By Mike Steely

Did I tell you we collect cups?

Yep, souvenir cups from hundreds of places my wife and I have visited around the country. Cups from state and national parks, cups from commercial attractions, and cups from places like the Coke Museum in Atlanta, Macy’s in New York City, and even from Walnut Grove, Minnesota on the “Little House Trail.”

Some cups are simply painted with a logo, scene or animal. Others are unique in design, either miniature or figures. One cup, from Atlantic Beach, N.C. came with a spoon. Of these unique cups we recently bought one at Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies that is totally different.

The cup is tilted at an angle and shows a boat sinking as “Jaws” prepares to eat the boat. The tagline, from the movie Jaws, is “We’re Gonna need a Bigger Boat!” The Ripley’s Aquarium logo is in the inside bottom of the cup, making it even more unique.

We tied the Ripley’s trip in with dining out and there’s dozens of good food restaurants in the area. A brief walk uptown Gatlinburg is also worthwhile even if you’re just people watching.

The cup purchase came as we completed our self-guided tour of the aquarium. We thought, going in the middle of the week, the crowd would be small. It wasn’t and some schools must have had an early spring break because there were lots of kids, lots of older folks, lots of moms and dad, and lots of oohing and awing from beginning of the tour until the end. But there is so much to see at the aquarium that the crowd was moving at about our old-folks pace.

If you’re planning a visit to Gatlinburg you should start at the aquarium and you can park in the city-owned garage behind the aquarium for $6 a day. The free shuttle bus stops and picks up passengers right in front of the aquarium entrance or you can walk half a block and be on the main street and in the middle of all the shops and attractions.

The aquarium features sharks, huge fish, jellyfish, piranhas, sea horses, and lots of sea life you probably never knew existed. For an inland attraction Ripley’s seems to have done a good job in presenting a wide variety of sea life.

We wanted to see the penguins and, as expected, they are cute and funny. The exhibit there also features a round viewing booth in the middle of the water and kids were lined up in a little tunnel waiting their turns to stick their heads up in the glass tube and be near the birds.

Within the main admission price of $32.99 for adults and $17.99 for kids you can see divers in the shark exhibit and Sully the Sea Turtle. There are “combo” tickets available for additional aquarium features as well as other Ripley attractions in Gatlinburg.

The aquarium also features a glass-bottom boat ride for an additional charge and, also for an additional charge, you can “sleep with the sharks.”  A separate admission can get you the Penguin Encounter or the Penguin Painting, where one of the birds paints a 8 by 10 canvas you can take home.

We enjoyed seeing people pet the stingrays, peering at the unusual sea creatures, and walking through the glass tube that covers the moving sidewalk beneath the main aquarium tank. The sidewalk moves just slow enough for viewing and some of the sharks glide very close to the glass. If you have a balance problem you may want to skip the moving walkway because each panel in it turns as it comes to a corner of the tank.

From now until Memorial Day the Aquarium is open Mondays through Thursdays from 9 until 9 and on Fridays through Sundays it is open 9 a.m. until 10 p.m. Ripley’s Mermaid Show returns this summer.

The Ripley’s website offers discounts on tickets and combo packages at