Last year, Mom and I joined my sister’s family for a November weekend in Gatlinburg. It was cold out. But we had a great time. The most fun for me: taking Mom on “Ripley’s Glass Bottom Boat Adventure” in Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies. It’s a relatively short trip across the aquarium’s Shark Lagoon. But it was entertaining and, for us, unique. Promotional material touts that only three inches of glass separates riders “from 12-foot sharks that call Shark Lagoon home.”
I hoped the ride would bring back fond memories for Mom. When she and Dad married in March 1955, their brief honeymoon was a two-night trip up the Blue Ridge Parkway and back, with Dad going straight back to work at Mead for the graveyard shift as soon as they got home. A few months later, they took a longer, more exotic (for the girl and the time) trip. They went to Florida, where Mom (scared to death of water) saw the ocean for the first time. They also spent a day at Silver Springs State Park, famous for its glass bottom boat tours. Mom’s not crazy about boats, either.
However, this wasn’t an extension of their honeymoon. They weren’t traveling alone. My paternal grandfather went along. And they stayed with my Dad’s oldest brother, my Uncle Paul, and his family. Uncle Paul was pursuing graduate studies in biology and would go on to a long career teaching biology at Lynchburg College in Virginia. Mom said it was Uncle Paul who persuaded her to ride the glass bottom boat at Silver Springs. And she was glad he did once the voyage was underway and she could see the beautiful fish.
She and I were the only ones in our group — which included a toddler and a preteen — to go on the Glass Bottom Boat Adventure at Ripley’s Aquarium. The rest continued touring the rest of the attraction, and it turned out they were passing through an underwater tunnel as our boat passed overhead. They got some really good pictures of our shoes.
The aquarium was actually our first stop in an action-packed day for the kids and adults alike. We had chosen Ripley’s ultimate combination ticket, which granted us the chance to visit the aquarium and seven more Ripley’s attractions. The others included Ripley’s Believe It or Not!” museum; the Haunted Adventure; the 5D moving theater; the mirror maze; mini golf (18 holes); and the Guiness World Records attraction. Aside from the aquarium, Guiness, which includes scores of interactive exhibits, proved to be our favorite stop. It kept us all busy.
Ripley’s combo ticket lets you decide what to visit and when. Passes are valid for one visit to each attraction for one year from date of purchase.
We did our Ripley’s run on Sunday. We’d visited Dollywood in Pigeon Forge to see the Christmas lights and shows on Saturday after an early lunch at the Gondolier in Sevierville. It’s one of our favorite go-to pre-park stops (load up on Italian food and then go walk it off). All weekend we enjoyed the lights of WinterFest. It was a dual-purpose gathering that weekend. We were celebrating my niece Allison’s birthday and having “Thanksgiving” a bit early because we didn’t expect we’d all be together on Thanksgiving Day. So one evening we had a big traditional Thanksgiving meal.
My sister, Pamela, and her husband, Larry Fagans, graciously hosted us all at three condos in the Bluegreen Vacation Resorts’ MountainLoft, a short drive up the Newport Highway from downtown Gatlinburg (“You mean I turn and go up the hill at Polly Bergen’s?” I’d asked my sister, a reference point that shows our age). I don’t know what they paid for those condos, but they were well worth it: clean, easy to find, handy to downtown (Sister says trolley service is available), beautifully appointed, and homey. We had a great time in cold-weather Gatlinburg (and environs), so don’t wait until summer.
J.H. Osborne covers Sullivan County government for the Times News. Email him at [email protected]