Frequently awarded a top aquarium in New England by Trip Advisor and visited by over 700,000 people in 2017, Mystic Aquarium is a “must see” if you're visiting the southeastern part of Connecticut. On a recent spring break trip, my family stopped for the afternoon and got up close and personal with all sorts of creatures. Conveniently located right next to Interstate 95, it’s easy to get to with ample free parking. The aquarium is open all year, with plenty of exhibits both indoors as well as outdoors so the weather shouldn’t have too much impact on your visit. In addition to the permanent exhibits, the aquarium hosts a variety of special, seasonal events. The Mystic area is a wonderful, family friendly place. Check out my top 12 things to do in Mystic, and my post focused on Mystic Seaport.
Traveling with Kids:
- Strollers are allowed and the entire aquarium is handicap accessible. There are various benches throughout the indoor (and a couple of the outdoor) exhibits to rest tired feet.
- There are banks of restrooms located throughout the aquarium.
- The aquarium offers a variety of coupons, including AAA, Big Y Supermarket (just show your savings club card) and a discount if you purchase tickets ahead of time online.
- I would plan on 2-3 hours to fully explore the aquarium.
- The aquarium offers numerous feeding demonstrations for various sea life; be sure to check posted times so you don’t miss out.
- The entire staff and volunteers are extremely knowledgeable and friendly; don’t hesitate to ask questions and learn more about an exhibit or creature.
- You’ll exit through the gift shop.
- Bonus: Before you exit, have your ticket stamped; it’s good for a return visit on the TWO days following your original date of visit.
Top Twelve Sea Creatures to Get Up Close and Personal With:
1. Beluga whales, who are super photogenic
2. Harbor seals, who we caught trying to take a nap
3. Steller sea lions, the largest species of sea lions, who can only be visited in four facilities in North America (Mystic Aquarium is the only spot on the East Coast)
4. African Penguins, who you can view above AND under water
5. Monarch butterflies
6. Turtles and tadpoles in the Marsh Trek
7. Jelly fish of various colors, shapes, and sizes (look out for the “sting ratings”)
8. Sand tiger sharks and nurse sharks
9. Sting rays and Cownose rays: you can actually put your hand in a tank and touch a cownose ray
10. Three female, six foot alligators
11. Over 30 species of frogs, including some deadly species
12. Dinosaurs. Wait, dinosaurs?! YES, inside the Jurassic Giants Dinosaur Adventure exhibit on display through summer of 2019.
There are two “touch tanks”: the sting ray tank is located in a tent by the beluga whales and the shark tank located inside the main gallery. There is also one smaller “Discovery Lab” in the main gallery, where you can touch various shells and smaller crabs. All tanks have a cleaning station close by.
If you want a more in depth experience check out the Foxwoods Marine Theater with the sea lions as the stars (offered a few times each day), the 4D theater (surcharge to view) currently showing Ice Age, and the Animal Rescue Clinic. The aquarium offers numerous "encounter programs" with seals, sea lions, penguins, and sting rays. Reservations must be made ahead of time, and check the aquarium website for dates and times.
Eating nearby: The Penguins Café located inside the aquarium has the usual concession fare. There is seating both inside and outside with plenty of picnic tables. At the far end of the parking lot are two great spots: Go Fish and Alice in the Village. While Go Fish does offer a children’s menu, it’s a bit more upscale, in decor and pricing. Alice in the Village has great ambiance and a delicious, traditional tea set up for lunch and early afternoon. It's better suited for older children. If you want a quick pizza, check out Mango's Wood- Fire Pizza Company located in Mystic Village (two minute walk from the aquarium parking lot). The pizza was super yummy and they had lots of salad options, too.
Disclosure: I was given a press pass to visit the aquarium. All opinions expressed are my own.