While on an autumn visit with my family to the beautiful Smoky Mountain region of Gatlinburg/Pigeon Forge, TN, we decided to visit Ripley’s Aquarium to see their wide variety of aquatic life. We were in for a treat. Though we had been to the Ripley’s Aquarium in Myrtle Beach, we were surprised to find this Aquarium to be an even more thrilling adventure! We were impressed by the variety of different interesting species housed at the aquarium such as Doctor Fish, as well as the layout of the exhibits.

Penguin Encounter
One of the highlights of our visit was the opportunity Emily (age 12 at the time)had to experience an up-close and personal encounter with a penguin. Emily is passionate about animals and aspires to one day be a zookeeper. We nurture her interest by seeking out attractions for her to visit that offer these kinds of personal interactions with wildlife.

Seeing Penguins at the Aquarium
Entrance to the Penguin exhibit was included in the price of admission, but we purchased the Penguin Encounter for Emily separately at a reasonable price. We signed up for a specific time for Emily’s encounter. As it turned out, for that particular time slot, she was the only person who had signed up. This gave her some very special one-on-one time with an adorable penguin named Noel.

Face to Beak: Meeting a Penguin 
The penguin specialists brought Noel into the room riding in a wagon. They then proceeded to share fascinating educational information about penguins. Pictures were taken of Emily and Noel, with her sitting on a rock next to the lively penguin. Noel was more interested in having fun jumping off the rock than in taking pictures.

The the rest of us we were able to watch the encounter through small, round windows in the wall. After the photo shoot, Emily had a chance to pet Noel while she was in the wagon. The little penguin pecked around and played, and Emily got a real kick out of observing her antics. Even in the short amount of time they spent together, my daughter felt a sense of having truly bonded with this special creature. She received her very own souvenir photo of the experience. Each time we return to Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies, Emily looks for her cute little friend.

Penguin Encounter and Other Experiences at the Aquarium
At the time of this article being written, the Penguin Encounter at Ripley’s Aquarium in Gatlinburg, TN costs $39.99 per person. Advance reservations are recommended since times and dates vary throughout the year. You can purchase this encounter separately, or you can combine it with some of the Aquarium’s other encounter experiences, such as the Splash with the Stingrays experience, Behind-the-Scenes Tour, and Penguin Painting Experience. When you purchase a combination of different experiences, you can receive a special package discount.

Looking at animal exhibits is exciting in and of itself, but getting to touch and interact with these amazing creatures brings the experience to a whole other level. For those who share Emily’s enthusiasm for unique wild animals and would be interested in meeting with one, this is an affordable one-time animal encounter option we would highly recommend.

What: Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies
Where: 88 River Rd, Gatlinburg, TN 37738
Aquarium Cost: $25 adults, Kids 6-11 $13.99 (Save $4 by purchasing tickets online)
Animal Encounter Cost: $39.99 (includes a picture with the penguin)