

The Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies is located right off the main drag in downtown Gatlinburg and was really easy to find. A tall parking deck adjacent to the aquarium made it easy to find a space, and it’s only a few dollars (cash only) for parking.

We arrived a few hours before the place closed, which I highly recommend, because I wouldn’t necessarily say we had the place to ourselves, but we almost had the place to ourselves.

Which was all sorts of awesome. It gave us the freedom to wander from exhibit to exhibit and not have to worry about fighting any crowds when it came to a show or an opportunity to touch slimy creatures.

The place is huge, boasting some 10,000 sea creatures amongst their space. Some items are usual suspects amongst aquariums, some were new to us. (They have a great virtual tour right here)

There is peaceful, calming music piped throughout the aquarium, which was really a nice touch, and there were knowledgeable staff members ready to answer any questions we had as we explored at our own pace.


Madeline LOVES any place where she can touch the animals, and had the opportunity to touch sting ray and horseshoe crabs. In fact, there were baby sting rays and we really had a hard time pulling her away from them.

aquarium - sting ray touch tank

There was a cute show with an underwater diver, who really went out of his way to interact with the kids on the other side of the glass.

In one section of the aquarium, there is a moving sidewalk that takes you through a huge aquarium filled with an assortment of large fish and sharks swimming overhead (“shark lagoon”). That was very unique, and definitely something we hadn’t seen before.

aquarium - blue

A penguin exhibit had these tubes that the kids could crawl into that would have them popping up in the middle of the penguin exhibit (the “penguin playhouse”), which pretty much put them as close as they’re going to get to a penguin.

Too cute.


And, of course, the requisite gift shop and pressed penny machine. The kids each had a $10 budget, and Nick chose a t-shirt and Madeline a stuffed animal with its own backpack.


The Ripley’s Aquarium was a great spot to visit on our vacation, and I wouldn’t hesitate to go back.

And it also makes for some pretty awesome photo opps, as most aquariums do, which made this Mama quite happy.

88 River Road
Gatlinburg,TN 37738
Telephone 865 430-8808

Hungry for more aquariums?
You can check out our review on Adventure Aquarium in Camden, New Jersey right here, the Maritime Aquarium in Norwalk, Connecticut right here, the Jenkinson’s Aquarium here, and the Atlantis Aquarium in Nassau here.

Hungry for more Tennessee?
Our visit to RainForest Adventures was fun, with questionable vending machine prizes.
The kids loved riding The Great Smoky Mountain Wheel, and it gave us awesome views from the top (gulp).
Jack’s Bar-B-Que in Nashville was a highlight and not-to-be-missed.
Our favorite Tennessee eats can be found here.
And lastly, some highlights from our week-long adventure.

*The Ripley’s team kindly provided us with complementary passes for our visit. All opinions expressed here are my very own.

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Joanne May 22, 2014 at 6:43 am

Ripley’s as an aquarium is a pretty cool concept! Sounds like a fun outing!
Joanne recently posted..Black Tea Spring Rolls with Eggplant and Mango Dipping Sauce


Ryan June 4, 2014 at 11:29 am

Of all the years we have been to Gatlinburg, we have never been to the Aquarium. I guess we are just too busy feeding our face while we are there haha.

Your photos are beautiful and it looks like a lot of fun. When we go back in September this will be at the top of our list.


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