Is Ripley’s Aquarium worth the money: A review of Gatlinburg’s aquarium

Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies is one of the crowned jewel attractions in Gatlinburg, Tenn.

But when you’re planning out your precious vacation dollars, budget and time, a question commonly comes up: Is the aquarium worth it?

While “worth” is different to different people, we believe this article will help you determine if a visit to Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies in Gatlinburg is right for you and your family.

Let’s start with the basics.

A diver with a shark at Ripley's Aquarium in Gatlinburg
If you’re lucky, you might see divers inside the tanks at Ripley’s (media photo courtesy of Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies)

How much does it cost to go to Ripley’s Aquarium?

At the time of this writing, an adult ticket for Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies is $39.99. Children (6-11) cost $19.99 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 $40 on an aquarium ticket might seem a little steep.

But, for comparison sake I looked at two nearby competitors: The Tennessee Aquarium in Chattanooga, Tenn., and the Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta. Both of which run closer to $35 range for adult admission.

That being said, the price of admission for adults is offset by the price of admission for kids, which is more expensive at Ripley’s competitors.

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 $144. A day at the Tennessee Aquarium in Chattanooga would cost $114, and a day at Ripley’s would cost $119.

And if one of your kids was under age 5, it would make Ripley’s the least expensive of the three.

You can also save a bit of money (up to $35) when you bundle your aquarium ticket with other area Ripley’s themed attractions in the area (more on that below).

Play area inside Ripley's Aquarium in Gatlinburg
Ripley’s has hands-on experiences and a huge play areas for children. Note: This photo was taken in 2019; check here for current policies and procedures (photo by Alaina O’Neal/

How long does it take to walk through Ripley’s Aquarium?

Google tells me that most people spend an average of about 2.5 hours here. However, the last time I was at the aquarium, it took me at least half a day to get through it.

And honestly, if you stop to read everything, do everything, touch everything, you could easily spend the majority of your day doing just that.

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. They go to work every day working hard to be the best.

Plus, the longer you spend at the aquarium, the farther your entertainment time-per-dollar goes.

Read Also: Is Anakeesta worth the money? An honest review

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 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 might make the deal worth it.

The additional attractions in the Smokies area include:

  • Believe it or Not! Odditorium
  • Haunted Adventure
  • Mirror Maze
  • Moving Theater
  • Old Mac Mini Golf
  • Davy Crockett Mini Golf
  • Super Fun Zone

Read Also: Ripley’s in the Smokies: A breakdown of each attraction (with discounts and coupons!)

An octopus at Ripley's Aquarium in Gatlinburg
If you move through the aquarium too quickly, you may overlook some of the 10,000 exotic sea creatures, like this octopus (media photo courtesy of Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies)

How long are Ripley’s Aquarium tickets good for?

When you buy a ticket online, the ticket is valid for one year from the date of purchase.

At this time, reservations are not required for general admission.

So is Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies in Gatlinburg worth it?

In my opinion, Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies is a very well done aquarium, and my vacation math, especially for a family of four, certainly checks out.

And while I personally haven’t been to every aquarium in North America (unfortunately), I have been to some of the big ones, including the Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta, the Audubon Aquarium of the Americas in New Orleans, and I even had a brief stint as a volunteer at the Tennessee Aquarium in Chattanooga.

And not to hate on those guys, because they are all great in their own right. But 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 of offering hands-on experiences.

Two of my personal favorite features of this aquarium is the 340-foot underwater tunnel, and of course, the Penguin Playhouse.

If you have a little wiggle room in your budget, you can even do art projects with a penguin, and take one home as a souvenir.

Sharks in a underwater tunnel at Ripley's
Ripley’s underwater tunnel offers amazing views of sharks, rays, and giant sea turtles and is a unique feature of this award-winning aquarium (media photo courtesy of Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies)

Special Offer: Save up to $22 with the Ripley’s Gatlinburg Aquarium + 2 attraction combo!

Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies is located at 88 River Rd, Gatlinburg, TN 37738. For more information, visit their website or book your tickets here.

What do you think of Ripley’s Aquarium in Gatlinburg? Is it worth it? Let us know in the comments!

Anakeesta vs. SkyLift Park: Which attraction is better?

Anakeesta vs. SkyLift Park: Which is better? While both attractions offer fun ways to soak in gorgeous views of the Great Smoky Mountains, it can be hard to choose just one.

So let’s compare some of the differences between Anakeesta and SkyLift Park to help you plan your next Gatlinburg vacation:

Anakeesta vs. SkyLift: The similarities

Why are these two attractions often compared to one another? They have a lot in common: They are both located in downtown Gatlinburg and offer breathtaking views of the mountains.

Both have a chairlift. Both offer food, snacks and drinks for guests to enjoy while soaking in mountain views. And let’s be honest, both could offer a solid challenge for a person with a fear of heights.

So how are they different?

Anakeesta Ridge Rambler
The Anakeesta Ridge Rambler boards at the base of the mountain near the parking lot and offers guests an alternative way to get up the mountain (photo by Morgan Overholt/

Anakeesta vs. SkyLift: The heights

Anakeesta may be a less scary option for those with a fear of heights for two main reasons:

a. Getting up the mountain

Let’s start with getting up the mountain. While you can ride a chairlift to get to either attraction, Anakeesta also offers a Ridge Rambler, which is basically a big truck you can ride in lieu of the chair lift.

SkyLift Park offers no such option, and the only way to get up to the park is to take the SkyLift.

b. The SkyBridge 

The Gatlinburg SkyBridge at SkyLift Park is famous, claiming the title for the longest pedestrian suspension bridge in all of North America.

The SkyBridge spans 680 feet with glass floor panels at the center. The midpoint is 140 feet high.

It’s both gorgeous and nerve-wracking, even for those who aren’t entirely fearful of heights.

Read Also: Opinion: Cracking the Gatlinburg SkyBridge glass floor isn’t the fastest way to win friends

Gatlinburg SkyBridge
The Gatlinburg SkyBridge spans 680 feet (Gatlinburg SkyLift Park media photo)

By contrast, Anakeesta offers what they call the longest “tree-based” skywalk in North America. But it’s not to be confused with the SkyBridge behemoth.

I consider the Anakeesta skywalk like a baby version of the SkyBridge. Anakeesta’s skywalk spans in total about 880 feet, but it’s only suspended 50-60 feet in the air.

The winner: It depends. If you want a thrill, you’ll enjoy the SkyBridge at SkyLift Park. If you want to ease into the heights, you may want to start with Anakeesta.

The Treetop Skywalk at Anakeesta in Gatlinburg, Tenn is the longest tree-based Skywalk in North America (photo by Bill Burris/
The Treetop Skywalk at Anakeesta in Gatlinburg, Tenn is the longest tree-based Skywalk in North America (photo by Bill Burris/

Anakeesta vs. SkyLift: Which one is cheaper?

At the time of this writing, general admission tickets for Anakeesta are $28.99 for adults, $21.99 for seniors and $19.99 for kids (ages 4-11). But, discounts are available. For instance, you can usually save a couple of bucks when you book on Tripster.

General admission for the Gatlinburg SkyLift Park is $28.95 per adult, $18.95 per child (4-11) and $23.95 per senior.

Children under 3 are free at both locations. Both offer group discounts for groups of 20 or more.

SkyLift Park offers $2 military discounts for both military members and immediate family (with military ID). Local residents also receive a $4 discount with proof of residency.

Anakeesta also offers a military discount (10% off), and local discounts for Sevier County residences (20% off). But again, it’s normally cheaper just to book through Tripster. Plus, you’ll save yourself from a long queue at the ticket counter.

Prices may vary by season and are subject to change.

The winner: Anakeesta. We love a good discount.

The new TreeVenture was part of Anakeesta’s recent multi-million dollar expansion (photo by Daniel Munson/

Anakeesta vs. SkyLift: Which has more things to do?

Anakeesta offers plenty of things to do for kids, including the Treehouse Village Adventure, BearVenture, the TreeVenture Challenge Course and even a splash pad for warmer months, all of which are included with the price of admission.

The adults will enjoy the many shopping areas, restaurants, Treetop Skywalk, Memorial Forest Walk, Vista Gardens, and the all-new AnaVista observation tower.

Additionally, Anakeesta also offers a mountain coaster (the Rail Runner) and a dueling zipline for an extra fee. Anakeesta has so much to offer, and they continue to expand and add to the Anakeesta experience.

Read Also: Anakeesta debuts 7 new attractions at the Black Bear Village grand opening

By contrast, SkyLift Park is home of the SkyLift, SkyBridge, SkyDeck, SkyCenter and SkyTrail (coming fall 2021).

The most famous and most thrilling thing to experience at SkyLift is the SkyBridge. Once the guests have conquered that, they usually relax a bit at the SkyCenter and SkyDeck.

The SkyCenter building has a gift shop and snack bar that offers pizza, salads, ice cream and more, with a seating area that overlooks Gatlinburg.

The winner: It’s hard to compete with zip lines, mountain coasters and multiple shops and restaurants. Anakeesta wins in this category.

This brave pup belongs to SkyLift Park's Marketing Director Marcus Watson (photo courtesy of Gatlinburg's SkyLift Park)
This brave pup belongs to SkyLift Park’s Marketing Director Marcus Watson (photo courtesy of Gatlinburg’s SkyLift Park)

Are dogs allowed at Anakeesta or SkyLift Park?

Pets are not allowed at Anakeesta (with the exception of ADA service dogs), but dogs are allowed at SkyLift Park.

If you wish to bring your dog to SkyLift Park, dog owners must adhere to the dog policy, which includes guidelines such as:

  • Dogs must be leashed at all times
  • Dog owners must securely hold their dog on the SkyLift
  • Owners must always accompany the dog and are responsible for the dog’s behavior

Read Also: Top 11 dog-friendly destinations around Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge 

The winner: SkyLift Park

The new Cliff Top restaurant in Black Bear Village serves up elevated American Classics such as gourmet hamburgers (photo by Daniel Munson/
The new Cliff Top restaurant in Black Bear Village serves up elevated American Classics such as gourmet hamburgers (photo by Daniel Munson/

Anakeesta vs. SkyLift: Which has better restaurants?

While you can get snacks and pizza at the Gatlinburg SkyCenter at SkyLift Park, Anakeesta has some restaurants that are simply hard to beat.

At Anakeesta, you have many choices, including:

  • Cliff Top (offers modern American cuisine)
  • Smokehouse (offers smoked meats)
  • Kephart Cafe (offers fast meals)
  • Tap House (offers craft beers)
  • Pearl’s Pie in the Sky (offers desserts)
  • Snack Shack (offers sweet treats)

Here’s the caveat: Reservations are usually not accepted, so be sure to plan ahead. Wait times can be long on top of the mountain.

Read Also: A look inside Anakeesta’s brand new restaurant: What’s on the menu?

The winner: Anakeesta wins this round!

Are Anakeesta and SkyLift Park wheelchair accessible?

Anakeesta offers wheelchair-accessible areas, which include the Firefly Village shops, dining pavilions and scenic viewing platforms. Visit their park policies page to learn more.

The Gatlinburg SkyLift Park staff also accommodates disabled individuals on the SkyLift, SkyDeck and lower levels of the SkyCenter. However, the SkyBridge is not wheelchair accessible. Visit their website for more information.

Read Also: Wheelchair accessible things to do in Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge: Our top 7

Anakeesta vs SkyLift: Which is better?

In conclusion, if you want to eat your way through a relaxing vacation while gazing at incredible views, you could probably toggle between both attractions and be a very happy camper.

While it’s hard to compete with the variety of things to do at Anakeesta, the famous SkyBridge is just simply a one-of-a-kind experience.

If you have the opportunity to visit both, go for it! But if not, we hope this guide will help you choose between the two attractions.

What’s YOUR opinion on the differences between Anakeesta and SkyLift Park? Let us know in the comments!