We went back to Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies recently. We’ve been before and have enjoyed it every time, but I’ve come to expect a law of diminishing returns effect for places that we’ve seen more than once. Not so. The whole place has seemed fresh each time that we’ve toured the tanks.
The regularly rotating special exhibits helps a lot with the re-visit factor. This time around you can learn all about swarms: animal behavior in groups. The focus of the feature extends well beyond the fish world, with an installation of leaf-cutter ants, one of mice, and one of halloween crabs. The real draw, though, is the fish manicure. While a knowledgeable staff member educated us on the behavior of the fish, a school of the little critters nibbled gently on our hands, cleaning the dead skin material from our calloused digits. A spa experience at the aquarium! The kids loved it, too.
We just happened to see the same staff member at the horseshoe crab exhibit. I had always considered myself pretty well versed in horseshoe crab lore, but he told us quite a bit that I had never heard, like their number of eyes (did you know that the tail acts as a photoreceptor and so qualifies as an eye?) and the fact that they must move their legs to eat. He had the entire area engaged with a perfect combination of knowledge and ability to talk to everyone without patronizing the kiddos.
The best part, as always, was the moving sidewalk under the big tank. It inches you forward at just the right pace to see all the denizens of the deep. If you want to take a longer look, you simply step off and linger until you’re ready to move again. The whole experience is quite relaxing at the same time that you’re moving through a heavy-traffic attraction in Gatlinburg. I left feeling almost refreshed.
We’ll definitely be back, especially as a part of our science studies in the coming year. What a great combination of playing and learning.