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The Appalachian Lodge
The outside of the Gatlinburg aquarium.

We are excited to report that Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies has received a major honor! The popular Gatlinburg aquarium took second place in USA Today’s list of the 10 Best Aquariums in North America. To compile the list, the newspaper’s team of experts selected ten finalists and opened up the voting to the readers of USA Today. Ripley’s Aquarium earned more votes than many other notable aquariums, including the Georgia Aquarium, Dallas World Aquarium, The Florida Aquarium, and the Vancouver Aquarium.

When you stay at The Appy Lodge, you will be just a 4-minute drive (or an 18-minute walk) from Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies! To help you make the most of your next vacation, we have put together a brief guide to some of the highlights of the Gatlinburg aquarium.

Over 10,000 Sea Creatures to See

Stingray and fish in an aquarium.

Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies is home to over 10,000 fascinating sea creatures. In fact, there are more animals in Ripley’s Aquarium than there are permanent residents in the city of Gatlinburg (about 4,000 people)!

While there are plenty of great exhibits at Ripley’s, we want to shine a light on two of the most-buzzed-about attractions at the aquarium: Shark Lagoon and the Penguin Playhouse.

Exploring Shark Lagoon

A shark in an aquarium.

Of all the sea creatures in the Gatlinburg aquarium, Ripley’s sharks might just be the most popular. These iconic deep sea predators are housed in the aquarium’s famous Shark Lagoon. To view the Lagoon, guests at the aquarium stand on a moving sidewalk and pass through an immersive underwater tunnel that is absolutely swimming with sharks and other animals. Some of the creatures you can expect to spy in Shark Lagoon include:

  • Nurse Sharks
  • Sandtiger Sharks
  • Green Moray Eels
  • Green Sea Turtles
  • Giant Stingray
  • Tarpons
  • Sawfish
  • Grunts
  • Squirrelfish

For a completely different way to explore Shark Lagoon, guests can take one of Ripley’s Glass Bottom Boat Adventures. A 3-inch glass window at the bottom of the boat provides an unparalleled vantage point for watching the sharks swim by. Please note that the Glass Bottom Boat Adventure is a special add-on experience that is not included with standard admission.

Visiting the Penguin Playhouse

The Penguin Playhouse at the Gatlinburg aquarium.

The Penguin Playhouse is another can’t-miss exhibit in Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies. Added to Ripley’s in 2010, this $5 million space is a unique indoor-outdoor hybrid habitat for the aquarium’s adorable African penguins. The indoor and outdoor sections are connected via a special tunnel that the penguins can move through.

Believe it or not, the Penguin Playhouse also has tunnels for humans! Guests are encouraged to crawl through transparent passageways in the Playhouse to get an up-close look at the penguins in their beach habitat.

For an additional fee, guests can take part in a Penguin Encounter where they’ll have the chance to pet a penguin and pose for a souvenir photo with the bird.

Where to Stay in Gatlinburg

Charming hotel room in the Appalachian Lodge in Gatlinburg.

Guests at The Appy Lodge will love being near the Gatlinburg aquarium and all of the other wonderful attractions, restaurants, and shops on The Strip. Offering free parking, complimentary breakfast, indoor and outdoor swimming pools, and walk-in showers, our hotel has everything you need for an unforgettable getaway in Gatlinburg. To start planning your escape, browse our selection of Gatlinburg hotel rooms!