After leaving Oak Ridge, we had a drive of an hour or two. We passed by Knoxville. I’d been there in 1982, on a family vacation to the World’s Fair. I was so excited to see this on the horizon — I remembered if from the fair!
A bit of searching reveals that it is called the Sunsphere, and is one of the few remaining bits of the World’s Fair.
On through Pigeon Forge. I’d never been here, that I remember, and from driving through, it reminded me a bit of Las Vegas — lots of big, glitzy fronts.
We didn’t stop at any, but it was still interesting to drive by them. We got a pretty good look too, because we were in the area around dinner time, and traffic was not moving fast. I took from this experience that early-mid July may not be the best time to visit a touristy spot like Pigeon Forge.
We drove on to Gatlinburg, about 10 miles farther down the road, which wound through parts of Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Our destination: Ripley’s attractions. Yes, attractions with an “s,” because there are eight of them. A big thanks to Ripley’s for our tickets to these attractions — now, read on to hear my unbiased opinions!
Our first destination was what I’d consider Ripley’s main attraction in Gatlinburg: Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies. It was located at the north end of the “main drag” through Gatlinburg, US 441. After a few anxious moments driving around the area (to say it was packed would be putting it mildly), we got situated in the parking garage, and our adventure began …
I’d read excellent reviews on the aquarium, and I can see why. It’s truly a neat place to visit.
Once you get inside, you’re in a vast space, with all kind of possibilities of things to see. A schedule for the day, available inside the entrance, informed me of shark lagoon dives, penguin feedings, marine science classes, and more. Unfortunately, we arrived too late for the live mermaid show 🙁
We were, however, in time to watch an aquarium feeding. I love how the stingrays seem to have smiles on their “faces.” There was one pretty aggressive one, who the feeder had to keep pushing away. Neat to think even stingrays have personalities.
There were many displays of fascinating sea creatures, like this Weedy Sea Dragon. Looks like a bit of seaweed, but it’s alive! The camouflage allows it to stay safe from predators. Like seahorses, the males of this species are the ones who have the babies.
How about this giant crab? It was about 3 feet wide, and honestly a little bit creepy.
One of my favorite exhibits was called “Swarm.” Have you heard about the pedicures where fish nibble the dead skin off your feet? Well, this is similar, except you put your hands into the water. Soon, lots of little “Doctor Fish” swarm up and begin nibbling the dead skin from your fingers. Maybe I didn’t have much dead skin, because I never really attracted what I’d call a swarm, but it did feel good. And the kids taking part absolutely loved it.
Okay, this was neat too: stand on a moving walkway, which takes you through an aquarium — all around you, even overhead. So many good photo opps, and so neat to see all the fish surrounding you! Even three teens loved it.
Since it was evening, and we hoped to see more attractions, we kept moving. The other attractions are easily accessible by foot. We took off down the main street to explore …
Both the street and the sidewalks were packed. Although, I suppose it could have been worse — when I mentioned the crowds to the lady working at the Aquarium ticket booth, she told me, “You should be glad you weren’t here on the fourth of July!” I was.
Next stop: Ripley’s Mirror Maze. The teens excitedly headed into the maze, after donning the provided 3-D glasses.
Once inside the maze, I just followed them …
… through many rooms like this. They made it through the entire maze in probably under a minute, and promptly did it again (once you have a ticket, you can go through as often as you like). I am sure it would take younger kids (or probably adults too) quite a bit longer. Fun.
Next stop was Ripley’s Haunted Adventure. Okay, I had a bit of pause at this one. A creepy-looking guy in the entrance was shouting insults for effect at passers-by, particularly those entering the attraction. My middle daughter was excited about this one, while the oldest and youngest took a look and quickly decided NO. I might have joined them, but readers, I am here to be your presence-on-the-scene, so how could I decline? I got into the cage-like enclosure with my teen and a few other nervously-giggling tourists, and soon we were off into the Grimsby & Streaper Casket Company. We were instructed to hang onto the shoulder of the person ahead of us, and this was sound advice.
For the next ten minutes or so (maybe less, but trust me, when you are run/walking through the dark, dodging fake corpses and having the ground shift beneath your feet, it seems longer), I hung onto my daughter’s shoulder for dear life as the line of us braved our way through darkness, punctuated by screams, shouts, and even the occasional disco-ball lighting. Finally, gratefully, I emerged back into the evening light. Fun — if you’re into scary. If you’re a teenager.
When we came out, my youngest daughter, who’d been waiting patiently, was glad to see us. We all headed next door, into the Ripley’s 5D Moving Theater.
We put on the 3D glasses again, and fastened our seatbelts. Then, after a wait of 10 minutes or so (waiting for the theater to fill up?), we saw 2 films. One was about a pig and his farmyard friends, who went on a wild adventure, and the other was wintery, about a snowman going on a boisterous trip. The whole time, our seats moved and the 5D effects (5D? well, it snowed on us ….) made both adventures seem, well, adventurous!
I’d say each film was about 3 minutes long, and again, if you were here for the day, you could easily view them several times throughout the day. Fun and light-hearted; a good way to settle back down after being scared in the Haunted Adventure.
Yikes; the sun was setting, and we hadn’t yet taken in all the attractions. Let’s keep moving, this time to Ripley’s Believe it or Not Odditorium. This, to me, is kind of what I think of when I think of Ripley’s: odd things. Sure enough, that’s what the inside was full of.
Exhibits like this one, about a guy born with only the top half of his body. And more, and more, and more — unusual things of all types. I could go on and on, but honestly, I’m getting tired!
I was also tired that day. Remember, I’d been on a 3-hour tour focused on enriching uranium. Oh my, all the things there are to learn in the world …
My take: the whole family (me, husband, three teens) all enjoyed the Ripley’s attractions a lot. We didn’t even make it to the Guinness World Records Museum, or the Mini Golf attractions. My recommendation would be to plan on a day in Gatinburg, seeing as many of the attractions as you can. We were rushed trying to do a bunch in about 3-4 hours, but a full day would be great — you could alternate attractions with window-shopping (of which there’s plenty) along the streets of Gatlinburg. No need to move the car. I would park at the Aquarium parking garage ($5 max for the day) and walk from there.
If you only have a few hours, I’d most recommend the Aquarium. Beyond that, choose the attractions that are most interesting to your traveling group. The tickets are flexible enough that you can buy whatever amount interests you.
Thanks if you’ve stuck with me through this lengthy post! Let’s call it a day …