Penguin Palooza

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Family-friendly Penguin Encounter

Penguin mania is about to hit the country with the Earth Day release of Disneynature’s new documentary, “Penguins”. However, penguin mania has been a constant state of affairs at our house for about 11 years now. My youngest son has always had a thing for penguins, so over the years we have sought out ways to have penguin encounters in the U.S. Here is one of our favorites that is sure to please kids of all ages.

Patting penguins at a penguin encounter
Using two fingers, the boys are allowed to gently touch the penguin.

Newport Aquarium (Newport, KY)

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Just over the river from Cincinnati in Newport, Kentucky lies an unassuming aquarium that packs a mighty penguin punch. We arrived one October day simply hoping to see its Penguin Palooza exhibit featuring cold-weather King, Gentoo, Rockhopper, Macaroni, and Chinstrap penguins. We were able to do that and so much more!

When we arrived, we discovered that we could also purchase same-day tickets for a 20‑minute penguin encounter (I can’t understand why, but to this day their website buries the penguin encounter information, making it very difficult to find.)

Being from the type-A and not-inexpensive Washington, D.C. area, I couldn’t believe that: (a) tickets were not sold out months in advance; and (b) the price was so reasonable (at the time it was about $20/person; as of February 2019 it was $29.99/person). Included with your ticket was a flash drive of hundreds of photos taken by a professional photographer during your encounter.

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Here’s how a penguin encounter unfolds: You are taken to a small room with any other guests (there’s a maximum of 10 people, and there were only two other people in attendance on the day we went). Aquarium staff bring in a number of warm-climate African penguins who then waddle around the room looking positively adorable. Guests can take pictures but don’t need to, because a professional photographer is there snapping away the whole time.

Thomas gets to touch a penguin during our Newport Aquarium penguin encounter
Boy in penguin heaven!

Guests may only touch the penguins when invited to gently do so by aquarium staff.

After 20 minutes of cuteness, the penguins are returned to their enclosure, and giddy guests are free to continue visiting the aquarium. Meanwhile, staff will be vigorously cleaning the room, as penguins’ primary activity appears to be going to the bathroom. Children get no end of amusement out of the fact that the penguins seem to poop dollops of white excrement about once a minute. Bathroom humor seemingly never gets old.

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This was our first-ever penguin encounter, and it was a winner!

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Have you ever done an animal encounter? What did you think of the experience?

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