Your Guide to the Nation’s Top Aquarium: Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies

Ripley's Aquarium of the Smokies in Gatlinburg
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If you’ve never been to Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies, then a visit should definitely be on the top of your list of things to do on your vacation! This Gatlinburg aquarium is home to more than 10,000 exotic sea creatures in 350 different species. In fact, there are more fish living in the aquarium than people living in Gatlinburg! To help you learn more about Ripley’s Aquarium and what to expect when you visit, we’ve put together a guide to the nation’s top aquarium.

What’s Inside Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies

Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies is home to all your favorite aquatic animals and more! There is both a lower level and an upper level, with each offering plenty of opportunities to see and even interact with the animals. In the lower level, you’ll find the Coral Reef, Discovery Center, Gallery of the Seas, Stingray Bay and the Penguin Playhouse exhibits. In the upper level you’ll find the Ocean Realm, Shark Lagoon, Touch-A-Ray Bay and Tropical Rainforest exhibits. Learn more about each below:

clownfish swimming in a marine aquariumCoral Reef: In this section of the Gatlinburg aquarium, you can find all kinds of colorful fish! There are clown triggerfish, regal blue tang, foxface rabbitfish, clownfish, sohl tang, butterfly fish and more. This tank is also home to dive shows that occur regularly throughout the year. The dive show allows visitors to discover the world of coral reefs and learn about the fish that live there.

Discovery Center: The Discovery Center is the place where visitors can enjoy some hands-on fun! Here, you can touch and interact with Moon Jellies, touch live horseshoe crabs, see pufferfish and more. There are puzzles for you to solve and group discussions where you can test your knowledge about the sea creatures!

Gallery of the Seas: This exhibit is an incredible underwater art gallery! The Gallery of the Seas is where you’ll find all the species who are so amazing that they look like works of art. It is home to an octopus, sea stars, corals, jellies, animals with bridge colors and unique shapes and so much more.

Stingray Bay: Stingray Bay is home to many rays, like the Cownose Ray, Southern Stingrays and the Spotted Eagle Ray. In the shallow end of the tank, you’ll have the opportunity to touch the rays!

Penguin Playhouse at Ripley's Aquarium of the SmokiesPenguin Playhouse: The Penguin Playhouse is an indoor/outdoor habitat where you can crawl through tunnels and see these amazing birds. You can view them from both above and below the water!

Ocean Realm: This exhibit is home to a variety of sea creatures you can find in the ocean. See everything from flounder, to weedy scorpionfish, to spotted garden eels!

Shark Lagoon: This is one of the most popular spots in the aquarium! You can travel underneath the sea on a moving 340-foot-long glidepath. You’ll come face-to-face with snappers, tarpons, a green sea turtle, and, of course, sharks! The underwater tunnel puts you so close to the animals you’ll feel like you can reach out and touch them.

stingrayTouch-A-Ray Bay: Reach your hand out and touch the rays in the shallow end of the tank! There are educators there who will help you learn more about these animals and assure your safety.

Tropical Rainforest: You’ll have the opportunity to take a trip to the rainforest when you visit the Gatlinburg aquarium! This section of Ripley’s features piranhas, arapaima, anableps, and poisonous dart frogs.

Unique Experiences

Part of what makes Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies so special is that it offers a number of unique experiences that allow visitors to get up-close-and-personal with the animals. Here are some of the best:

Penguin Encounter: During the Penguin Encounter, you can come face-to-beak with these adorable creatures! You’ll learn about the penguins from an aquarium expert, pet one of them, and even get a souvenir photo with one! For more penguin fun, try the Penguin Painting Experience. This experience allows you to take home a one-of-a-kind piece of art made from of the African penguins.

green sea turtle in aquariumTurtle Time: During Turtle Time, you have the chance to feed Sally the Sea Turtle! Take a behind-the-scenes tour of the aquarium and one of the training sessions, and feed Sally lettuce whenever possible.

Splash with the Stingrays: If you’ve ever wanted to interact with stingrays, this is the unique experience for you. You’ll climb into Touch-A-Ray Bay, where you can get up close and personal with the rays! This experience includes a souvenir t-shirt and a behind-the-scenes tour of the aquarium.

Glass Bottom Boat: This experience takes visitors out into the heart of Shark Lagoon, with just 3 inches of glass separating them from the animals that call the lagoon home. You’ll love being able to see all of the aquatic animals swimming below you, including 12-foot sharks!

Special Events

Ripley's Aquarium at nightThroughout the year, Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies holds a number of events to make your vacation more special. There’s a romantic Valentine’s Day dinner in February, a Sleep with the Sharks event on specific dates throughout the year, Sensory Friendly Nights, PJ parties with penguins and more! Be on the lookout for what’s going on at the aquarium during your vacation.

Where Its Located

Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies is located on River Road in Gatlinburg, TN. You can get to it right off the main Parkway!

Pricing & Hours

Pricing and hours may vary for Ripley’s Aquarium, so be sure to check their website for the most up-to-date information. Aquarium tickets typically cost $32.99 for adults, $17.99 for children ages 6 to 11 and $7.99 for children ages 2 to 5. Hours for the Gatlinburg aquarium are listed below:

January – February:
Monday–Thursday: 9 a.m. to 8 p.m., Friday–Sunday: 9 a.m. to 10 p.m.

March – Memorial Day:
Monday–Thursday: 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., Friday–Sunday: 9 a.m. to 10 p.m.

Memorial Day – Labor Day:
Monday–Thursday: 9 a.m. to 10 p.m., Friday–Sunday: 9 a.m. to 11 p.m.

Labor Day–New Year’s Day:
Monday–Thursday: 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., Friday–Sunday: 9 a.m. to 10 p.m.

About Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies

ripley's aquarium of the smokiesRipley’s Aquarium of the Smokies has been named the best aquarium in the country by USA Today 10 Best Readers’ Choice! The award is voted on by the public, which means its visitors like you who have fallen in love with this Gatlinburg attraction. The aquarium has something for people of all ages, from toddlers to seniors, which is part of the reason it’s so special. You won’t want to miss your chance to visit on your vacation!

Get your tickets for Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies through Visit My Smokies today and save $2 and get free cancellation!

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