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

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 85,000 square foot facility.

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 an aquarium visit 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 live dive shows 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 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 $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, Ga. Both of which run closer to the $35 range for adult admission.

That being said, the price of admission for adults is offset by the price of admission for kids.

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 $148. A day at the Tennessee Aquarium in Chattanooga would cost $114, and a day at Ripley’s would cost $130.

And if one of your kids was under age 5, it would offset the cost of Ripley’s even more.

Notably, you can also save even more money (up to $35) when you bundle your aquarium ticket with other area Ripley’s themed attractions (more on that below).

Play area inside Ripley's Aquarium in Gatlinburg
Ripley’s has hands-on experiences and huge play areas for children (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 several hours 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.

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

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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 (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 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), 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 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, such as touching the gentle stingrays.

Two of my personal favorite features of this aquarium is the 340-foot underwater tunnel with a glide path. 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.

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.

Sharks in a underwater tunnel at Ripley's
Ripley’s underwater tunnel offers amazing views of giant 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 combo attraction promo tickets are available as well, follow the link to learn more.

Special promo discount 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 and to plan your visit, follow the 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!