RIPLEY’S AQUARIUM OF THE SMOKIES
Time was when all that visitors to the Great Smoky Mountains wanted to do was catch a glimpse of a real-life black bear. For more than a decade now, thanks to Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies, the mighty bear has been sharing the spotlight with some unlikely competition—sharks. The aquarium’s collection of sharks and other fascinating ocean creatures has helped make this downtown Gatlinburg attraction one of the area’s premiere travel destinations.
Overall, the aquarium is home to hundreds of different species of aquatic life that captivate visitors with their beauty and mystery. The $70 million facility utilizes nearly 1.5 million gallons of water to house thousands of saltwater (and some freshwater) life forms in dozens of tanks and displays. Around every corner is a new discovery, each specimen a marvel of nature that otherwise could only be seen from behind a scuba mask.
Swimming in full view, only an arm’s length away, are beautiful, exotic fish from all the world’s oceans, including butterfly fish and angelfish. You’ll come face to face with a Who’s Who of the deep blue seas, including stingrays, moray eels, jellyfish, piranha, the giant Pacific octopus and the giant Japanese spider crab, the largest crustacean in the world. Meanwhile, the visually captivating and interactive nature of Ripley’s Aquarium makes the entire self-guided tour a delight. Background music and informative video presentations enhance the displays.
The aquarium’s centerpiece is Shark Lagoon, where some of the ocean’s most wondrous species swim together in nearly a million gallons of water. Black tips, nurse sharks and bonnethead sharks are just some of the varieties that make their home in Ripley’s waters. While visitors can easily look down into Shark Lagoon, the best way to see it is from underneath, courtesy of the world’s longest underwater aquarium tunnel. Guests are transported through the lagoon along a 340-foot moving walkway, completely but safely surrounded by dozens of sharks as they swim by, seemingly close enough to touch.
In addition to the tour, guests can explore the aquarium’s Cargo Hold gift shop and two food concessions—the Feeding Frenzy snack bar and The Veranda restaurant. The aquarium is available for a variety of group meetings and youth programs, such as “Sleep With The Sharks,” where young guests get to camp out overnight in the underwater tunnel in Shark Lagoon.
But we don’t expect you to sleep with the sharks, necessarily when you come to town. Heartland has a wide selection of cabin rentals in Gatlinburg, all of which are guaranteed to keep you high and dry at night.