Vacation Destination Review #1: Mystic, CT: Aquarium Day! An Exhausting, Educational Saturday at the Mystic Aquarium!

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Can You Say Good Morning, Even On No Sleep?

S2 thinks that sleep is for suckers, apparently. Haha
S2 thinks that sleep is for suckers, apparently.

Morning, day 2 of our mid-October mini family getaway started…. early. Though with Saturday our only full day here, we wanted to take advantage and try to see as much as possible. Even on just 2.5 hours of sleep (me) and zero-ish hours of sleep (Mike), we were Mystic Aquarium-bound. The Aquarium was the one attraction in the area we’d all been looking forward to visiting for months, and no lack of sleep was going to stop us from going!

Even though I technically had more sleep than my husband did, Mike still woke up and took the girls to breakfast so I could shower and get ready for the day in peace. I appreciated that a lot. There was a little diner nearby that they went to eat at, in walking distance. After the three of them dined out, Mike brought me back a breakfast plate of eggs, bacon, and hash browns to have as well. My husband is a good, good man.

The fire is a metaphor for food costs when traveling. flickr photo by purpleslog https://flickr.com/photos/purpleslog/2924979423 shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license
The fire is a metaphor for food costs when traveling.
flickr photo by purpleslog shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

While I was somewhat startled when I checked the diner receipt and saw that breakfast for four people cost $49.76 with tip, I remember the downside of traveling: food costs. Especially with kids, having to buy food is pretty much the worst part of traveling, as we are a home-cooked meal-type family, usually. But we were on vacation, so I accepted the fact that we would be spending much more on food then I would normally find acceptable. With that notion, I ate my breakfast, did my best to forget about the money spent, and moved on.

Arrival: Mystic Aquarium

flickr photo by King Brian https://flickr.com/photos/king-molan/4867921656 shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC) license
flickr photo by King Brian shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC) license

After breakfast, we set off on foot to the Mystic Aquarium. A perk of staying at the HOJO (click the name for link) is its location. The hotel is actually located a mere half-mile from Mystic Aquarium! Since it was a lovely fall day, we decided to walk to our destination, with Mike carrying S2 for most of the trek.

If you do travel to Mystic, I highly recommend purchasing a Mystic Pass (click the name for link). We bought three; one for each adult, and one for S10. S2 was still young enough to be admitted free to the attractions. For Mike and me, the pass cost $58 each, and for S10 the cost was $39. Overall, we definitely saved some money. With the pass, we received free admission to both Mystic Aquarium and Mystic Seaport (MA tickets cost $35/adult $25/child at the gate, MS cost $26/adult $17/child at the gate which is savings right there), plus a free admission to Mashantucket Pequot Museum (which we didn’t get to use), a free fountain drink at the Aquarium, and a free planetarium show at Mystic Seaport.

The pass also offers “significant discounts on hotels, restaurants, and shopping,” though sadly I didn’t get the time to research those discount, so we were unable to take advantage. Next time! Our Mystic Passes were good until March as well, so we could have use it for two separate trips to Mystic, provided we did different things each time we went. Instead, however, we packed as much fun as possible into our two-day stay.

Sea Lions!

We arrived at the aquarium around 10:30 am, which is pretty decently early for us. Having two kids really can slow down the process of getting up and out in the morning, and on too-little sleep, I think Mike and I did pretty well! Also, we arrived at the aquarium just in time to check out the sea lion show at the Foxwoods Marine Theater!

Ready for some sea lions!
Ready for some sea lions!
Sea Lion Dancing
Sea Lion Dancing

 

 

 

 

 

S10 enjoying the show
S10 enjoying the show
Dada and S2 checking out the show
Dada and S2 checking out the show

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The sea lion show was great. All four of us enjoyed it, in fact. Not often do I see S2 sit quietly for 30 minutes, and to my absolute surprise and delight, she did. Quietly. On Mike’s lap. Mesmerized. The highlight of the show was when the trainers had actual sea lions dancing and doing tricks live. Those creatures are pretty darn charming! Toward the end of the show, the trainers spoke about how the purpose of these shows is to raise awareness about Steller sea lions with the goal of helping with their conservation efforts, as they are an endangered species. Part of me felt pretty badly that it took dancing sea lions for people to become aware of their plight, but I guess that is what gets folks’ attention nowadays.

The girls heading to our next stop.
The girls heading to our next stop, the Ocean Conservation Center.

The Ocean Conservation Center: Exploration Wild! and Frogs

After the show, we headed over to the Ocean Conservation Center to check out two different exhibits. At Exploration Wild! We saw lots of different reptiles including alligators and a bearded dragon (which I actually touched!) The

That's me! Touching the bearded dragon. S10 refused, and S2 was too young to (though I bet she wanted to).
That’s me! Touching the bearded dragon. S10 refused to try it, and S2 was too young as per the posted rules (or I bet she would have loved to pet this little guy.).

girls enjoyed this exhibit a lot, especially since it had a few interactive components. One such component that S10 enjoyed was “create your own virtual watershed.” In this exhibit, she was able to shape the land on a map by moving her hand around above it, so that the topography of the map changed. For S2, they had an archaeological dig activity, which I’m sure she viewed as just an awesomely big sandbox with cool sand tools. Hey, whatever works, right? She dug in the sand for about 10 straight minutes, so that’s a win in my book.

 

S10 changing the landscape
S10 changing the landscape
S2, digger extraordinaire
S2, digger extraordinaire

 

 

 

 

Plus, there was a lot of cool stuff to look at too.
Plus, there was a lot of just cool, interesting stuff to look at too.

After the Exploration Wild! exhibit, we then visited the exhibit on frogs. A whole section devoted to just frogs! Lots of interesting amphibious creatures to look at, plus many of the exhibits had a glass observation box in the center, that S2 in particular enjoyed exploring. In fact, she liked standing in those glass “boxes” so much so that we actually had to drag her out of a few of them!

Some froggie love
Froggie love?
Girls in a box
Girls in a box

 

 

 

 

 

Beluga Whales

My favorite photo of the trip, right here.
My favorite photo of the trip, right here.

After the Ocean Conservation Center, we grabbed one of our complimentary fountain drinks, and then headed over to the beluga whale exhibit. Mystic Aquarium boasts the largest outdoor beluga whale exhibit in the

Beluga whale selfie
Beluga whale selfie

United States, and this particular stop was one of my favorite parts of the day. HUGE tanks that dwarfed humans in size held these whales. I read on the Aquarium website that the exhibit tanks are filled with an astonishing 750,000 gallons of water! There were 3 20-foot viewing windows for tourists, which even on a somewhat busy Saturday like that day seemed to be enough space for everyone to see. I took some of my favorite photos of our trip at this exhibit, including some selfies, which is not the norm for me. At all.

Seals, Sea Lions, and Penguins

After the beluga whales, we followed a path around the bend toward the Main Gallery which had all of the cool fish and marine life packed into one building. In our travels, we walked through the Pacific Northwest exhibit which had live harbor seals, northern fur seals, and more Steller sea lions hanging out both in the water tanks and on the rocky, man-made Aquarium “beach.” There was also a short presentation on these creatures that we stopped to listen to.

The girls checking out some swimming penguins
The girls checking out some swimming penguins

We also walked through the African Penguins exhibit, which was pretty cool. These penguins are an endangered species and the Aquarium is involved in their conservation efforts as well as the Steller sea lions. About 35 penguins reside at the aquarium, and they can be viewed below the water, as seen in the picture to the left.

 

A Tired Toddler

She refused to look at the camera at the penguin exhibit, but upon finding a gutter with a yellow square painted around it, she yells, "Mama! Take my picture!"
She refused to look at the camera at the penguin exhibit, but upon finding a gutter with a yellow square painted around it, she yells, “Mama! Take my picture!”

By this point, little S2 was getting pretty tired. She was not as cooperative as usual regarding picture taking, and kept asking to be picked up. One downside to Mystic Aquarium is its hours of operation. The place is only open from 9:00 am-4:50 pm from September-November, which isn’t the greatest schedule when you have a toddler who naps from 1-3 pm everyday. If they were open later, after the penguins I would have suggested going back to the hotel, napping, and returning (they offer a hand-stamp for same-day returning guests). But with a 1-3 pm nap, then lunch, it wouldn’t make sense to go back.

It was about 12:30 pm and we still had the Ray Touch Pool and the Main Gallery to check out. Unfortunately, both were going to end up to be rushed viewings. Mike likes to really take his time at museums, zoos, and aquariums, and I could tell he was disappointed that we didn’t have more time. I reassured him that one day we’d return, just he and I, and he could take all the time he wanted at the exhibits.

The Ray Touch Pool

Hello, Mr. Stingray.
Hello, Mr. Stingray.

Our next stop was the Ray Touch Pool, which is like a petting pool for stingrays. At first, S10 refused to go anywhere near the pool because she was afraid of “what happened to that Steve Irwin guy.” I reminded her that Irwin was literally swimming with the stingrays, and what happened to him was a very unfortunate, yet extremely rare occurrence. My words must have offered her some comfort as she allowed herself to come over to the pool and put her hand in the water, but every time a stingray swam near her, she’d freak out, pulling her hand out of the water. I actually touched a few of them, as did S2! Mike, ever the adventurer, pretty much shook hands and gave high-fives to more than half a dozen of them.

The Main Gallery

After sanitizing our hands from stingray pool germs, we collected our final two complimentary fountain drinks from the Penguin Cafe, and headed over to the Main Gallery.

S10 next to a bunch of cool stuff from the sea that we didn't have enough time to read about, in the Main Gallery.
S10 next to a bunch of cool stuff from the sea that we didn’t have enough time to read about, in the Main Gallery.

By this time S2 was done. She wouldn’t walk much at all, and kept asking to be carried. Originally, I wanted to bring her stroller, yet Mike had believed that to be unnecessary. I pointed out that having a stroller would actually have come in really handy right about now. She could have even napped in it! He saw my point and agreed that for our next trip, the stroller is a-comin.’ For realz.

S10, checking out one of the many jellyfish exhibits at the Main Gallery.
S10, checking out one of the many jellyfish exhibits at the Main Gallery.

The Main Gallery had a ton of interesting exhibits, but again, we had to rush to get S2 back to the hotel to nap. We saw jellyfish, sea turtles, stingrays, sea horses, sharks, and sea turtles. I particularly liked the jellyfish exhibits. Jellyfish are really beautiful, majestic creatures, although I was grateful for the pane of glass that separated me from them. Because this:

 

 

Can. Never. Unlearn. That.

We spent about 45 minutes in the Main Gallery, which was not even close to enough time. By 1:30, S2 was lying in Mike’s arms with a glazed-over look in her eyes, and we knew it was time to head back. I felt badly for S10 who wanted to try a fishing activity, but we just didn’t have time to wait on line. She was a super great sport about that.

Seahorses!
Seahorses!
S10, comparing her height with the height of different sharks.
S10, comparing her height with the height of different sharks.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Gift Shop, Then Back to the Hojo

My baby naps hard.
My baby naps hard.

We made a quick-ish stop at the gift shop so that S10 and S2 could pick out souvenirs. S2 bought a necklace, and S2 picked out a marine creature toy set. We headed back to the hotel, where S2 fell asleep in the big bed in record time. Mike crawled in next to her, and they both passed out for 2 glorious hours. While Mike and S2 slept, S10 watched youtube videos, and I did some writing on the laptop. A perfect ending to a perfect day, and it wasn’t yet over!

For dinner that night, Mike went out to a local market and brought back some pizzas and other assorted frozen dinners. This was the kind of food we don’t often eat at home, as Mike frowns upon frozen “convenience meals” (aka the only type of meals I knew how to make before I met him). S10 loved the “treat” of being allowed to eat “bad foods,” so she was happy. Actually, we all chowed down and enjoyed the indulgence of processed convenience food, if only for one night.

Pool time! My bathing beauties
Pool time! My bathing beauties

Mike then took the girls to the pool while I relaxed. S10 returned early, deciding that she wanted to take a jacuzzi soak. Shortly after pool time, S2 was then bathed and put to bed. This time, she actually slept! Mike caught up on much-needed sleep next to S2, while I caught up on some data entry for work. When I finally climbed into bed at 1 am, I was tired, but in a good, “it-was-a-fun-day” way. Tomorrow, we were headed to Mystic Seaport, which I last visited back in 1990 on a 7th grade field trip. I plan to cover that visit in a future post!

Part 3 of this 3-part vacation series covering our visit to Mystic Seaport, is coming soon! Thanks for reading!

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