Thank you to Mystic Aquarium for giving my family complimentary admission for the purpose of writing this post. All opinions are 100% my own.
Having grown up in Waterford, CT, not far from Mystic, I was pretty excited to get to visit and write about the Mystic Aquarium for Out and About Mom. It is one of those places we always say we are going to go, but for whatever reason ends up getting put off for “another day”. I have such wonderful, vivid memories from visiting the aquarium as a kid. I have visited with my kids before, but not since the summer of 2014 when Ace was 3 and baby Rex was only about 6 months old. I was excited to visit this year with Ace now being 6 and Rex now 3 1/2, I knew it would basically be like the first time for both of them AND they were old enough where they’d leave with some great memories of their own. And as you will be able to see from my pictures, they had a great time checking EVERYTHING out…so much so that they weren’t very cooperative when I was asking for them to turn around and smile for pictures. You are about to become very familiar with the backs of both of my boys’ heads. You also will notice their younger brother in some of the pics…this big baby belly isn’t very subtle these days!
Anyway – onto the fun stuff! A couple of Fridays ago we were excited to be heading off to the aquarium, not only was it going to be a fun outing but we were excited to have Dad along for the trip! I actually read up on Shawna’s visit from a few years ago the night before, and also checked out the Aquarium’s website to see if there was anything helpful that could help me mentally plan out our trip before hand. I noticed they opened pretty early – 9 am – so I was super excited when my kids woke up in great moods and we were able to get an early start. So early, that we actually got to stop for a nice big breakfast before heading to the aquarium. We ended up arriving around 9:45 and although the parking lot already had quite a few cars in it, there was still plenty of close parking. Parking is FREE too – which is great. I even noticed a couple of parking spots for electric vehicles to charge!
After parking we didn’t have far to walk to the ticket windows where we were met with friendly staff and no lines! It was just a matter of minutes before we were inside the aquarium gates.
As soon as we walked in there was a photo taking station set up for us to get a family photo taken. We were given a ticket and told that we could check in a little bit later (inside the main building) to see how our photo came out. The timing of the picture was great because everyone was excited to be arriving and in good moods!
After our photo the boys took a couple of minutes to look at the large visitors map posted – and I took the chance to check out the pocket map we were handed with our tickets as we were walking in.
Thanks to the advice from Shawna’s original Mystic Aquarium post, I made sure the first thing I scoped out were the times of the Sea Lion Show. I am not sure if they change daily, but for the day we were there, show times were: 10:30am, 12:30pm, 2:00pm and 4:30pm with the doors opening 30 minutes before each show.
It worked out perfect because it was just about 10:00am, so we decided to spend a couple of minutes checking out the Beluga Whales and then take a bathroom break before heading into the 10:30 Sea Lion Show. I remember in years past having there be a HUGE line for the afternoon shows and figured we might as well take advantage of the smaller crowd and the fact that we were already basically right at the entrance to show.
Luckily, we were able to just walk right up the stairs (there is also a large elevator for those with strollers, wheel chairs or just unable to climb the steps) and through the hallway into the marine theater. We did also take the time to notice there were lots of interesting pictures and tanks to view if you were to be waiting in line for the show. At one point in the hallway to the theater there was also a station set up with a couple of tablets for children to electronically color on – and so the boys HAD to stop and check them out. I couldn’t really blame them – they were pretty cool!
As we continued on, parts of the hallway were also open to the indoor aquarium exhibits below – providing a cool “bird’s-eye view” of some of the tanks. So IF you are waiting in line for the show it’s not just a boring line to wait in, you’d still be spending your time taking in more of what the aquarium has to offer!
Once inside the theater we were able to sit anywhere we wanted to – I am not sure if during busier shows or on busier days if they would have staff providing more guidance to help get everyone in there, but we got to pick where we wanted to sit. I would think that there really isn’t a bad seat in the theater. The seats are bleacher style and go up pretty high. We chose to sit towards the middle, about 5 or 6 rows up so we’d be above the glass railing – giving the boys a clear view of the stage.
Strollers are welcome into the theater but they do have a special “stroller parking” area near the exit to the theater. You may want to have your phone, camera and anything else you’ll need for the show handy to bring with you to your seats since your stroller won’t be next to you during the show. (Just figured I would mention that in case you want to get organized while waiting in line for the show and have less of a scramble while you’re trying to park and make your way to your seats.)
I don’t want to ruin the surprises of the show’s content, but I do want to mention a few things about it. First, it has definitely changed over the years. I am not sure how long they have been running this particular “TV Guide” themed show, but it was my first time seeing it and I have to admit they got some good laughs out of me with the content of the show. I believe the show lasted about 30 minutes and it was the perfect length of time. It kept the boys’ interest and didn’t feel like it was cut short either.
The other thing I want to mention is – have your camera out and ready! The Sea Lions do some pretty adorable things and towards the middle to end of the show we even had a Sea Lion right out in front of us on the walk way area! It was great!
After the show ended, we let the crowd sort of shuffle out as I took another look at our handy little map. We came up with the plan to, obviously, use the restrooms again, and then continue on to the 4D theater for the Lego movie.
With the bathroom break out of the way, we headed in to the Ocean Conservation Center which houses the 4D theater as well as the Frogs! exhibit. We checked in at the ticket window just outside the doors to the building to get our pass for the Lego 4D movie.
We headed inside, got our glasses and were eager to see what this was all about. Now, I have to admit, we weren’t sure what to expect and when the staff told us to make sure our phones and anything else we didn’t want to get wet were put away, not only was I a little confused but a tad bit nervous for what was to come.
The short film was very cute, the seats vibrated a little bit and with the help of the glasses it seemed as though Legos were flying out of the screen and around our heads. Everyone seemed to be having a great time. I had ALMOST forgotten about that “getting wet” warning we were given – when all of a sudden the seat in front of us sprayed us with some water as part of the show’s special effects. My little guy, Rex, along with several other little ones in the show were NOT fans of the water at all. I didn’t love it myself (but I wasn’t going to melt either.) The water sprays a couple of times during the show. I think being caught off guard was the main issue for the little ones (now you can prepare them!). But water aside, it was a fun 10 or 15 minute movie – and nice a chance to relax in the AC theater!
The exit doors of the theater opened up into the other exhibits within the Ocean Conservation Center building. The first thing that caught the boys’ eye was a real “Exploration Wild” Jeep Wrangler set up for the kids to climb in and take a turn to “drive”. They could have stayed in that all day – I loved hearing their conversations about the adventures they were setting out on…AND they even took turns behind the wheel. (Proud mom moment!).
With the promise of other exciting things ahead, we were able to lure them from the Jeep and into the next room where we saw some lizards and American alligators, and learned more about different kinds of sharks (no real sharks in this area – but the pictures and videos they have are pretty awesome).
If you’ve visited before, this area is the space that used to house the Titanic Exhibit. I am not sure how long this new stuff has been in there but it’s definitely the newest exhibit to the aquarium. Between the alligators and Frogs! the boys really had so much fun. I had to keep reminding them that there was so much more to see. There are so many amazing things to see at the aquarium–it’s all about finding the balance of allowing yourself enough time to enjoy what you’re looking at and still leaving yourself enough time to make sure you do get to see it all!
Just before entering the Frogs! room you can find a little display with some scavenger hunt cards. You’ll want to grab one or two of those for your family. With so many different AMAZING frogs to look at and see, the scavenger hunt card helped my little ones notice the detail of each frog as they tried to check off the different frogs from the scavenger hunt. The exhibit is filled with tons of informational,colorful and interactive signs about the different types of Frogs. This was one of my favorite exhibits of the day!
The exit from the Ocean Conservation Center conveniently placed us back out in the central outdoor space where there are lots of tables with umbrellas, the Penguin Cafe (where you could purchase lunch), and also several other outside vendors for things like drinks, snacks and ice cream.
Since we had a big breakfast the boys weren’t quite ready for lunch but we were all ready for a little drink and a snack. We easily found a great table in the shade while Dad set off to grab some snacks for us. We (maybe mostly me) enjoyed the opportunity to rest for a minute and check out the map (have I mentioned how much I loved this map? ha).
As we snacked we were watching and listening to everyone at the Sting Ray tent and that quickly became the obvious next stop.
The large tank allows lots of people to be around the sting rays at once. All the way to the right side of the tent (closest to the Sea Lion Show entrance) the tank had a raised platform step for little ones to get higher up and be able to reach into the tank to pet the sting rays without needing someone to lift them up. Dad and I were right behind them but they loved being able to get right in there on their own. The boys were a little hesitant at first but with a little pep talk (and maybe some hand holding) they were both excited to actually touch one of the sting rays. “Slimy!!” was Rex’s comment…and they were, but it was really cool to be able to touch them.
And don’t worry, there are several hand cleaning stations inside the tent as well to wash off your and the kiddos’ hands when you are done.
Finally, we were heading to check out all the outdoor exhibits. First up, the Arctic Coast featuring the Beluga Whales. There are a couple of ways to check these guys out – from the main entrance area you can look through or over the glass railing and check the whales out as they come up to the surface of the water.
You can also make your way down the stairs or ramp and take a look at the whales underwater from several areas. The underwater viewing areas are awesome. The whales continuously swim right up to the glass and allow you to feel like you could just reach right out and touch them! Rex keep saying “Mom! He’s smiling at me!” – made my entire day! This was another one of those areas where you felt like you could have hung out all day.
In the same underwater viewing area of the Belugas there are also a bunch of little nooks and tunnels the kids can explore. These spots provide some shade on hot days and also just a fun little area for the kids to get out some energy without the worry of really being in anyone’s way. The path has some benches and also leads you to the next exhibits so it’s a win/ win all around!
Just before the Pacific Northwest outdoor area we found a little “rest stop” with bathrooms, vending machines, AND on this particular day – a tent set up with free yogurt samples from StonyField Yokids. Not that we really needed another snack but what good reason did I have to tell Rex he couldn’t enjoy a nice cold (free) yogurt on a hot day?
We also took the opportunity to (you guessed it) use the bathroom. This is a smaller bathroom than the ones located near the Penguin Cafe, (and I did not see a changing table in there). BUT – there is a water fountain for anyone looking to refill a water bottle or sippy cup.
As Rex finished up his yogurt and we ventured on, we were able to check out the Northern Fur Seal. This guy seemed to be mostly relaxing and catching some sun. It’s kind of hard to see the seal in the pictures but he is up on top of the rocks…I am sure he is probably pretty cool but to the boys he wasn’t entertaining enough in the moment to stick around checking him out for more than a couple of minutes, SO it was on to the Stellar Sea Lions.
The Stellar Sea Lions were HUGE! The kids comments about the biggest guy really relaxing on the rock weren’t funny to Dad but had me cracking up – “Check him out! He’s like Daddy on the couch watching the Patriots!” (Hey, they said it, not me!) Aside from the big guy, relaxing there was another sea lion who was much more active and entertaining to the kids. He was swimming around and coming in and out of the water.
Ace really enjoyed check them out while Rex was a little more interested in climbing up the big stairs on the viewing area.
Next up, was the Penguin Pavilion – my favorite little guys! They are the cutest little things. Waddling around and swimming. I don’t know which part is better – viewing them from outside where you can see them out of the water or once you head inside and can see them swimming up close!
After having passed several penny pressing machines, I finally gave in and let the boys press a penny into a keepsake aquarium penny just before we went into the inside penguin viewing area. Ace held onto it for the rest of the day as a prized possession – so I guess you could say it was money well spent. If you think you or your kids might want to make one just make sure you have a couple of quarters and a penny on you.
BUT anyway – back to the penguins! Once inside, you’ll actually find yourself in a tiny penguin gift shop. They have some VERY cute penguin souvenirs, some artwork made by the penguins and also some drinks, candy and snacks available for purchase. The indoor viewing area is also all in that same space with a couple of benches if you want to take a rest or have a seat for a minute.
From the penguins the boys were eager to see what was next and lead us on the path towards more of the indoor exhibits. Just before getting to the main building we found something that excited Dad and the boys – a little pond with some remote control boats you could drive! Unfortunately (and much to their disappointment) you needed a special token ($1 each) to drive the boats, and that token machine seemed to be out-of-order that day (hey, it happens).
The good news is that no one was bummed for too long because Dad bought them Mini Melts Ice Creams from the vending machine to ease their sorrows (quick thinking, Dad! – haha). And it was a nice little break to enjoy the Mini Melts on a nice shady bench, I have to admit!
After my begging for the boys to share a couple of bites of ice cream with me, we got in line for the Birds of the Outback exhibit. I have to admit, this has been at the aquarium for many years and I have never tried it before this visit. Shawna actually recommended that I try it if we were able to since so many readers had suggested for her to try it after reading her last post.
Dad was VERY hesitant while I was much more calm and even a little excited to go inside and feed the birds! I noticed the signs, but figured they were more just sort of mentioning what “could” happen… Well we entered into the main area, bird feeder sticks in hand, and the birds actually seemed a little hesitant to come near us! I was almost disappointed… ALMOST… because then out of no where the birds were all around us. First I noticed a bird on my purse, then there were two…. next Dad had a couple on his shirt, on the pocket of his shorts…but they REALLY loved my purse – which doesn’t have a zipper to close. Haha – I have to tell you, I even had a bird INSIDE my purse.
It really was a super fun experience, but if you or your kids aren’t ok with having birds all around and on you, you may want to admire these beautiful birds from the outside of the enclosure. Oh – and remember how I mentioned Dad seemed less than thrilled to be going into this exhibit…well by the end he was feeding all kinds of birds and didn’t really want to leave!
On our way out we were able to clean our hands – AFTER – we checked our pockets, purses and any other areas on us to make sure no birds were trying to come home with us.
By this time we could tell the kids were starting to get pretty tired, but we wanted to try to check out as many of the tanks inside the main building as we could. Just inside the entrance to the main building was the photo desk. I took a minute to check out our family photo from when we first entered the aquarium and it was actually pretty good! Rex wasn’t making the best face and for the $27 price for the photo I was hoping for a better picture. The staff was super nice and did tell me we could go and retake the photo and they would expedite the printing of it for us – which I thought was awesome. Unfortunately, the kids were tired and not really into cooperating for one more family photo, so we had to skip the photo this time around. (I can’t wait until I am trying to get THREE boys to smile for family photos ha!)
The inside of the aquarium has lots of cool tanks – with everything from a really neat room filled with all kinds of jelly fish, to tanks of clown fish (think Finding Nemo), Turtles, Huge Sting Rays and yessss – my boys’ ABSOLUTE favorite REAL Sharks!
The inside of the aquarium is pretty dark and definitely doesn’t make for the best environment for picture-taking. But, honestly, it was just kind of nice to take it all in for this part of the visit. We were also on some borrowed time at this point with the boys – It was approaching 3pm and everyone was starting to get hungry too. We took the chance to use the bathrooms inside the main building before we made the executive decision that although we may have missed something along the way, it would be best to leave while on a high note and avoid the always feared public meltdown that could have come at any moment.
The exit for the aquarium is, like many other places, through the gift shop. The boys enjoyed checking out the stuffed animals and the other toys but miraculously were ok leaving with out a souvenir. It was a great day and I think they had such a great time that (for once) they didn’t need to bring anything home with them to make the day complete. Another VERY proud (and lucky) mom moment.
We had such a wonderful day filled with great memory-making! We have since been spending some time down at the beach on vacation and the boys have been talking about and pointing out things they learned at the aquarium. Rex has mainly been reminding us that we don’t have to worry about sharks at the beaches here, and Ace has also been asking more questions about the different sea life we are seeing around the shore. I think this is one outing we will be talking about for a while to come!
Phone: (860) 572-5955
January 2nd – February 17th 10:00am to 4:50pm
February 18th – March 31st 9:00am to 4:50pm
April 1st – September 4th 9:00am to 5:50pm
September 5th – November 30th 9:00am to 4:50pm
December 1st – December 24th 10:00am to 4:50pm
December 26th – January 1st 9:00am to 4:50pm
Open daily (except for Thanksgiving and Christmas)
Seniors (age 60+): $31.99
Youth (age 13-17): $30.99
Children (age 3-12): $26.99
Children (age 2 & under): Free
Value Ticket: Includes Aquarium admission, Birds of the Outback and the 4-D Theater
Seniors (age 60+): $37.99
Youth (age 13-17): $36.99
Children (age 3-12): $32.99
Children (age 2 & under): Free
Stroller Friendly: YES
Coffee Mug Friendly: Yes – in most outdoor areas
Baby Changing Station: YES – (Except in outdoor exhibit bathrooms)
Parking: YES – Lots of free parking.
Food for Sale: YES – Penguin Cafe, snack stands, and vending machines
Outside Food Allowed: YES, but it can only be eaten in designated outdoor spaces.
Cash Required: NO (Unless you plan to use the vending machines or press a penny) – Credit and debit cards are accepted.
Dress Code: Not really, but there’s lots of walking so comfy shoes are important– and you might get a little wet!
Age recommendation: All ages! There are a range of exhibits and activities that make it great for kids of different ages (and adults!). Plus kids ages 2 and under are FREE!
Evening/Weekend Hours: Weekends, Yes – Evenings, No.
Discounts: There is a 10% discount for buying tickets online. There are also a bunch of other discounts listed on their website including: AAA Discount, Big Y card holder discount, Aquarium Library Pass discount, AARP Member discount, United States Military discount, and Foxwoods Rewards Card discount.
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