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The outside of the Gatlinburg aquarium.

TripAdvisor Rates Gatlinburg Aquarium Among Top 10 in the United States

Even though Gatlinburg, Tennessee is miles away from the ocean, our Smoky Mountain city is home to some of the most celebrated sea creatures in the country! The popular travel website TripAdvisor recently ranked Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies among the top 10 aquariums in the U.S. Visit My Smokies has the scoop on why the Gatlinburg aquarium deserves this coveted honor.

Over 3,800 Five Star ReviewsA family enjoying the Gatlinburg aquarium.

As reported in USA Today, TripAdvisor devised its list of the best aquariums by examining millions of reviews written by travelers from all around the world. The winners were chosen based on how many reviews they received and how favorable those reviews were. According to all of this data, the top aquariums in the U.S. are the following:

  • Georgia Aquarium – Atlanta, GA
  • Monterey Bay Aquarium – Monterey, CA
  • Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies – Gatlinburg, TN
  • Tennessee Aquarium – Chattanooga, TN
  • Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium – Sarasota, FL
  • Shedd Aquarium – Chicago, IL
  • National Aquarium – Baltimore, MD
  • Dallas World Aquarium – Dallas, TX
  • Alaska SeaLife Center – Seward, AK
  • Florida Keys Aquarium Encounters – Marathon, FL

The Gatlinburg aquarium placed so high on the list because it has more than 3,800 five-star reviews on TripAdvisor! Ripley’s Aquarium has been visited by well over 15 million guests, so it’s no surprise that so many people decided to leave a review.

A Behind the Scenes Video Tour of Ripley’s Aquarium

A few years ago, Angela and the rest of the Insider’s View team paid a special visit to Ripley’s Aquarium. Karl Thomas, the aquarium’s marketing director, led the tour and even shared some behind-the-scenes secrets about how Ripley’s operates. Check out the video embedded below!

Shark Lagoon

Although the Gatlinburg aquarium is home to over 10,000 sea creatures, guests at the aquarium definitely have a clear favorite: the sharks! These imposing hunters of the deep are the centerpiece of Shark Lagoon, the aquarium’s most popular feature.

Guests make their way through the lagoon on a moving sidewalk that is over 100 yards long. Visitors are completely immersed in an underwater tunnel, so no matter which way you look (even up above your head) you will see amazing underwater animals. Some of the species you will encounter include:

  • Sandtiger Sharks
  • Nurse Sharks
  • Green Sea Turtles
  • Green Moray Eels
  • Tarpons
  • Giant Stingray
  • Squirrelfish
  • Sawfish
  • Grunts

A young woman experiencing Shark Lagoon at the Gatlinburg aquarium.There is absolutely nothing like coming to face-to-face with a 12-foot shark! For guests who simply can’t get enough of these deep sea predators, Ripley’s offers a chance to Sleep with the Sharks. In this special program, kids or entire families spend an entire night at the aquarium complete with dive shows, scavenger hunts, and a “campground” in Shark Lagoon.

Penguin Playhouse

While Shark Lagoon is the most beloved part of the Gatlinburg aquarium, the Penguin Playhouse is a very close second. In 2010, Ripley’s decided to convert the aquarium’s restaurant into a one-of-a-kind penguin exhibit. The renovations cost $5 million, but they were worth every penny.

The Penguin Playhouse consists of an indoor and outdoor habitat that the penguins can travel between using a special tunnel. However, the tunnels aren’t just for the penguins! Guests crawl across their own see-through passageway that leads to the penguin’s beach environment for an up-close look at these adorable birds.

For an additional fee, visitors can take part in Ripley’s Penguin Encounter. Adults and children ages 4 and up have the unique opportunity to pet a penguin, pose for a photo, and learn from experts on sea life. One of the highlights of the encounter is watching a penguin create a work of art by dipping his feet in paint and waddling across a canvas!

Preparing for a Visit to Ripley’s AquariumAdorable African penguins at the Gatlinburg aquarium.

If you’ve never been to Ripley’s Aquarium, it’s about time you paid them a visit! Visit My Smokies has put together a convenient guide to visiting the Gatlinburg aquarium with everything you need to know about the price, where to park, and what to expect. Check out our blog What to Know Before You Go: Ripley’s Aquarium in Gatlinburg!