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A Trip to Mystic Aquarium’s Winter Waterland

Posted Dec 19 2012 7:10am

Like many parents, I felt the instinctive need to keep my kids close to me at all times last weekend. So it worked out well that we already had plans to visit in Mystic, CT on Saturday.

I hadn’t been to that aquarium since I was a little girl (I was probably on a school field trip), and neither Buddy nor Mimi had experienced it, so it was the perfect way for us to spend some quality family time and escape for a few hours, which Dr. G. and I needed after what happened on Friday.

In addition to visiting the aquarium’s regular exhibits, they are also offering a number of fun, family-friendly holiday events, including visits from Santa, live music by local artists, crafts and scavenger hunts. Here’s what was on tap the day we were there:

Our first stop was the beluga whale exhibit. I admit, I have kind of a thing for beluga whales. “Baby Beluga” is my favorite lullaby to sing to my kids. I have so many memories of rocking them to sleep or comforting them with choruses of “Baby beluga in the deep blue sea…”. I still sing this to Mimi, and I’ve recently seen her hum the first few bars of the song to her baby dolls. Love her. So to be with my kids at that particular exhibit, especially after what happened on Friday, felt profound and meaningful, if that makes any sense.

And I swear, one of those whales “talked” to Buddy when he got close to the glass.

After touring some of the other outdoor exhibits, including penguins and sea lions, we headed inside for the California Sea Lion show, which the kids loved, and then made a beeline to the Main Gallery to join in on some of the Winter Waterland fun. Buddy participated in a scavenger hunt throughout the exhibit (after which he was awarded his prize: temporary tattoos, his favorite!), made an adorable bird feeder with some of the aquarium volunteers (which he proudly hung up on a tree in the backyard when we got home), and a visit with old St. Nick himself. Well, I should say Buddy visited with him; Mimi has a Santa complex this year and has thrown a hysterical fit every time she is within close proximity to Santa. Click here for proof.

Buddy’s bird feeder

The indoor fish exhibit was definitely Mimi’s favorite part of the visit. Most of the large glass tanks were at her level, so she could toddle over to them and point and exclaim, “Fishies! Wa-wa!” without Dr. G. or I having to hoist her up.



We grabbed lunch at the Penguin Café, which was pretty good. As a vegetarian, dining when you’re at a museum or amusement park or other attraction isn’t fun; usually the only non-meat option is a subpar slice of cheese pizza. To my surprise, the Penguin Café not only had decent salads, but they also had Chobani yogurt and packaged Pad Thai noodles (and pizza, of course). My only complaint here was the seating. The indoor seating area only had about 8-10 tables because they have a large outdoors patio. This makes sense, since the bulk of their attendance is in the warmer months. But if they’re going to remain open in the winter, and promote fun events like Winter Waterland, then they may want to consider investing in those portable heaters you see at restaurant valets, or completely tent the patio area. Just my two cents. We were lucky to get a table indoors, but I saw many families sigh unhappily when they realized they’d be dining al fresco.

The café is conveniently located right near the 4D movie theater, so we headed over after lunch for the showing of “Polar Express.”

This is one of our favorite holiday books, so we were looking forward to this, even though we knew going in that it was a short piece of the movie – only 10 or so minutes. But the 4D experience was a riot: falling “snow,” seats that rumbled with the roar of the train, the smell of “hot chocolate” as the waiters served the kids, a cold blast when the train kicked up some ice. I was a little worried about Mimi, since I knew she wouldn’t wear the 3D glasses, and I wasn’t sure if she’d be annoyed/bored/freaked out by the fuzzy movie screen. But she rather liked it (which I’m not sure if a good or bad thing?).

Next door is the aquarium’s Titanic 12,450 Feet Below exhibit which – like any gal who was obsessed with Rose and Jack, back in the day – I had to check out, of course. But Buddy found it fascinating at well, pretending to be a ship captain and learning about icebergs.

We headed home soon after with two kids who passed out within minutes of exiting the parking lot. In my book, that means the day was a success.

Definitely check out , which runs Saturdays and Sundays in December and Thursday, Dec. 27 – Tuesday, Jan. 1. In addition to the exhibits and special activities I mentioned above, they also have Santa’s elves diving among fish, which we were SO disappointed to have missed.

Disclaimer: Mystic Aquarium provided us with free passes, but I was under no obligation to write about our visit. We just had a really great time!

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