Let’s start out with the elephant in the room.
Why is there a crime museum in Pigeon Forge named after the famous San Francisco island prison? We’re not sure either.
Their website says the architecture blends together a mixture that represents both Tennessee’s first state prison in Nashville as well as the original Alcatraz.
It feels like an odd combination … so odd, in fact, that it made it to our list of out-of-place attractions in the Smokies.
According to the Alcatraz East website, it once operated as the National Museum of Crime and Punishment in Washington, DC, but it closed in 2015 when its landlord terminated the lease.
The museum re-opened in Pigeon Forge in 2016.
But I’m glad it found a home here in the Smoky Mountains. It fits right in with the upside-down building and King Kong climbing the Empire State Building along the Parkway.
How much does the Alcatraz East Crime Museum cost?
At the time of this writing, an adult ticket to Alcatraz East will cost you $26.95. A child’s ticket (8-12) will cost $14.95.
The museum also offers discounts for seniors, law and military, and Sevier County residents ($19.95).
Sometimes booking on Tripster also saves you a couple of bucks.
There are add-ons, of course. You can choose to buy an audio tour or additional challenges if you want to opt for the VIP treatment.
If you add all of the bells and whistles, you’re looking at about $36.95 per adult and $24.95 per child.
What’s inside the Alcatraz East Crime Museum?
Initially, I assumed Alcatraz East Crime Museum would mostly be a dedication to its namesake, with loads of fun Alcatraz facts and some miscellaneous American crime history sprinkled in.
Surprisingly, it’s a bit of the inverse. It’s mostly American crime history with a few Alcatraz facts sprinkled in.
You begin the tour with how most criminals start their prison time – with a mugshot. And as you walk through the museum, you walk through various galleries dedicated to the antiheroes of American history.
The museum makes a point to humanize the stories of the victims and celebrate law enforcement.
You can learn everything you ever wanted to know about all types of crime. There’s exhibits on pirates, Old West gunslingers, white-collar criminals and modern-day murderers.
One of my favorite exhibits was the Crime Scene Investigation gallery, where you learn about the use of forensic science, DNA, facial reconstruction and fingerprinting – AND see a real body in the middle of the room. (Okay, not real, still a cool feature).
Along the walls, you also see morgues. Despite the sign that says they do not open, you can tell almost every guest passing through attempts to open them.
The museum also has a dedication to 9/11. It’s very respectfully done, and guests can write notes about where they were when it happened. Some of the notes said they were there when it happened. It’s definitely a solemn part of the tour.
Is the Alcatraz East Crime Museum worth it?
The Alcatraz East Crime Museum in Pigeon Forge is definitely an interesting place to visit, especially if you’ve hopped on the band wagon of true crime fandom.
Overall, the museum is interactive. (Less so in the era of 2020, however).
Throughout, you’ll find little challenges such as gunslinging, safe cracking, lie detectors and trivia questions.
That being said, it also involves a lot of reading.
The amount of reading is probably my only one real complaint, and it’s a small one.
Sure, you can pay a few extra bucks to have an audio-guided tour, but in my opinion, the museum could use a few employees (or even crime-enthusiast volunteers) sprinkled throughout the galleries to talk to guests, answer questions and elaborate on the stories.
In fact, during our visit we bumped into a self-described historian who talked to my family and me and did just that.
Alcatraz East, if you’re listening, you should go find that guy and hire him.
Overall though, I would say this museum is worth a visit, unless you’re just not into true crime history. Then this wouldn’t necessarily be for you.
How long does it take to go through Alcatraz East?
Plan to spend at least 2-3 hours of your day here, and closer to the three-hour mark if you stop to read everything.
Alcatraz East is conveniently located at The Island in Pigeon Forge, so it’s a great location for you to plan your day around.
Tips for your visit to Alcatraz East
My number one tip is to take a bathroom break before you start.
Alcatraz East doesn’t have a restroom in the lobby area, and you have to go roughly more than halfway through the museum before you reach a potty. My tiny bladder and I think that’s a crime.
Parking is free at the back of the museum. Since it’s at the entrance of The Island, you could also take advantage of The Island’s large, free parking lot on a busy day.
The museum doesn’t have a restaurant on site, but The Island will have quite a few for you to choose form within walking distance.
Is Alcatraz East Crime Museum good for kids?
While I honestly think young kids could stand a chance to get bored here (as I mentioned, lots of reading), it’s full of teachable moments for the older kids.
And the good news is, kids under 7 are free.
The museum is chock-full of history, and there’s a lot of science and puzzle solving that goes hand-in-hand with crime.
Alcatraz East can help children understand the roles that contribute to a crime and also learn about our country’s judicial system.
Is this the museum that has Ted Bundy’s car?
One of Alcatraz East’s newer and notable exhibits is the Ted Bundy exhibit: “From Car to Incarceration: Ted Bundy’s Final Arrest”.
This two-year exhibit includes a collection of items relating to Bundy, including the famous stolen 1968 VW Bug.
Is Alcatraz East Museum open?
Alcatraz East is open daily from 10 am to 9 pm.
Hours may vary by season.
Temporary exhibits and programs
The museum is frequently adding to its collection.
They have a panel of experts who make up the Advisory Board, including people in law enforcement, collectors, a medical examiner, crime scene investigators and more.
Temporary exhibits are often done in partnerships with outside programs and are included with every ticket.
Alcatraz East Crime Museum coupons
Guests of all ages are welcome at Alcatraz East.
You can also save a couple bucks by booking with Tripster.
Alcatraz East Crime Museum is located on 2757 Parkway in Pigeon Forge TN. For more information, visit www.alcatrazeast.com.
Do you think this museum is worth it? Let us know in the comments!