Amber is a stay-at-home mom to two girls and wife of a medical school student. They recently moved to Eastern Tennessee for school and are having a blast discovering Knoxville and surrounding areas. She also blogs at Because Babies Grow Up talking about play, literacy, and music for the under-five crowd.

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Ripley Aquarium of the Smokies Review

We decided to visit the Ripley Aquarium of the Smokies early in January before Brent’s school schedule would not allow him to go with us. We went on the first Saturday in January. I was a little worried about going on a Saturday because with two little ones, I usually try to avoid crowds. Aside from the major traffic delay only a few miles from the parking lot (it took us a half an hour to go two miles!) the aquarium itself was busy, but not overcrowded.

Not Our Favorite Things

I’ll start off with the few things I didn’t like about our experience and then share all the amazing features we loved. After being in ridiculously slow traffic (with no apparent cause) we were relieved to finally get to the aquarium. For a small town, we were surprised that there was no free parking. Not impressed. The museum was a lot smaller than I expected. Maybe I was tainted by our trip to the Seattle Aquarium, but I expected something with the prominent name of Ripley to be bigger.

Things We Loved

Now for the things we loved at the aquarium. They had a super cool show of a diver feeding the fish. The fish were so animated as they swam around him eating the head of lettuce he brought them. Another diver told us about the fish in the tank and their environment. After that show we wandered through the museum and made it to the sting ray tank just in time for another show. After the sting ray presentation we were able to go up to the top side of the tank and pet the sting rays. The diver brought them close to us and made sure everyone had a chance who wanted one to touch the sting rays. Sammi and Elli loved getting their hands in the water and were even brave enough to pet the sting rays.

There’s also an underwater tunnel with a moving walkway where sharks and other large fish swim right over your head. The walkway wasn’t working when we were there so it got a bit backed up, but the experience of seeing the underside of the fish and sharks was amazing. The Leathal Weapons exhibit was pretty interesting, too. It showcases all of the dangerous underwater life in a Very Ripley’s Believe It or Not style. There was a lot of information and many windows showing different creatures and how they are dangerous all crammed into a small space. It was the only place that felt truly overcrowded. We had to leave our stroller outside the exhibit because it was hard enough just to maneuver ourselves in there. Sammi liked this exhibit a lot, partly because it had more hands-on things she could do like play in the foam tentacles of a jelly fish or shoot blasts of water at leaves or activate a video with her handprint on a top security clearance pad.

Our Overall Impression

We were able to use a military discount to get into the museum. If it weren’t for that, I feel the admission would have been too much for what we got. At the price we paid, I think it was a great family adventure and the girls loved seeing all the ocean life. It was a long drive to Gatlinburg, but if you were going there anyway, it would be great to add to your agenda. We really liked the divers. They were fun to talk to and very informative. (And also quite helpful when I lost my iphone.)

Ripley Aquarium of the Smokies

Admission: Adults (12+)-$19.99; Children (6-11)-$10.99; Children (2-5)-$4.99

Programs: They offer some great opportunities for homeschoolers, preschoolers, swimming with the stingrays, and sleeping with the sharks.

Address: Traffic Light #5; 88 River Road, Gatlinburg, TN 37738

New Exhibits Coming in 2010: Penguin Playhouse

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