Ripley's Believe It or Not! is well-known entertainment brand, offering numerous attractions in popular tourist destinations. It all began with Robert L. Ripley, the adventurous man renowned for his Believe It or Not! cartoon panels and his enormous collection of strange and amazing things. His first Odditorium was opened in Chicago in 1933 and has since grown to 32 locations across ten countries. Ripley's attractions now go beyond the original Believe It or Not! element, with a variety of entertainment options for the whole family.
Ripley's Believe It or Not! Odditoriums
Many people are familiar with Ripley's Believe It or Not! brand through the television show, syndicated cartoons, and the attractions that Robert L. Ripley, the founder, called Odditoriums.
Filled with a variety of artifacts, there are so many beautiful and unusual things you never know what you will find. From a Buddha sculpture made of jade and Chinese camel bone to drawers of shrunken heads, it's a bit like being in a warehouse you might expect belonged to Indiana Jones. With every Odditorium hosting different galleries, each one you explore is filled to the brim with lots of fun, unexpected, and, certainly, unique surprises.
There is a perception Odditoriums can be a bit scary for families with younger children, but General Manager Ryan Desear, who oversees both the Gatlinburg, Tennessee and Myrtle Beach, South Carolina attractions, shared that the original museum-type attraction that people may recall has changed considerably over the years. The attractions are now quite vibrant and bright, with plenty of interactive features for the whole family. Desear states, "Everything is real and if it is a replica, we tell you."
He illustrates, "For example, in Gatlinburg we have an awesome sculpture called The Amazing Mr. Ito, a perfectly lifelike statue the man carved of himself and made of wood and plaster a gift to his girlfriend as a token of his affection. To add extra authenticity, Mr. Ito plucked out his hair AND fingernails and used them on the statue. Amazing. Odd. Bizarre. That exhibit sums us (Ripley's Odditoriums) up!"
There are over 25,000 exhibits in the Ripley's locations and archives. In addition to Mr. Ito, DeSear's favorite artifacts include the two-trunked elephant at the New York Odditorium, a Faberge Egg housing a microfilm version of the Luna Bible, and General Tom Thumb's Tuxedo (both of which are currently in the Ripley's vault).
Beyond having different oddities in their collections, each Odditorium is unique in architecture as well, making the entire Believe It or Not! experience, from start to finish, definitely one-of-a-kind.
Ripley's has three aquariums, located in Myrtle Beach, Gatlinburg and Toronto. While visitors may have entered these locations expecting to see three-eyed fish in the collection, that's not what they found. Instead, they discovered a stunning world-class facility filled with fun, fish, and great educational opportunities.
The displays have been created to heighten the guest experience and bring them more closely to the animals. Ripley's Aquarium of the Smokies in Gatlinburg has an exciting exhibit featuring penguins. The habitat, called Ripley's Penguin Playhouse, has nesting boxes and mud holes built into the rocky areas for nest-building. One of the highlights of the exhibit is the acrylic tube visitors can crawl through to see the penguins both above and below the water. The penguins like looking back, too.
Among the penguin population is the African Black Footed Penguin, an endangered species. Ripley's uses this opportunity to let people know about the Southern African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds (SANCCOB). As part of the work they do with the organization, the Aquarium of the Smokies fundraises through the sale of original penguin paintings, with 50% of the proceeds donated directly to the cause.
With moving glide paths, gorgeous displays, thousands of beautiful fish and creepy, interesting sea creatures, the experience is pure family-friendly fun. From barracudas and jellyfish to moray eels and sharks, there is definitely something for everyone with a fondness for the sea.
Ripley's Haunted Adventures
If you are looking for a good scare, Ripley's can certainly help out there with Ripley's Haunted Adventures. With locations in Gatlinburg, Myrtle Beach, St. Augustine, Florida, and San Antonio, Texas, each offers a slightly different experience driven by actors and special effects, each of which will make you jump. Examples include:
- Some of the locations offer ghost tours in the evening, following regular hours of operation.
- At the Gatlinburg location, each guest receives a PK (para kinetic) meter to personally see any paranormal activities and a disposable camera to capture any odd occurrences.
- In St. Augustine, the Ghost Train Adventure is a 90-minute paranormal investigation around the historic city. Guests use their EMF (electromagnetic field) meters and laser grids to perform their own paranormal investigations. Ripley's also suggests that guests bring a digital camera to capture orbs, light ribbons and in some cases, full body apparitions that appear.
Children under the age of six are not permitted in the attraction due to its nature. Jim Pattison, Jr., President of Ripley Entertainment, shared his own experience with a real ghost that lives in one of the attractions, so it is definitely a fright fest for those seeking scary entertainment.
Kim Kiff, Regional Manager for Ripley's Florida attractions, said experiences like Jim's are not uncommon. In fact, there was quite an event with a Sumatran Soul Boat that sat behind a glass window in St. Augustine. As the last guest was exiting the room, the boat flew up against the glass smashing it completely then crashed to the floor. Scary stuff. She also said a lot of young girls report getting their hair pulled.
Ripley's newest attractions include the most action-packed of the group and make for a great day out or perfect something to do after lunch or dinner with the whole family.
Ripley's has two different mini-golf courses, both in Tennessee and equally filled with surprises.
- Old McDonald's Farm has three 18-hole mini golf courses with lots of interactivity, making it a much longer experience than most. Located at the Tanger Five Oaks Mall in Sevierville, TN, when the moms want to shop, dad and the kids can go play. There is a Ripley's Super Fun Zone Arcade there, too.
- Davy Crockett's Mini-Golf is situated at the entrance to Gatlinburg, just as visitors exit the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Its two beautiful 18-hole courses are in the woods and very peaceful. Like Old MacDonald's Farm it has interactive components, but the focus is on nature and the outdoor feel. Desears said it is one of the attractions that guests return to over and over again because they enjoy it so much.
Ripley's also has the Moving Theater, a 4D experience with so many bumps, turns, digital and motion affects you need to wear a seat belt. There are eight theaters world-wide, featuring different movies that are certain to excite.
For those who love a challenge, Ripley's Impossible LaseRaces are the answer. This is a timed attraction where guests maneuver through a series of laser beams as quickly as possible without breaking one. Climbing over, under, and through the web, competitors can play against themselves or others in a race devoted to both speed and accuracy. Try it out in London, New York's Times Square, San Francisco, or any one of five other locations.
Marvelous Mirror Mazes
The Mirror Maze is a great activity for all ages. As one might expect from Ripley's, each of the eight Mirror Mazes has individual theming and lighting. They can get everyone turned around and heading in the wrong (or right!) direction.
Guinness World Records Museums
Desear said that many guests are surprised to find out Guinness World Records Museums are also part of the Ripley Entertainment family. These attractions take competition to a whole new level, featuring both displays about records and their current holders and opportunities for visitors to try their hand at setting their own record.
The fun doesn't stop there, either. With Super Fun Zone Arcades, Louis Tussaud's Wax Works, Cargo Hold Gift Shops, Candy Factories, Red Train, and Haunted Train, there are plenty of ways to keep everyone entertained.
Top Five Visitor Tips
Wanting guests to make the most of each and every visit, Desear offers five suggestions for how to get the most out of your Ripley Entertainment experience. He shares:
- Ripley's always has peek-a-boo exhibits in our Odditoriums that aren't seen by everybody. A hole in the wall may look like damage to 80% of the people that walk by, but there may be something hidden. In fact, there probably is. In one of those holes, for example, is an unserialized dollar bill not seen by everyone. Look 100% around in every room. You may not know you missed something, but when you find something hidden, it's fantastic.
- We offer combo tickets for everything and have specials for those who ask or look for it. For example, we have great deals for military personnel.
- Ripley's attractions have an insanely active social media presence across all attractions. It's fun to get on and post interesting things. Sometimes it gets competitive between our different attractions. For us, it's not a platform for marketing, but rather a platform for interactivity. Our Scavenger Hunt Plus app is amazing and currently available at the Ripley's Believe It or Not! Odditoriums in Orlando, Florida and Gatlinburg.
- Our mailing list comes out every Saturday and there is a lot of crazy stuff. We have a team of people scouring the world. Opt-in to receive our e-newsletter for specials, events and oddity information.
- The aquariums are best seen the early morning, as water clarity is excellent because the animals haven't been fed yet. In the early evening, crowds are reduced and the lighting is taking hold. At the Aquarium of the Smokies, the penguins are most active at those times, too.
Desear also shared this particularly surprising bit of information about Ripley's Attractions: "Our folks answer a huge number of phone calls from people asking a broad assortment of questions from about the general areas where we are located. We have sort of become an unofficial arm of the local Chamber of Commerce." You could add Believe It or Not!
Something for Everyone
Spending time with family and friends at Ripley's attractions provides for some great time together. The diversity of their many offerings allows guests to pick and choose their experiences, whether you're looking for something to do for a few hours or if you want to create a day of adventure.
Desear recommends, "The mini-golfs are perfect for families with kids of all ages, as are the Amazing Mirror Mazes and Super Fun Zone Arcades. We have Ripley's Red Train Tours in St. Augustine, too. For teens, it's the Haunted Adventures, Moving Theaters, and LaseRaces at the top of the list. Odditoriums and Guinness World Records are great for everyone."
The Gatlinburg cluster has the widest array of Ripley's attractions in one place, with Myrtle Beach closely behind, but the attractions can be found around the world, from Mexico and Australia to India and Denmark. Any way you choose to visit, anywhere in the world you may be, you're sure to have a terrific time.