Tuesday, March 26, 2013
While visiting Dollywood, Gatlinburg. and the Smoky Mountains this past weekend my wife and I decided to do something we have never done: check out Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies. This was the third year in a row we have visited Gatlinburg and, although we’d taken pictures outside of it every trip, we had never actually went inside the aquarium. Well, the weather wasn’t that great and it was colder than usual out so we figured it was the perfect time to see what the aquarium had to offer (and it promised to be nice and warm inside)!
There is a sign outside advertising it as “America’s #1 Aquarium.” I’ve never been there but I’ve always assume the Georgia Aquarium to be the best, followed by the Monterey Bay Aquarium (which we did visit last July and it was awesome). I wouldn’t rate Ripleys the number one aquarium but it was slightly better than I expected it to be and is a good option if you’re looking for an hour or two of entertainment and discovery.
The aquarium features many exhibits divided up into themed regions but the main attraction is the Shark Lagoon. Guests stand on a motorized walkway that carries them through a semi-circular tube in a U-shaped layout through a giant tank filled with nurse sharks and sawfish. The cool thing about it too is that not only do you get a great 180 degree underwater, you can also go above the tank and appear straight down into it from a variety of angles enabling you to watch the sharks fins pierce the water ala jaws. There is also a creepy/mysterious soundtrack playing in the background (all the background music is done really well here).
While the Shark Lagoon is an outstanding exhibit, the Aquarium of the Smokies as a whole lacks that one unique, marquee animal that they can hang their hat on. For example, Monterey Bay has sea otters and the Georgia Aquarium has whale sharks. Beyond the Shark Lagoon, there are really no imaginative tank designs (unlike Monterey Bay, which had several stunning designs). As an adult I did find enjoyment in visiting the Gatlinburg aquarium but it is really geared more towards kids. In the end, the aquarium is slightly overpriced (AAA members get a $1 off discount per ticket) but is a much better value than most of the other overpriced tourist traps in Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge.
Sunday, March 10, 2013
We took a trip to the Columbus Zoo on Saturday, March 9th to see what was going on and if anything was new. In the latest edition of the Beastly Banner, the zoo president and CEO Tom Stalf said "We are moving to Phase II of the Safari Africa construction project. I was impressed with the 60 large trees that were planted throughout the area. This process happened in just a few days and it really transformed the area. The completion of the area will be in the summer of 2014. Giraffes, zebras, and lions will be some of the featured animals." At this point none of the Safari Africa construction can be seen from inside the zoo, other than mounds of dirt, markers, and construction equipment. The construction is going on right behind the grizzly bear enclosure.
Tom also talked about the zoo's 2013 plans in the magazine: "In honor of Jack, we are excited to provide a dinosaur experience. Enjoy walking through the Jurassic era and come face-to-face with these amazing creatures. This exhibit will also include our boat ride tour as you travel by many dinosaurs, ranging from the size of your hand to our T-rex that is larger than a city bus!" The dinosaurs are going to be found in the Islands of Southeast Asia region of the zoo. While visiting the zoo I spotted numerous red and yellow flags in the ground which I suspect are the future locations of the dinosaurs and I snapped a few pictures (seen below).
A couple other of my own notes and observations:
- All three polar bears were out in the yard and playing, the first time I have seen all three at once.
- It looks like a new cage was added to the bat exhibit in Asia Quest to separate some of the bat species.
- A new Colobus monkey was born at the zoo recently but, of course, is not on public display yet.
Columbus Zoo possible early Dinosaur exhibit construction (I believe the placement of the flags is where the animatronic dinos will be):