PLEASE NOTE: This post was originally written in 2012. While it should still give you a great idea of the overall experience, it is also possible that some information may be outdated. We encourage you to check out their website for the most up to date information, especially for details like hours and pricing. If you notice something in this post that needs to be updated, please feel free to leave a comment with the updated information, or email us at email@example.com and we will be happy to make the updates. Hey, it takes a village, right? 🙂
Growing up in Rhode Island, I was no stranger to the Mystic Aquarium in Mystic, Connecticut seeing as it was only about a 45-minute drive from my home. So, I had been really looking forward to the day when I could take Boo to see some of the attractions that I had enjoyed as a kid. Over the years, the aquarium has undergone some major renovations, so I knew it wouldn’t be exactly as I remembered it. But that just added to the fun 🙂
At almost 22 months, we thought Boo was the perfect age for his inaugural trip to the aquarium. He’s a steady walker, he can hold out until late afternoon for a nap, he loves watching animals, and–importantly–admission is FREE for kids 2 and under (meaning they get in free up until they turn 3). My hubby also gets free admission to Mystic Aquarium as a UTC employee, so that means we only had to purchase one ticket (mine).
At $29/adult ticket and $21 for kids 3-17, this is not an inexpensive outing if you’re paying for a whole family. Fortunately, several of the libraries listed on our Museum Pass Page do offer passes for reduced admission at Mystic Aquarium and in most cases, you do not need to be a resident of the town to use their library pass. (Farmington Library in particular offers a generous 50% discount on admission for up to two adults and two children with their pass).
Also, your ticket is actually good for 3 consecutive days. That doesn’t help most of us in the Hartford area since at roughly an hour away, that’d be a LOT of driving to go back and forth. But if you live nearby or you want to make a weekend vacation of it and stay locally, that’s actually a great deal. Especially if you have smaller children who may not have the stamina to see everything in one day.
You can also leave the aquarium and come back on the same day–just get your hand stamped before you leave–if you want to take a little lunch or shopping break in town (or drive around so the wee one can grab a quick nap).
In short, there are lots of ways to maximize the value of your aquarium ticket, so don’t be automatically deterred by the cost. A little planning will go a long way in that department.
Speaking of planning, our plan was to visit the aquarium on the day after Memorial Day. We hoped it would be a little less crowded than usual seeing as it was a weekday after a long weekend, and maybe fewer people would be tempted to take that extra day off.
Well, if this is less crowded, then I cannot imagine what this parking lot looks like on a busy day!
Even though Boo is an accomplished walker, something told us to bring the stroller with us anyway. That turned out to be a good move. Once we’d unloaded all our gear, we headed for the entrance.
Note that teensy green umbrella all the way to the left in the photo above. You’ll want to remember that because it’s the Del’s Frozen Lemonade cart. Del’s was another staple of my Rhode Island upbringing (although now my humble hometown beverage has gone global). On a hot day at the aquarium, I promise you will be wanting a cool cup of this frosty treat at some point! Hubby likes lemon; I’m a watermelon girl myself.
I figured this would be a good time for a pit stop since Boo would probably want to run wild once we got inside and wouldn’t be too keen on waiting for mommy to use the restroom. Unfortunately, there is no changing station in this restroom, so a diaper change would still have to wait.
We stopped at the ticket window to pay our admission fee.
Then it was into the rotunda where we were herded into the photo booth to take the obligatory family photo, which we would later have the option to purchase (see Momsense for pricing details).
Here’s a tip about those photos, by the way. They are ready in about an hour, and if you think you will be interested in purchasing a photo memento, I seriously recommend that you go back right after an hour and check to see how it came out. We waited until we were almost ready to leave, and it turned out that hubby and I looked fantastic, but Boo looked like he was mid-scream. Big bummer, because it’s not often that we get an opportunity to take a family pic, and I was totally ready to overpay for it. But apparently, we discovered, you are welcome to reshoot this picture as many times as it takes to get it right. Unfortunately, by that point we all looked like sweaty messes after traipsing around in the 80-degree sunny heat for hours. So make sure you check your pic early on if that’s going to be important to you. Even better, start with the indoor exhibit in the nice, cool air-conditioning so everyone still looks picture perfect if you want to do a reshoot.
Since it had been many years and many renovations since I’d last been to the aquarium, I thought it’d be a good idea to study the map for a few moments. You can get your own copy here if you want to check it out before you go.
Of course, Boo had other plans, and he made a beeline for the Arctic Coast exhibit overlook where the beluga whales were playing with their trainers.
Boo could see everything from his level thanks to this see-through wall.
It was about 11:00, and the sun was starting to get very hot. So we decided to check out the indoor exhibits for a while. On the way, we passed the Ray Touch Pool. It was closed at that moment, so we couldn’t check it out. But there was a sign on the building indicating that you can also purchase a ticket to feed a ray at the information booth.
We also saw these shady whale viewing spots (good to know), and a row of lockers if you need a place to safely stash some belongings while you explore (also good to know).
Note the sign that says no food or drink is allowed in the indoor exhibits. Also, the counter where you can pick up your photo is just through these doors on the right-hand side.
Okay, before we go in, I have to warn you that the lighting is VERY low in there. So my pictures are, um, less than stellar. This area is huge. You could literally spend the entire day just exploring this indoor space. It’s filled with tanks of all sizes, which are filled with creatures of all sizes. From teensy fish to the sizeable sea lions. Kids of all ages (and I really mean ALL ages; I think even a baby would love this place) will enjoy this exhibit.
There are several activities where you can really have a hands-on experience.
Boo had a great time inspecting all these shells. By the way, the little crabs in this tank DO pinch. So make sure you ask the nice staff member supervising the table to instruct you on the proper way to touch a crab to make sure you don’t lose any fingers. I’m kidding, I’m kidding. These are really tiny crabs, but I still don’t think I’d want them to pinch me 🙂
Here’s one of the big tanks. This tank is also surrounded by benches.
I couldn’t help thinking that this would be a pretty good place to head for if you needed to feed a baby. The lighting is low, it’s cool and quiet. Plus, there are plenty of things for your other little one(s) to look at without straying too far from you if that’s a concern. I know the sign outside the door said no food or drink, but I’m guessing no one’s going to give you any trouble about a bottle 🙂
Boo loved looking at all the tanks, big and small.
But he especially loved watching the playful sea lions put on a little show for him.
While we are on the subject of sea lions, I have a little tip for you. The first thing you should do upon arrival at the aquarium is check the show times for the California sea lion show in the Marine Theater. You can find the show times, plus the stairs and elevator to the Marine Theater here:
The show times are on that sign at the bottom of the stairs. You can also check them here before you go.
Unlike some of the other special events at Mystic Aquarium, the sea lion show is included with the price of your admission. It’s a half hour of non-stop aquatic action where the audience can get up close and personal with Coco, Surfer, Boomerang and Jetty, the resident sea lions. And we missed it. You know why? Because we didn’t check the schedule. By the time we thought about seeing the show, we’d already missed the early ones and we couldn’t stay long enough to see the later one since we had other plans for a late lunch by the shore (you can read all about that adventure next week). So my advice to you is, check the schedule as soon as you arrive so you can plan your other activities accordingly.
While exploring the indoor exhibit, we were lucky enough to run into the Penguin Discovery Cart, a mobile penguin viewing station. I have never seen a penguin this close up. Pretty neat!
Then, my luck changed when we turned a corner and found ourselves staring at these things:
So there. Now you can have nightmares about the creepy eels too.
Around another corner, Boo found this lighted tube that changed colors. He was completely fascinated. We literally had to drag him away kicking and screaming. (It wasn’t pretty.)
Also found in this indoor exhibit is one of the two sets of restrooms with changing stations in them (back left corner). The other is near the Penguins Cafe. Also near the Penguins Cafe is the jackpot of public bathrooms: the family restroom–a single restroom big enough to fit you, your stroller, and your little one(s), all with a locked door that they cannot climb under while you are, um, indisposed. It has a changing station too.
Although there are additional sets of restrooms in other parts of the aquarium, as far as I could tell from my “research,” these are the only two restrooms with changing stations.
When we decided it was time to move on, we exited the indoor exhibit hall by the side entrance that leads out to the outdoor exhibits. This exit is just to the left of the photo pick-up counter.
Outside we found some vending machines and some places to sit.
We also found this Birds of the Outback exhibit. This is one of those “extra” exhibits where you have to pay an additional fee to participate. The fee for this one is $3/person. I was pretty sure Boo was going to be nothing but completely freaked out by birds dive-bombing at his head, so we passed on this one.
Instead, we just followed the path around through the Marsh Trek exhibit.
Next, we paid another visit to some sea lions, this time from above ground in the Pacific Northwest exhibit.
We passed some more vending machines and another restroom (no changing station) on our way to get a closer look at the beluga whales. You’ll also find the Penguin Discovery Zone here. Don’t confuse this with the Penguin Pavilion (we’ll get to that later). The Penguin Encounter is one of the programs that you have to reserve in advance and pay an extra fee for.
We continued along the path.
There are lots of great spots over here to view the beluga whales.
We didn’t spot any whales over here, so we kept walking. Finally! We found them!
After we’d finished visiting with Juno the beluga whale, I realized that we had completely missed the penguin exhibit. So we backtracked all the way to the Marsh Trek exhibit to find the turnoff for the Penguin Pavilion. You know you’re on the right track when you see the giant penguin statue.
You can either view the penguins from outside…
Or you can try your luck with the underwater viewing area inside.
Despite the 80+ degree weather, the penguins didn’t seem to want to go for a swim today. But it was nice and cool in there, so we just hung out for a few minutes anyway. There are some vending machines and also a little gift shop in here too.
We headed out the other door and back into the sun. Until this point, Boo had refused to walk OR sit in his stroller (hubby’s arm was pretty near numb from carrying him all this time). But happily, Boo finally decided he would get back into his stroller now. Like I said before, it’s a good move to bring a stroller even if you have an accomplished walker. There is a lot of ground for those little legs to cover, and the alternative of carrying your wee one from place to place is not so appealing, especially in the heat.
It was really hot, so we wanted to find a place where we could relax in the shade for a little bit. The Marine Mammal Observatory looked like a shaded spot, so we decided to check it out.
Turns out there wasn’t a whole lot of action over here today, but it was a good place to camp out and cool off.
As we made our way back past the Penguin Pavilion, we also noticed this shady spot, which was a perfect place to let Boo have a drink and a snack.
Before we left, we wanted to check out the Ocean Exploration Center on the opposite side of the aquarium campus (to your left as you go through the main entrance). Currently, the center houses two exhibits: a 4-D SpongeBob SquarePants movie and a Titanic retrospective. You must buy tickets for the movie ($6/each), but the Titanic exhibit is included with the regular aquarium admission. The ticket window (for the movie theater) is located outside, between the entrances to the two exhibits. To the left of the window is the entrance to the theater, and to the right is the entrance to the Titanic exhibit.
Strollers are not allowed in the movie theater. There is a “stroller parking area” but really it’s just a spot around the corner up against a wall.
The staff working at the ticket counter say they “keep an eye on them,” but as far as I could tell, it would be pretty hard to keep good tabs on your wheels from their line of sight. Plus, they are pretty far away from the area, and I’m not sure how they keep track of whether someone is retrieving their own stroller or filching someone else’s. (You’ll have to excuse my paranoia; I have a jaded view of this kind of thing ever since my bag of just-purchased merchandise was stolen from under my nose at a big department store when I hung it on a rack not two feet away from me so I could try to find my size in something else that caught my eye.) On the other hand, the stroller parking area is not along any path to an exhibit that aquarium goers would normally walk on, and in reality, it’s not likely someone is going to pay the hefty price of admission just to pinch a stroller.
Since we weren’t interested in the movie anyway, it wasn’t an issue. Boo was still happy in his stroller, and hubby and I thought we could take a quick spin through the Titanic exhibit (you can take your stroller in there). If you think it’s dark in the indoor exhibit area, wait until you see the Titanic exhibit. For that reason, I got no good pictures. Not a one. Fortunately, the aquarium’s website has a pretty good sneak peek. But I can tell you that it was a really fascinating and interactive display, although definitely for older kids and adults, not so much the pre-school crowd. Boo wasn’t interested, but we had no trouble at all navigating the exhibit with the stroller, so he could just hang out and relax.
As I mentioned before, we had lunch plans elsewhere, but I wanted to check out the Penguins Cafe for this post anyway.
There are some tables inside, as well as plenty of shady outdoor tables. It’s cafeteria-style with your traditional snack bar staples: burgers, hot dogs, pizza, some sandwiches and wraps, fries, soft pretzels, bags of chips and other packaged snacks, etc. There’s also a nice selection of coffee (always a plus in my opinion).
The gift shop is right next door.
Around the corner on the other side of the cafe is where you can find that family restroom (with a changing table) I mentioned earlier.
The regular restroom has a changing table in it too, but sometimes I find it hilarious where people decide to mount these things. I mean, really, what were they thinking?
There should be a sign that says “use at your own risk of being clobbered by the stall door.” Ha!
It was about this time that we decided to check the sea lion show schedule, and realized our misfortune. I did have my hand stamped on the way out just in case we thought we could come back after our lunch to catch the 3:00 show. But alas, it was not meant to be.
Still, we had a really great time at Mystic Aquarium. Boo definitely enjoyed himself, and it certainly made me feel like a kid again too 🙂
Have you been to Mystic Aquarium? What’s your favorite exhibit?
55 Coogan Blvd., Mystic, CT 06355
Phone: (860) 572-5955
Get directions here:
Hours & Admission:
Mystic Aquarium is open daily, except for Thanksgiving and Christmas.
December – February: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
March: 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
April – October: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
November: 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Once inside, guests may visit one additional hour after close. In the event of severe weather, please call (860) 572-5955 for updates.
The store at Mystic Aquarium is open daily, except for Thanksgiving and Christmas.
January 20 through Feb 11: Open daily, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
February 12 through March 31: Open daily, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
April 1st through Oct 28: Open daily, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
November 1-January 19: Open daily, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Open daily, except for Thanksgiving and Christmas, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Click here for the most up-to-date schedule.
Adult (18-59): $29
Senior (60+): $26
Children 3-17: $21
Children 2 and under: FREE
Parking is always FREE
Click here for the latest pricing information, including more information about membership and other pass options.
Don’t forget to check out our Museum Pass Page to see if a library near you offers a pass for discounted admission.
Tips & Things to Bring:
- Wear comfortable shoes as you will be doing a lot of walking and standing.
- Most of the outdoor exhibits are in full sun. Make sure to bring hats, sun block, etc. for the little ones (and you too!).
- Even if your child is an accomplished walker, consider bringing your stroller in case he or she needs a rest or a comfy perch from which to view the exhibits. There is a lot of ground to cover.
- You can easily navigate your stroller around all the exhibits with the exception of the 4-D movie theater where strollers are not allowed. There is a space nearby where you can park your stroller.
- If you have a small baby, consider bringing a front-facing wearable baby carrier with you so your little one can get up close and personal with the tanks in the indoor exhibit without you having to hold him or her up for long periods of time.
- In addition to the Penguins Cafe, which serves up beverages, meals, and snacks, there are also vending machines throughout the aquarium where you can purchase beverages and ice cream treats.
- Outside food is not permitted in the aquarium. (We did bring some little snacks for Boo and no one gave us a hard time about that.) However, if you would like to bring your own lunch, there are some places to sit just outside the aquarium entrance. You can get your hand stamped before you exit, enjoy your packed lunch, and then re-enter the aquarium. You can also leave the premises for any reason and return on the same day with a hand stamp.
- Live nearby? Your aquarium ticket is valid for 3 consecutive days. Just be sure to check in with one of the ticket-takers in the rotunda before you leave. You will be asked to sign your ticket (to make sure you aren’t going to just hand it off to someone else).
- Thinking of purchasing a photo memento? The cost to take home your family photo is $30 for both a large (8×10) and small (4×6) print (plus a little frame for the small print), $22 for just the large print, or $25 for just the small print in the frame.
- Check out these additional programs that the aquarium offers. Advance reservations are strongly encouraged for these programs. (I asked about availability on the day we were there just for kicks and all the spots were filled, so definitely plan ahead if you want to be able to participate.)
With the school year ending, town pool schedules are almost in full swing. Check back Friday when we’ll give you a rundown of some local spots to beat the heat this summer. Then next Tuesday, Mandy’s got a great class for your active toddler. And on Thursday, it’s time for some seaside tiny dining.
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