Always, Katie: Review of Ripley's Aquarium of the Smokies... with Toddlers!

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Review of Ripley's Aquarium of the Smokies... with Toddlers!

My family received free and discounted tickets to this attraction for the purpose of my coverage of our visit. All opinions are my own.

A couple of months ago, I shared the first in a series of posts about our trip to Gatlinburg, TN, but then that whole area suffered from horrible wildfires, and I temporarily suspended the series while we waited for the region to heal. I've been so relieved and happy to see articles and posts from the Smokies saying that things are reopened and tourism is picking back up, and I'm excited to continue sharing with you about our trip in early November!

One of the things we were most excited about doing on our trip was finally meeting up with my blogging bestie, Rebecca of Caravan Sonnet! We decided that our first meet-up would be at Ripley's Aquarium of the Smokies, so that we could visit and keep the twins entertained at the same time. 

I went to a Ripley's attraction in my early teens, and I remember it being a little bit intimidating and flashy, so my expectations for the aquarium weren't sky-high, although I'd read that it was very nice. Basically, I was hoping it was clean and would keep my kids engaged without over-stimulating them. 

I was THRILLED to find that I'd drastically underestimated what an amazing attraction this aquarium is! Spoiler alert: this is a MUST-SEE! 

The walk from the garage was pretty long. We had our stroller and the weather was fine, so we did okay, but I couldn't help but think how rough it could have been in inclement weather or how it wasn't particularly handicap friendly. We got there early (I was maybe a little spastically excited) and waited for Rebecca outside on a low wall tucked away in a shady area, since it was unseasonably warm, and there were a lot of benches, tables and chairs, and other places to sit and rest. 

Sweet Sam was getting a little bit restless while we were waiting, so we meandered up closer to the door to watch for Rebecca, and I was holding him on my hip when she texted that she was on her way up the stairs. (Fortunately for those of us with strollers, once you've made the hike from the parking lot, everything is extremely stroller-friendly! Even for our wide double.) After lots of squealing and hugging and bouncing and "You're really here!" we headed inside.

We were immediately impressed at how beautiful the aquarium was! My eyes went wide and my jaw dropped and I felt like a little kid. :-) We eagerly jumped into the engaging path through the exhibits.

I was so pleased with how much room we had for maneuvering our wide stroller through every exhibit! I had packed two baby carriers in case we had to ditch the stroller and wear the babies, but we had tons of room everywhere we went. In fact, there was always plenty of room for others to pass around our slow-moving group. :-) Every so often, there were benches for resting (and slipping Cheerios to restless toddlers), too. So toddler-friendly!

There was a huge play area where kids a little older than mine could crawl and climb to their hearts' content, allowing grown-ups to catch up on nearby benches. Nearby, there were also touch tanks for curious kids to get hands-on with some of the cool sea creatures. This fun and educational area alone would keep kids entertained for quite a while, and is one of the reasons I think the aquarium would be a great attraction for folks visiting the area on a day when the weather is lousy. So many other attractions in the Gatlinburg area involve walking outside from place to place. :-)

If I had to pick a favorite exhibit, I'd be torn between the shark tunnel and the penguin habitat.

It's such an intense and beautiful sight to see sharks swimming on three sides of you! Our party was thankful that half of the hallway was a moving sidewalk, and half was stationary so that we could hop off the sidewalk to read educational signs or to get a closer look at a critter that caught our attention, and so that we could hop on the sidewalk with the stroller and just relax as we moved through the exhibit.

The penguin habitat, I must admit, made me squeal like a child! I just love penguins, along with most of the internet, it would appear :-) These little guys were so playful and chill... (yeah, I said it), and we were a little surprised how close to the glass they were hanging out. They seemed perfectly okay with humans being right up next to them, so we got to see them up close and personal. When you visit, check their flippers for little bands with names on them. :-) It's nice to be able to call your new friends by name, after all!

The coolest feature of the penguin exhibit, I thought, was the little tunnel for kids to crawl under where they swim, and pop up in the middle of the habitat. Similar to the sharks, I guess! I just like immersive-feeling experiences. :-) Sam and I had to check out the tunnel... It's mostly for little kids, and I wouldn't have crawled in if it hadn't been a lull in the traffic, but I'm glad I could fit so I could take him. It was a little claustrophobic, and I'm 5'3" and 145lbs, so keep that in mind if you decide to venture in with a little one.

Stinker decided on the way out that he no longer remembered how crawling works!
One of the last things we encountered was a touch opportunity with stingrays, and we got to watch them being fed, too. We opted out of touching, but they were so neat to watch!

I hope the next time you're in the Gatlinburg/Pigeon Forge/Sevierville area, you'll check out Ripley's Aquarium of the Smokies! Our family had such a great time that I could only come up with two small things to put in a "cons" column :-) Have you been before? What's YOUR favorite exhibit!?

No comments :

Post a Comment

Blog Design by Get Polished