With young children it can be hard to find places to go where everyone has fun. For us, we’ve relied heavily on our memberships to the Zoo and the Aquarium because one obvious choice is ANIMALS. Tessa will happily tolerate being pushed around in her stroller for an hour or two if she gets to watch animals walk, fly and swim around.
So we jumped on the chance to head down to the Mystic Aquarium to check out some of their offerings for families.
What’s On Display
Right away what you notice about the Mystic Aquarium is that it’s got both an indoor and an outdoor section. As you enter there’s a big patio with seating. And, well, right off you can’t miss the crown jewel of the Aquarium: the big outdoor tank with the Beluga whales.
I snapped this picture as we were coming in and it doesn’t do justice to the size of the tank. The people in the water are doing one of the Whale Encounter sessions. There are viewing areas all around the tank and plenty that look under the water.
During another one of our jaunts outside we saw the Belugas during a training session, which kept the kids very entertained since there was lots of underwater activity.
Inside the space is smaller, but they have a lot of exhibits and kid-friendly spaces. There are plenty of favorites on display: exotic fish, jellies, eels, rays, sharks and turtles. I wish this space was a little bigger but because the Aquarium as a whole has a lot of ground it makes managing the littles and keeping them distracted pretty easy.
I loved the boxes in the eel exhibit. They’d poke their heads through for extra Eek! effect.
Color-changing Jellies! Always a hit.
I appreciated that the exhibits were mostly low to the ground. Here Graham can get up close and personal with a stingray.
There’s a small shark touch tank inside that is a lot more low key than many of the other ones around. Definitely better for some of the kids who may not be quite ready for the big crowds at most touch tanks.
There aren’t just Belugas outside, there’s also penguins, seals, sea lions and a big swamp full of frogs and turtles.
We came to visit on the day of a special Kidsploration Concert with Steve Elci and Friends. It was the first time we’ve gone to a kids concert and they did a good job of sitting and watching something outside their normal stuff. If you have kids who like music, singing and dancing this is a great addition to a day at the Aquarium. Plus it’s free! There’s another one coming up on the 28th of August.
And for special needs families, the Aquarium is having an evening for families with Autistic children (plus SPD kids as well). It’s tomorrow the 15th from 6:45 to 8 pm and it’s free entry. While some of the outdoor exhibits will be closed, you’ll still have access to a bunch of great stuff and who doesn’t love a less-crowded and judgment-free zone??
Check out their full calendar for a bunch of cool stuff in the summer and fall.
Along with the exhibits themselves there are several other things you can do at the Aquarium.
First off, the free stuff:
- The Scales and Tails exhibit lets kids get up close and personal with lizards and snakes. Includes a photo. (Note: the CDC recommends pregnant women and kids under 5 not touch reptiles.)
- The 4D Theater is currently showing a special SpongeBob show. 4D means the effects may be a little… in your face. Literally. Don’t worry, this isn’t movie-length, it’s nice and short.
- A new Titanic exhibit includes information about icebergs, replicas of the sunken ship and a play area for kids to explore.
- There are Sea Lion shows throughout the day, too.
And if you want to pay for some extra special stuff:
- For the brave kids out there, they can feed the rays for just $3. And we’re not talking little fish food pellets. We’re talking 4 little fish to hold in your hands as the rays swim by. Make sure your kids are comfortable with the rays first, this one’s probably just for the brave. (e.g. not me.)
- Up-close encounters with the penguins are available for $60. This is a one-hour educational program.
- With the Belugas, you can go full Encounter for $150 to climb in the water just like the people we saw, complete with full-on gear. Or you can interact with the whales from behind a 3-foot glass barrier for $60, probably a better choice for most young children.
- And for the marine obsessed, there’s the $375 Trainer For a Day program where you spend a 7-hour day behind the scenes with the people who care for the animals.
Planning a Trip
For those of you Mystic-adjacent (NYC, Hartford, Boston, Providence) there are a bunch of things in the Mystic area to check out. But the Aquarium is a good Staycation choice and even better for an overnight. (You can come back for 2 days after you buy your original ticket!) I know with littles sometimes you just want to put in a couple hours and then take a break.
I’d recommend staying at the Hampton Inn & Suites Mystic, which is super close. (Parking is free there and at the Aquarium.) Hamptons are one of my hotels of choice with kids. Free breakfast, indoor pool, family-friendly attitude.
The Aquarium also offers combo passes with Mystic Seaport, Mashantucket Peaquot Museum and the Connecticut Science Center. And if you have someone to watch the kiddos, you’re not far from Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods Casino.
Disclosure: Thanks to Mystic Aquarium for providing us with free passes to visit and attend the Kidsploration Concert.