Who can resist the penguins?

A Day Away By Mike Steely

There’s no question that Ripley’s Aquarium in Gatlinburg is huge and likely the main attraction in the busy tourist city. A visit there could last hours and you can see just about every saltwater and freshwater fish and amphibian.

Our recent visit there found the city-owned parking garage under construction. It was difficult getting into the garage and the elevator wasn’t working, so it was a long walk for two older people to get down the steps to the aquarium next door.

Despite the large midweek crowd, there’s still lots to do and see and we took our time and did all the floors, exhibits and displays. Your tour begins at the main entrance where a huge turtle skeleton hangs from high above.

Your walk starts with river life that features huge freshwater fish, frogs and snakes. The tour continues with the saltwater sea life, the Shark Lagoon, the Tropical Rain Forest, and lots and lots of views of the main tank with thousands of different fish.

But the big draw at Ripley’s is also one of the smallest. If you’re lucky to be there during the Parade of Penguins every day at 1:15 p.m., you’ll want to take lots of photos. Penguin feedings take place each day at 10:30 and 2:30.

Children and smaller adults can pop up in a glass bubble among the penguin colony. We missed the parade but caught up to a lone penguin at the end of the march who was visiting with guests and handlers. He wasn’t afraid of people at all and it made for a good picture.

We also enjoyed the view of the worm-like creatures emerging from their holes in the sea floor. Most memorable was walking through the glass tube at the bottom of the aquarium where you can see sharks and giant fish roaming about above.

The aquarium is a bit expensive but small children seem to enjoy it and one baby in the arms of its mother was wide-eyed at one window as a school of fish approached the glass.

There are also shows featuring sea rays and coral reef creatures.

Admission to just the Ripley’s Aquarium is $39.99 for adults and $24.99 for children. There are several combo packages where you also get admission to the other Ripley’s attractions in Gatlinburg. We chose the “Believe It or Not” package. The aquarium is located at 88 River Road at Stop Light Number 5. You can call the attraction at (865) 430-8808 or contact email aquariumofthesmokies@ripleys.com.