Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies Review

gatlinburg aquariumWhile 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.