We arrived at Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies at six - dinner time. However, not having had lunch until three, we were all still quite stuffed and willing to wait. Later, we would discover that that was a mistake.
The Aquarium wasn’t bad, really. Watching fish swim about has always been a relaxing activity for me, helping to calm an overactive mind. I’d have several in my house if I wasn’t afraid of mass homicide against the fish. I’ve done that before, several years ago. I was cleaning the tank, changing out the water and apparently I didn’t allow enough time for the temperature to acclimate. When I slipped the fish back in, they went into some kind of shock and wound up floating belly up at the top of the tank within seconds. It was the last time I owned a fish tank. Visiting the Aquarium is safer for all involved.
We spent close to two hours wandering the dark corridors, gawking at the myriad of underwater species, most of which I had never even heard of before. At this point our little band of merry vacationers broke apart and meandered at their own pace, which for the kids was quite a bit faster than mine. The girls and I would stand in front of each tank absorbing everything we could, mesmerized by the marvels that inhabited the sea.
At one point we came across a tank that held four giant spider crabs, and by giant I mean they were the size of a Labrador. They had long spindly legs and fat disc shaped bodies. The scary part about them was that as I stared at them, they never moved.
“They’re not real,” I said. They seemed like statues, each frozen in a different pose. One was on top of a pile of rocks with his tendrils straight up in the air like Rocky Balboa after his jog up the 72 steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Not one moved that I could see and I assumed it was just a display until the Aquarium found the real crabs.
“No, look. This one’s mouth is moving,” Teri said as she pointed to one crab that was staring at the glass. I stepped closer and, sure enough, small tendrils were moving over its mouth as if he were wiping it clean from his last meal. Not seeing anything in the tank he would be eating, I decided he was licking his lips at the sight of us and chose to quickly move on to the next tank.
The Aquarium also had a dinosaur exhibit, but never explained why. I suppose everyone loves dinosaurs and it’s a great break for the young boys from becoming bored by the pretty fish.
Next, however, was the part Char had been waiting for and her excitement was like that of a child on Christmas morning. It was the shark pool, and Char would have gladly donned a suit and waded in. We stepped on a moving sidewalk that weaved its way through a tunnel where we were surrounded on both sides as well as above by sharks, saw fish, and giant sting rays. It was amazing as some just napped on top of the clear tunnel we were riding through. We would get so engrossed watching one that we would have the life scared out of us when another came into view from behind, swimming by us as if trying to scare the heebie jeebies out of us on purpose. I could have sat there for hours watching that display of power and grace as it parted the waters.
They had an interactive area where you could pick up a Horseshoe Crab - (Don’t let its tail get you. It stings like hell!) - and the kids could make noise with a treasure chest and pose for pictures behind an old fashioned dive suit. There were also three aquariums set up with a place in the middle for you to crawl under and stand in. It made it appear as if you were inside the tank as well and people could snap your picture. The 8-year old, of course, wanted several pictures taken of her inside the bubble,
The last section before being forced to exit through the gift shop with your souvenir hungry child was the Penguin Playhouse. Several of the tuxedo clad creatures milled around on the rocks gawking at us as if we were the ones on display. There was also one of those tunnels you could crawl into and pop your head up in the middle of their artificial environment for a closer look. My body took one look at the crawlspace and screamed “No friggin’ way!!” Sarah, Heather, and the 8-year old ventured in, however, and a penguin or two waddled to within inches of where they stood, which made their day.
There was also an outdoor play area for the penguins. A glass piece of flooring revealed the tunnel they used to reach the outside and you could watch them swim through to the other side. You could, that is, if they were venturing out, but even the arctic creatures thought the weather outside unbearable and stayed indoors.
Of course, their refusal to venture outside could have been due to the inconsiderate imbeciles ignoring the “Please do not smoke in the penguins’ home” sign. Now, I’m not one to harp on smokers or try to force people to quit a habit they seem to enjoy. Anyone who knows me, knows I enjoy a good cigar once in awhile, so I’m not going to bust anyone’s chops or wag my finger. However, show some manners for crying out loud! I wouldn’t smoke my cigar in your living room, please do not smoke your cigarettes in other people’s domicle, even penguins. It’s simply rude and selfish.
After muttering a loud disgust for stupid people, saying they should be the ones in cages, it was time to go. Good thing, too, because it was eight o’clock and my stomach was telling me lunch was gone. We made our way to our cars and hit the road. Of course, I was heading in the wrong direction and had to make a u-turn, but it was all good as the kids were getting used to it and just followed me in my middle of the road illegal maneuver.
Our cabin had a fully equipped kitchen and the plan had been to spend the majority of our time enjoying the closeness of family. It had never been our intention to spend so much time away from our cozy getaway. With that in mind, when we first arrived in Pigeon Forge, after emptying the cars of luggage, we popped to the grocery store and filled them with food. Everyone was to take turns cooking while we were there as it was the girls’ vacation as well. Well, not everyone. I had tasted some fo the kids’ cooking before and they were relegated to clean up duty. The cabin also came with a propane grill and our dinners had been planned with that in mind.
The grill, however, was out of propane.
The girls scrambled to make it work and the rest of us set about to entertain ourselves and stay out of their way - with alcohol, of course. The kids started in on the Apple Pie Moonshine while a couple of us hit the pool table. The 8-year old was exhausted and, after a bite to eat, curled up on the couch not to wake until morning. After two glasses of Maker’s Mark and several games of pool, I stretched out on one of the downstairs couches and zonked out, as well. My daughter-in-law, Christina, was already out on the other sofa while my son, Nathaniel, browsed through the television channels. Everyone else wound up on the main floor harassing the girls about when dinner was going to be ready.
A short while later - or so I thought - Teri was nudging me awake. “Time to eat.”
I blinked my eyes to wakefulness as my brain tried to decide whether my stomach was really hungry enough to wake up or if it was faking. I slipped off the couch, trudged my way up the stairs and plopped down into a chair at the table. I stared at the food set everywhere and watched as famished kids filled their plates as they spoke of recording their version of a Drunken Blair Witch Project after they ate.
“Sorry it took so long. Without the grill we had to do some shuffling with the stove,” Char said as she set my plate in front of me.
“That’s okay,” I assured her, still fighting the fog of slumber that wanted to steal me back to bed. “What time is it?”
I stared, blinking at my plate. “We’re eating dinner at midnight?”
“Yeah, sorry. It took a little longer than we thought.”
“But the ribs are great, Dad,” Zac said around of a mouthful of half-chewed food.
I nodded as I picked up my knife and fork. Ah, well, better late than never. When you’re on vacation you can eat whenever you want, I suppose. Besides, the ribs were actually pretty good.
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