An Honest Review of Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies (2024)

penguin play area at ripley's

Ripley's Aquarium of the Smokies has been voted best aquarium in North America (media photo courtesy of Ripley's)

Tennessee native compares Gatlinburg aquarium to competitors

I think of Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies as one of the crown jewel attractions in Gatlinburg. But when you’re planning out your precious vacation dollars, budget and time, a question commonly comes up: Is the Gatlinburg aquarium worth it? I think “worth” is different for different people, but I also believe this guide may help you determine if an aquarium visit is right for you and your family. Let’s start with the basics:

RELATED VIDEO: Is Ripley’s Aquarium Worth it?

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 and the Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta. Chattanooga currently costs $39.95 for adults and $29.95 for children. The Georgia Aquarium is $47.99 for everyone except for children under two.

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 $192 (pre-tax). A day at the Tennessee Aquarium in Chattanooga would cost about $140, and a day at Ripley’s would cost about $130. If your children are younger than five, it makes Ripley’s even more affordable than its competitors. Plus, if you get combo tickets with Ripley’s, you can save up to $26 per person when you visit two other Ripley’s attractions, or $33 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/

How long does it take to go through Ripley’s?

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. And 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.

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 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)

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.

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)

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. 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. The glass-bottom boat that travels over the Shark Lagoon is a family favorite 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)

Parking, tickets and what to know before you go

There’s a large paid parking lot nearby for convenience. And while you can purchase tickets on-site, I generally recommend buying in advance. The Gatlinburg aquarium is wheelchair-accessible. The attraction welcomes standard strollers, but not wagons, wagon strollers, push cars or ride-ons. For more information about special events such as pirate sleepovers, camps and penguin art, visit the aquarium events page. Special combo attraction tickets for additional Ripley’s attractions are available as well. 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 me know in the comments!

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13 thoughts on “An Honest Review of Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies (2024)”

  1. It’s just ok. The line to get in is the length of a football field from open to close. Although nice and clean it’s small. If you spend all day there it must be your first trip to an aquarium. I have been to many and do not need to re read facts on the same fish again. Traffic is grid locked in Gatlinburg so plan on walking 3 or 4 blocks to get in.

  2. I live across the mtn. in Townsend. I love the Gatlinburg Aquarium. When they hsve “local days”, my mom and I usually take advantage of it. Sometimes all they ask for is a canned food, or just an ID. I am in a wheelchair. Not paralyzed. Have A bad leg. It’s easy to get around in my manuel w/c We even enjoy eating at the food court. Just 1 restaurant . Great burgers. Plus, time it right and you can watch the diver in the big tank feed the fish, etc. The food court is in front of a huge glass window/panel where you can view the sharks, stingrays, etc. Yes!! I enjoy going there.

  3. It was okay. Best thing was the sharks. Was small. Don’t see how it could 2 hours, besides the fact it is packed with visitors. Sure you could spend 2 or more hours, but like I said it’s small. If you eat, and let the kids play in play area for a while probably could stretch to 2 1/2 hours. We only staid an hour n half. Couldn’t enjoy to many people. Nice Aquarium just not one can see taking all day or longer then 2 hours not unless including line time, play area and eating or other activities

  4. We went in March 2021, there was no line, I did do the bundle pass, much, much better deal. My daughter is 13, the aquarium was a little young for her, but we still enjoyed it. Great place for younger kids.

  5. Ripleys aquarium is more then worth the money. I love aquariums been to aquariums up and down east coast and this one is my favorite

  6. I have been to many aquariums all over this country including Hawaii. I took my wife and 3 grandsons. We all were fascinated by the variety of fish there. The place is very clean and the people were super accominating.

  7. When we went it was near New Year’s and they weren’t allowing anyone to be around each other much so no extra things so felt cheated out of some things that they normally had. Kind of pricey for what you got

  8. There were about 15 of my family when we went. One of the attendants approached us and took us on a behind the scenes tour which was really interesting. This was the year after the big fire and the things he told us about that were what I remember most. They used the aquarium as a staging center.

  9. Just went today and found this aquarium to be overpriced and overcrowded. There are some interesting exhibits, but difficult to get close enough to see them.

  10. I went to the one in myrtle beach and it was not worth it the sting rays weren’t there going threw the walk way where the sharks were wasn’t working the glass bottom boat was short and didn’t see anything so paying all that money wasn’t worth it took about 1 hr to see everything won’t waste my time on aquariums any more

  11. I’ve been to the aquarium of the smokies 3 or 4 times. Now planning my next trip. We always go in the off season. November this time and 2 years ago. January the times before. Never over crowded. Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge are high tourist places you have to expect crowds during peak times. I can’t wait to see the penguins and their habitat. Changes have been made since 2020 the last we were there.


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