What’s waddly, adorable, and loves to wear black and white? Yep, cute penguins! These flightless birds — all 18 species — always seem to bring smiles to everyone they meet. Unfortunately, their wild populations are dwindling by the day due to shrinking habitats, climate change, and ocean contamination. To help spread the word and save these beautiful waterbirds, Penguin Awareness Day is honored every year on January 20.
Spending time with real penguins can help open eyes, capture hearts, and educate people to make a change for penguins across our planet. After all, future generations will want to hang out with penguins, too! While staying at your Pigeon Forge TN cabin, pop over to Gatlinburg to learn more about penguins and get to know them in person at the Penguin Playhouse at Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies.
The Penguin Playhouse
An indoor and outdoor habitat for African penguins, the Penguin Playhouse at Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies showcases their lovely penguins diving into the water, playing together, and chilling out on land. In fact, there are viewing tunnels where you can crawl and see them swim underwater and come within inches of your face on their private beach. Ripley’s Penguin Playhouse is a wonderful interactive exhibit kids and adults love!
Visiting the Gatlinburg Penguin Playhouse is a true highlight on your trip to Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies. And it is included with your price of admission!
- Adults (12+) —$38
- Children (6-11) — $20
- Small Children (2-5) — $10
Pet, Admire, & Sleep with the Penguins
Seeing the penguins frolic in Ripley’s Penguin Playhouse is great, but you can also spend quality time with them up close and personal. This Smoky Mountain aquarium currently offers 3 incredible penguin experiences to make your time with their loveable penguins extra special. Reservations are recommended; just be mindful these experiences are dependent on the nature and wellbeing of the birds.
Penguin Painting Experience
Want to witness the artistic side of a sweet penguin? Opt for the Penguin Painting Experience (great for ages 4+), where you help create a one-of-a-kind art piece with a penguin! Their signature footprints will parade the canvas to make your very own 8X10 painting to take home.
- $75 per person
- $20 for 1 chaperone/guest (required for children ages 4-7)
Personal Penguin Encounter
Meet and greet with delightful penguins face-to-beak at the Penguin Encounter (also great for ages 4+). This one takes you inside Ripley’s Penguin Playhouse to pet a penguin, snap a photo with him/her, and learn more about penguin behavior from an expert.
- $45 per person
PJ Party with the Penguins
Put on your favorite penguin pajamas and head to Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies for a PJ Party with the Penguins (suitable for ages 5+)! This unique experience from around 8:00 p.m. – 9:00 a.m. lets you see these cool waterbirds at nighttime and includes a dive show, a scavenger hunt, a late night activity plus snack, a continental breakfast, and a meet-and-greet with your penguin pals in the morning.
- $78 per person
- 1 FREE chaperone for every 10 paid children
- Sleepover fee includes aquarium admission
LIVE Camera Inside the Penguin Playhouse
Can’t make it to the Gatlinburg Penguin Playhouse in person? Check out the live camera that shows the precious penguins during the daytime between 9:00 a.m and 8:00 p.m. After all, you wouldn’t want to be watched during your bedtime, right? While it’s not as exciting as visiting the penguin enclosure, it’s still a great way to see what penguins get up to without having to pay for a ticket or pop into town.
Penguin Merch in the Cargo Hold
Before leaving the aquarium, be sure to stop by the Cargo Hold Gift Shop for a penguin plushie, T-shirt, or a penguin painting! In fact, 50% of all the proceeds for penguin painted originals in the gift shop go to SANCCOB — The Southern African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds. Located in Cape Town, South Africa, this non-profit seabird rehabilitation center has treated 85,000+ birds since 1968 and focuses on conservation awareness. It’s a wonderful cause to support for National Penguin Awareness Day!
Other Sea Adventures at Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies
Penguins aren’t the only sea creatures to see and learn more about at Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies. From sharks, rays, and clownfish to moon jellies, horseshoe crabs, and octopi, this award-winning aquarium has it all! AND they have more aquatic experiences to get you closer than ever. You can even bundle multiple experiences (including ones with the penguins) for super savings. Note: some experiences may be on hold due to COVID-19.
- Turtle Time
- Glass Bottom Boat Ride
- Splash with the Stingrays
- Behind-the-Scenes Tours
- Sleep with the Sharks
- Marriage Proposals
Penguin Fun at the Cabin
After playing with the penguins at Ripley’s Penguin Playhouse, head back to your cozy cabin rental with Pigeon Forge TN Cabins for more penguin fun! Watch penguin documentaries or Happy Feet on a big screen TV or in the home theater. Chat about your favorite penguin with cocoa around the firepit or by the fireplace. And read more about penguins in your plush king-size bed after a relaxing bath in the indoor jetted tub. You can even bake penguin-themed cookies in the full kitchen, host a game tournament in the rec room with penguin prizes, or share what you’ve learned about penguins while soaking in the hot tub or floating around the private indoor pool.
Most importantly, take time to consider how you can make a difference and save these special creatures from extinction. Start a brainstorming session in the living room and jot down any ideas, no matter how small. Even sharing your penguin experience and newfound penguin awareness on social media can have a great impact! After all, Penguin Awareness Day was created to spread the word and inspire change for penguins worldwide — and that all starts with YOU.