Ripley’s Aquarium In Gatlinburg: Our Honest Opinion

Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies is one of Gatlinburg’s biggest attractions, but is it worth the money?

This review was not sponsored. This was our own experience, paid for by us.

Quick Overview

Ripleys Aquarium is a fun attraction in Gatlinburg. We enjoyed it, and our kids especially liked the interactive penguin exhibit and the jellyfish petting.

But it’s not nearly as big as other aquariums we’ve been to, and at nearly $40 per person, it’s just as expensive. We’d save this if we needed something indoors to do when the weather didn’t cooperate or we ran out of some of the more unique attractions in Gatlinburg to see.

Ripley's Aquarium of the Smokies view
Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies Aquarium

Overview and Tickets

Ripleys Aquarium is in a great location in downtown Gatlinburg. It’s easy to walk to from anywhere in town and the main stop for the free Gatlinburg trolley system.

Ripley's Aquarium of the Smokies outside view
Outside the Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies

It’s one of the most popular attractions in Gatlinburg. You’ll almost always find a big crowd out front (and inside). We visited in February on a pretty slow day in Gatlinburg.

Ripley's Aquarium of the Smokies entrance and ticket booth

At approximately 100,000 sq feet, this aquarium isn’t the biggest one we’ve been to. A few hours south, the George aquarium in Atlanta is almost five times the size of this Gatlinburg aquarium.

Despite this, the Gatlinburg ticket prices are just as high (or higher) than many others we’ve been to.

And not really related, but the week we visited this aquarium, we had just visited a huge aquarium in Portugal on vacation that was much larger and almost half the price of this one.

Ticket prices

Ripley's Aquarium of the Smokies ticket prices

Unique Attractions

There are a few attractions here that we haven’t seen at other aquariums.

Moving Walkway Tunnel

Ripley's Aquarium of the Smokies view from tunnel
View From The Tunnel

The underwater tunnel through the shark tunnel is the highlight of the aquarium. The tunnel takes you through the main part of the aquarium, with plenty to see.

We saw plenty of large sharks up close in the tunnel, even some resting on the tunnel’s roof.

Ripley's Aquarium of the Smokies tunnel with moving walkway
Tunnel With Moving Walkway

The tunnel has a moving walkway that you can stand on as it carries you through the tunnel. There’s also a regular walkway if you don’t feel like going for a ride.

Glass-Bottom Boat Adventure

Ripley's Aquarium of the Smokies glass bottom boat
Glass Bottom Boat

We’ve seen this ride advertised a lot, but didn’t see much traffic on it during our visit.

For an extra $12.99, this glass-bottom boat ride takes you over the main aquarium tank. The boat is maneuvered around the tank via a rope system.

It’s a unique ride we haven’t seen at other aquariums. While it’s different, it covers a pretty small area. In the picture above, the area pictured is about the entire area covered on the ride.

It’s also the same tank you view from below, so you’re viewing the same marine life as elsewhere in the aquarium, just from a different view.

Penguin Exhibit

Ripley's Aquarium of the Smokies penguins
Penguin Exhibit

The Penguin Playhouse (near the end of the aquarium) offers close-up views of playful gentoo and African penguins. It was one of our favorite aquarium parts because of the tunnels kids can climb through.

Ripley's Aquarium of the Smokies tunnel for penguins
Penguin Tunnel Pop-up

Clear tunnels let kids crawl through under the water and pop up in the middle of the exhibit.

Ripley's Aquarium of the Smokies outdoor penguins
Outdoor Penguin Exhibit

There’s even an outdoor area where you can see the penguins on the patio, though none were there on our visit.

Some areas could use a good cleaning:

Ripley's Aquarium of the Smokies glass floor
Dirty Glass Floor

Between the indoor and outdoor penguin area, there’s a glass bottom floor where you’re supposed to view the penguins swimming back and forth.

It was so dirty and scratched it was hard even to see through.

Interactive Fun

Ripley's Aquarium of the Smokies jellyfish
Petting Jellyfish

There are some cool hands-on areas, like an area where you can pet jellyfish. There was no line when we went, and no extra charge for this.

Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies Playground

There’s a big playground in the middle of the aquarium too. This is the view when you first walk in, but the playground is accessible from different aquarium levels.

Things To Consider

  • Crowds: Expect crowds, especially during peak season, like many popular Gatlinburg spots. Consider going early in the day or later in the evening for smaller crowds.
  • Size: It’s not the largest aquarium. If you’re used to mega-aquariums, this one will feel smaller.
  • Price: Admission is on the expensive side, especially for families. L

Overall Opinion

4 out of 5 stars. Ripley’s is a good aquarium experience for families. We spent a few hours here and enjoyed it. But for the price, we’d spend our money on a larger aquarium lik

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