Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies is one of the crown jewel attractions in Gatlinburg, Tenn., featuring over 350 species of aquatic life in its massive facility.
But when you’re planning out your precious vacation dollars, budget and time, a question commonly comes up: Is the Gatlinburg aquarium worth it?
While “worth” is different for different people, we believe this review will help you determine if an aquarium visit is right for you and your family.
Let’s start with the basics.
How much is Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies?
At the time of this writing, an adult ticket (12 and up) is $39.99. Children (6-11) cost $24.99 and children (2-5) cost $9.99.
Didn’t see the price of admission for toddlers? That’s because children under age two are free!
Now, shelling out (turtle jokes) $40 on an aquarium ticket might seem a little steep.
But, for comparison’s sake, I looked at two nearby competitors: The Tennessee Aquarium in Chattanooga, Tenn., and the Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta.
Chattanooga currently costs $34.95 for adults and $21.95 for children.
The Georgia Aquarium is $39.99 for everyone except for children under 2.
So, Ripley’s is actually quite affordable when you compare.
For example, let’s say you have a family of four with two kids between the ages of 3-10.
A day at the Georgia Aquarium would cost roughly $160 (pre-tax). A day at the Tennessee Aquarium in Chattanooga would cost about $114, and a day at Ripley’s would cost about $130.
However, if your children are younger than five, it would make Ripley’s the most affordable option of its competitors.
But here’s where the vacation math really gets exciting. If you get combo tickets with Ripley’s, you can save up to $25 per person when you visit two other Ripley’s attractions, or $35 per person if you visit three other Ripley’s attractions.
In my opinion, this makes Ripley’s the best deal of the three.
How long does it take to go through Ripley’s Aquarium in Gatlinburg?
Google says that most people spend an average of about 2.5 hours here. However, I can easily spend about half my day exploring the aquarium.
Honestly, if you stop to read everything, do everything, touch everything, you could easily spend several hours here.
To me, the longer I stay at an attraction, the further my vacation dollar goes. Aquariums are a place to slow down and appreciate the wonders of aquatic life.
Could you speed walk through it and see it in less than two hours? Probably. But you might just be missing that one giant fish in that one tank.
Is it cheaper to buy Ripley’s Aquarium tickets online?
There are clear advantages to buying your tickets online before you go.
The first of which is that you can skip the line upon arrival, saving valuable vacation time.
And if you are interested in seeing any other Ripley’s attractions, or playing some mini-golf in the area, you can save even more by bundling your tickets with some of the other attractions.
The more you buy, the more you save per attraction.
And it’s worth noting that Gatlinburg has more Ripley’s attractions than anywhere else in the world.
The other attractions may not be quite as popular as the aquarium, but the mini-golf alone makes the deal worth it, in my opinion.
The additional attractions in the Smokies area include:
- Ripley’s Believe It or Not! Odditorium
- Ripley’s Moving Theater
- Ripley’s Mirror Maze
- Ripley’s Haunted Adventure
- Ripley’s Super Fun Zone (Laser Tag)
- Ripley’s Super Fun Zone (Indoor Mini Golf)
- Ripley’s Mountain Coaster (One ride)
- Ripley’s Super Fun Park (One hour unlimited rides)
- Old Mac Mini Golf (18 holes)
- Davy Crockett Mini Golf (18 holes)
How long are Ripley’s Aquarium tickets valid?
When you buy a ticket online, your ticket is valid for one year from the date of purchase.
At this time, reservations are not required for general admission.
However, we recommend buying in advance to save yourself some time upon arrival.
Is Ripley’s Aquarium in Gatlinburg worth it?
In my opinion, the aquarium is very well done.
And my vacation math, especially for a family of four, also checks out.
Certainly, I have not personally been to every aquarium in North America, unfortunately. But I’ve visited some of the big ones, including the Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta and the Audubon Aquarium of the Americas in New Orleans.
I even had a brief stint as a volunteer at the Tennessee Aquarium in Chattanooga.
And not to throw shade on those guys, because they are all great in their own right.
Still, Ripley’s remains one of my favorites.
Even though it’s still a large aquarium, it doesn’t get quite as crowded as the aquarium in Georgia. Plus, Ripley’s does a great job offering hands-on experiences, such as touching the gentle stingrays at Stingray Bay.
If there’s wiggle room in your budget, you can book a penguin encounter where you get to pet one of the adorable and playful penguins. You can also book a penguin painting experience, which is $75 per person at the time of this writing.
How big is Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies?
According to Ripley’s, the aquarium is an 85,000-square-foot facility with two levels full of interactive experiences.
Two of my personal favorite features of this aquarium include the 340-foot underwater tunnel with a glide path. And of course, there’s the Penguin Playhouse. The adorable creatures enjoy both an indoor and outdoor habitat.
Popular areas to explore include the coral reef, the tropical rainforest, Gallery of the Seas and the Discovery Center.
In fact, being face to face with jellyfish, a giant sea turtle, sawfish, octopi, moray eels, tarpons, cuttlefish, squirrelfish, giant stingrays, garden eels and even flounder is an experience not soon forgotten.
The glass-bottom boat that travels over the Shark Lagoon is a family favorite as well.
For more information about special events such as pirate sleepovers, camps and penguin art, visit the aquarium events page. Group discounts and special promos are also available.
Special combo attraction tickets for additional Ripley’s attractions are available as well.
The Gatlinburg aquarium is wheelchair-accessible and stroller friendly.
Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies is located in downtown Gatlinburg at 88 River Rd, Gatlinburg, TN 37738.
What do you think of Ripley’s Aquarium in Gatlinburg? Is it worth it? Let us know in the comments!