Ripley's

Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies: An honest review with discounts

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.

A diver at Ripley's Aquarium in Gatlinburg
Visitors might see live dive shows inside the tanks at Ripley’s (media photo courtesy of Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies)

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.

Ripley's interactive elements on the inside of the aquarium
Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies has several interactive areas for the younger members of the family (photo by Alaina O’Neal/TheSmokies.com)

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.

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

A penguin at Ripley's Aquarium of the Smokies
The Penguin Playhouse is one of the best areas to explore at the Gatlinburg aquarium (media photo courtesy of Ripley’s Aquarium)

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)

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

A cownose ray at Ripley's
The cownose ray gets its name because of its distinct cow-shaped nose (media photo courtesy of Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies)

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.

Green sea turtle at Ripley's
Sally is a green sea turtle at Ripley’s Aquarium (media photo courtesy of Ripley’s Aquarium)

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.

For more information and to plan your visit, visit the website or book your tickets online.

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

What is there to do on the strip in Gatlinburg? Your top 5 options

Chicago has the Miracle Mile.

Las Vegas has the strip. 

And in Gatlinburg it’s called … Well, it’s also called the strip. As it turns out, there aren’t as many catchy nicknames for a main drag as you may think. 

How long is the strip in Gatlinburg?

Gatlinburg’s strip is the full Smoky Mountain experience condensed to within .8 miles. It starts where the Parkway (aka U.S. 441) intersects with Ski Mountain Road and ends at the Cherokee Orchard Road intersection.

In other words, from the Marathon Station at the top to Reagan Terrace Mall at the bottom. 

In light of recent developments below the mall along the Parkway, including places like Anakeesta and Ole Red, some suggest that the strip now extends further down. 

For example, there is too much open space. If it’s not chock-a-block with unhealthy foods, tacky curio shops, mini-golf and bizarre “museums” it ain’t the strip. 

I say all that lovingly, though.

For many of us, Gatlinburg’s strip played a formative role in our young lives. It was a place we could go and exercise a little freedom, to play and to make unfortunate buying decisions like air-brushed T-shirts and jade pendants. 

To that end, what the strip best represents, I think, is simply the freedom to have fun. It’s laser tag, mini-golf and the Ripley’s Museum. It’s pizza joints and arcades and sugar and sweets and candy.

Read Also: The Space Needle in Gatlinburg: 9 things you didn’t know

Gatlinburg, Tennessee at night
Gatlinburg is not known for its nightlife, most of the shops and restaurants close around 10 pm (photo by Miro Vrlik/shutterstock)

When does the strip open in Gatlinburg?

If you’re going to come play on the strip, you’d best come early.

Many of the shops and attractions are shuttered by 9 pm. Most restaurants are closed by 10 or 11 pm.

Even the bars shut down relatively early in the ‘Burg, where the motto is come and have fun, but for goodness sakes, we’ve gotta get up in the morning.  

Here are some of our favorite things to do on the strip before getting in bed at a respectable hour. 

Read Also: Top things to do in Gatlinburg: Our top 5 attractions ranked

The Mountain Mall in Gatlinburg
The Mountain Mall is located in Downtown Gatlinburg and features several eclectic shops (photo by Morgan Overholt/TheSmokies.com)

5. Go shopping

I like to make fun of some of the more touristy shops along the strip. But, I’ve spent a lot of money inside them.

The better shopping, for my mind, is at the lower end of the strip where you can find the strange and wonderful Mountain Mall and the quaint Village Shoppes with their inexplicable European vibe.

The strip is also a great place to go Christmas shopping if you like to give – or get – more unique gifts.

I’m fond of the Celtic Heritage Company in the back of the Village for beautiful items you don’t see much in East Tennessee.

There’s also the Misty Mountain Soap Company – which I briefly hoped was Led Zeppelin-themed soaps. Sadly, it is not. But they do have nice soap if that’s the kind of thing you are interested in.

Other alliterative and oddly specific Village Shops include the Sock Shop, The Pepper Palace, The Candle Cottage and the Cheese Cupboard which sell socks, hot sauces, candles and cheese, respectively.

Ole Smoky Moonshine Gatlinburg Strip Downtown
Ole Smoky Moonshine is one of the most popular distilleries in downtown Gatlinburg with multiple locations (photo by Marie Graichen/TheSmokies.com)

4. Get a little buzzed  

With the arrival of legal moonshine distilleries, you could do a proper pub crawl.

Above all, the nicest thing about drinking in Gatlinburg is – if you’re staying at a hotel in town – you can park your car and walk where you need to go. Or, in the worst-case scenario, get trolley passes. 

Keep in mind, in order to help maintain a family-friendly environment along the strip, the city of Gatlinburg has asked all distilleries to begin charging a fee of $5 per person to sample spirits. 

At the Sugarlands Distilling Company, led by an expert “TasteMaker,” your round of samples will come with tasting notes and cocktail ideas.

Ole Smoky Moonshine is a popular destination for sampling where a reservation is not required. There is a limit of seven samples per person, but if you get the guided tour, you can enjoy a 13-sampling tasting. 

Not far from Ole Smoky is Dude’s Daiquiris, conveniently located between the Mellow Mushroom and the Beef Jerky Outlet.

The frozen drinks at Dude’s don’t necessarily have the highest alcohol content, but after a moonshine tasting or two, it might not be a bad idea to slow your roll. In fact, you can get a bite from their quickie menu and people watch for a bit. 

Afterward, if you follow the sacred adage liquor before beer, never fear, make your way up to the Smoky Mountain Brewery. Sample any of the six flagship beers they have on tap while you are there.

Read Also: Moonshine distilleries in Pigeon Forge, Gatlinburg: Our top 6 ranked

Gatlinburg Axe House is located next to Cupid’s Outlet in downtown Gatlinburg (photo by James Overholt/TheSmokies.com)

3. Partake in some family-friendly competition

Undoubtedly, some of my favorite memories in Gatlinburg are those with friends or visiting relatives. We enjoy playing games, competing and busting on each other while we do it.

There are plenty of opportunities to play on the strip.

Gatlin’s Fun Center is a one-stop-shop for a lot of the traditional tourist games we like to play including mini-golf, laser tag and bumper cars. Gatlin’s also offers escape games, a ropes course and more.

The newest – and fastest-growing – game in the region, however, is axe-throwing. The Gatlinburg Axe House, located above the Chocolate Monkey offers axe-throwing competitions for the family. Perhaps wisely, in an alcohol-free environment.

If you are unfamiliar with the axe-throwing craze, basically you’re chucking hatchets at a wooden target in a series of stalls so you don’t get ricochets chopping up other people’s legs and stuff. It’s a lot of fun.

Gatlinburg SkyLift in Downtown Gatlinburg
Gatlinburg’s SkyLift Park is home to East Tennessee’s first-ever chairlift and world-famous SkyBridge (photo by Morgan Overholt/TheSmokies.com)

2. Go exploring

I struggled with the right word for this and I’m not sure “explore” is quite what I was looking for. Walking around and looking at strange stuff seemed a bit chewy.

The strip, like the rest of Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge, is filled with wonderfully entertaining and diverting places like Ripley’s Believe It or Not!, The Amazing Mirror Maze, The Space Needle, Gatlinburg Pinball Museum and the Hollywood Star Cars Museum.

And, if you are looking for amazing views, check out the Ober Gatlinburg Tramway and the SkyLift Park.

Tennessee Jed’s is a favorite among locals and tourists alike (photo by Morgan Overholt/TheSmokies.com)

1. Enjoy the local eateries

Finally, if all these tourists are going to visit, somebody has to feed them.

The strip is loaded with fantastic restaurants ranging from niche places like Waffle De Lys (Belgian waffles with a French twist) to popular regional chains such as Calhoun’s.

There are a lot of options.

Read Also: Restaurants in Gatlinburg that take reservations, your complete list

Planning the perfect foodie day on the strip could look something like this, breakfast at the Pancake Pantry, lunch from Tennessee Jed’s and dinner at Crawdaddy’s Restaurant and Oyster Bar. But, the variations are nearly endless. 

What are your favorite things to do on the strip? Tell us in the comments.