By Bonnie Neely
In Gatlinburg, Tennessee, is the most wonderful Aquarium we have ever visited! At Ripley’s visitors of all ages enjoy such a marvelous day of wonder and learning! The walkway to the entrance has great one-sentence facts about marine animals, so be sure not to miss these in your eagerness to get inside. Holiday decorations were lovely as we were there at Christmastime. On entering our family of four generations loved first seeing the large, colorful tank of beautiful fish swimming around to greet us.
Then we came to the large indoor playground of so many climbing and crawl-through, crossover temptations to fun exercises that we soon waved to our eager and active 8 year old who had quickly sought a higher vantage point. We all gazed at the enormous skeletons of prehistoric giants water animals now extinct above us. We had arrived at the opening at 9 A.M. the day before school was out so we were ahead of school groups and found no crowds in the first hours. We recommend this time to arrive to have your full day of fun.
Since we entered at the upper level we enjoyed many tanks of weird and wonderful creatures. Among them were the colorful tiny venomous, schooling fish, moray eels, flounders and many more. But we were all eager to see the feedings listed on our schedule, so we went down to the lower level.
We entered the tunnel through the shark lagoon just in time to see the diver feeding them. There are several ferocious looking varieties within the tank and we thought the diver was very brave, but these large marine animals knew he had the food they wanted. The tank also contains some mammals, sawfish or carpenter shark, with a weirdly frightening face! These large animals of all kind, including a huge turtle swam on each side of us and over us in the clear tunnel, and it was both chilling and thrilling!
We emerged to view the large coral reef and stop at the discovery center where adults and children can touch some of the live sea specimen that are harmless. We adults were happy that there were signs to wash hands when finished touching and provided several anti-bacteria pumps.
Next we headed to everyone’s favorite: Penguin Playhouse to see these funny little tuxedoed creatures fed. Penguins swim underwater like a fish but they are mammals and come up for air and to walk along like ducks on webbed feet. Two men came in with buckets of fish and the little black and white patient penguins emerged from the water, lined themselves up in very orderly fashion, and marched single filed to be fed. It was so fun to watch! And I HAD to try the kids’ tunnel to pop up within the penguin place and see some face to face. The tunnel was not as long as I thought and at 75 years old I felt very happy to be able to crawl oral looked at me as if wondering if I might be one of the astonishing sea creatures. I LOVED being face to face with the adorable little penguins.
We missed the marines science class, offered for school groups, and since the mermaids swim at the coral reef only in mid summer, we skipped that feeding although we stopped to learn about the coral reef from the signage. Explanatory signs are very helpful at every display and tank.
The other fascinating feeding we all enjoyed so much was at the Stingray Bay. Many of the stingrays swam around, and it looked like they flapped wings. Others lay still on the floor of the tank and appeared to be sleeping, so we could get a good look at their top sides. It was truly unbelievable to watch the underside next to the glass tank wall facing us as the diver fed huge stingrays fish and they took it into their mouth, chewed and swallowed while batting their eye lids at us!!! Very exciting!
We spent half the wondrous day at Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies but had to go to our next adventure. We found many marine gifts and toys at the gift shop within a ship at the exit. Next time we may schedule an overnight adventure in this wonderful Aquarium.
IF YOU GO: