As I mentioned last week, our family spent some more time in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, this month. With the whole town decked out in twinkling lights and Christmas displays, it was a great place to be this time of year.
We’d gone to Gatlinburg last January and realized there was much more to do than we could fit in a few days, so we planned a return trip almost as soon as we got home from the first one.
We went back to Pigeon Forge this trip for another meal and pottery making demonstration at The Pottery House Cafe and Pigeon River Pottery. And we also tried zorbing at The Outdoor Gravity Park and snow tubing at Ober Gatlinburg (lots of fun…more on that in a future post), but we spent most of our time visiting Ripley’s attractions. There are eight of them now in Gatlinburg, although we only made it to five:
- Aquarium of the Smokies
Some Tennessee-native friends of ours, when they found out we were planning a trip to Gatlinburg, insisted we visit the Aquarium of the Smokies while we were there.
They told us it how huge it was. They went on and on about all the great exhibits. They described the winding glass tunnel with the moving walkway that transports you through tanks filled sharks and sea turtles and school upon school of fish.
But then, after raving on this World-class aquarium for at least 15 minutes, our friends started to backpedal a bit. They worried that perhaps they’d made it sound better than it was.
Perhaps we’d been to bigger and better aquariums elsewhere — this one, after all, is only ranked 5th Best Aquarium in the World. They were concerned that, maybe, they’d built it up so much that we’d be disappointed when we actually saw it with our own eyes.
Nothing could be further than the truth. The Aquarium of the Smokies was everything they’d promised, plus a whole lot more.
We loved the Tropical Rainforest Dispaly with its soothing waterfalls and lush foliage, green iguanas, bright poison dart frogs, and toothy piranhas.
We loved Stingray Bay, where the bravest among us were allowed to pet their sandpapery skin.
We loved the Penguin Playhouse, where we could waddle right up for a super-close peek at these fascinating birds.
We loved the Gallery of the Seas and the Coral Reef exhibit, and getting to see all sorts of other sea life up close and personal…
…including these “doctor fish” that would nibble the dead skin cells right off our fingers:
We loved the Children’s Discovery Center and all the fun photo-ops scattered throughout this expansive place.
Our only complaint about Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies is that we didn’t allot enough time to fully explore it — a situation we plan to remedy on our next trip to Gatlinburg.
- Old MacDonald’s Farm Mini-Golf
Most of our family vacations include a little Putt-Putt golf at some time during the trip, and this visit to Gatlinburg was no exception.
We’ve done a lot of traveling and have tried a lot of miniature golf courses, but Old MacDonald’s Farm was the first of its kind we’ve seen.
We loved the farm animal scenes that graced every hole.
Not only did the animals make their traditional noises (a moo moo here, an oink oink there, here a cluck, there a quack, everywhere a baaa baaa), but they also offered words of encouragement to the golfers, popping up their heads when we’d tee off to call “Nice shot” or “Way to go!”
Our family had a record number of holes-in-one the day we visited, including this (slightly unconventional) shot of Joe’s:
Whether that’s because we have gotten so good at mini-golf, or because we picked the easiest of the three available courses to play — who can say?
Two of us even earned an extra free game of golf by making this final hole in a single shot…
…ensuring that we’ll be back again next time we come to town.
- Ripley’s 5D Moving Theater
We also tried out Ripley’s 5D Moving Theater while we were in Gatlinburg, with mixed reviews: our littlest guys loved it, while the older (more motion-sickness prone) members of our family weren’t so sure they’d do it again.
They were playing a double feature the day we were there. The first film put you in the driver’s seat of a four-wheeler — kicking up mud, cutting through cornfields, and swerving over cliffs.
It definitely had us ducking and flinching and clutching the arms of our seat.
I’m deathly afraid of fourwheelers (comes from being married to a doctor who takes trauma call), so this was a good, safe way to experience something I’d never do in real life — but my head’s starting to spin a little just remembering that movie!
The second feature — a snow tubing adventure — was my favorite, probably because of all the “snow” falling from the ceiling during the entire film.
Having done some real-life snow tubing on this trip, I must admit that the virtual experience offered some appealing advantages: the hills in the films were infinitely higher, so the slides lasted much longer and could be enjoyed without wet clothes, soggy shoes, and chattering teeth.
Both of these films were cartoonish (not live-action) and were appropriate for all ages. Just remember to pack some Dramamine if you’re easy-queasy.
- Ripley’s Mirror Maze
While the Moving Theater reviews may have been mixed, the entire family gave Ripley’s Mirror Maze two enthusiastic thumbs up. It was awesome.
Each guest was given a pair of gloves before entering the maze — a brilliant move that helps keep all those mirrors smudge free.
Several of our kids followed one another through rooms and rooms of the maze, only to realize in the end — when they reached out to touch their sibling — that they’d been watching a distant reflection the whole time.
We were concerned that our ten-year-old, who can sometimes be a little claustrophobic, might freak out inside the maze, but he enjoyed it as thoroughly as the rest of the family.
Rescuers are sent in every half-hour to help the hopelessly lost find their way out, but those weren’t necessary for our crew. Like cheese for rats, the knowledge that there was a candy factory waiting on the other side enabled our kids to sniff their way through the maze without any assistance.
- Guinness World Records Museum
We skipped Ripley’s Believe-It-or-Not Odditorium and the Ripley’s Haunted Adventure — those were a little too creepy for our taste — but we did pay a visit to Ripley’s Guinness World of Records Museum.
That one showcased a lot of interesting facts and trivia. There were myriad opportunities for comparison — here’s how the tallest member of our party (6’5″) measures up to the tallest man on record (8’11”):
Although Doug sometimes accuses Jennifer of holding onto stuff we no longer need, the museum’s vast collections of things such as belly-button fuzz reassured him that the situation could be much, much worse.
There were even a few opportunities to try setting a world record of your own. The kids all enjoyed trying their hand at the museum’s interactive exhibits.
If you find yourself in Gatlinburg, be sure to check out some (or all) of the Ripley’s exhibits while you are there.
Ripley’s gave our family free passes in exchange for this honest review. (If you are a blogger, you can find details for participating in such a program at US Family Guide Bloggers).
Otherwise, the most economical way to visit any of these attractions is to purchase a combination ticket for the ones that interest you online. My Readers can save $3 Off Adult and $2 Off Child Admission to all of Ripley’s Attractions in Tennessee by using the promo code: USFAMILYGUIDE
Our experience with Ripley’s attractions in Gatlinburg has made me want to check them out in other towns, as well. Next on the agenda? Wizard Quest in Wisconsin Dells: billed as the “cutting edge fusion of a story driven computer game and a 13,000 square foot magical wonderland. It is packed with secret passageways, physical obstacles, endearing illusions and over the top artistry.” If it’s as good as the exhibits in Gatlinburg, we’re sure to enjoy it.