Mystic Aquarium & Institute for Exploration

I’ve been busy during December and also lazy at the same time, so there was no post, but now I’m back, and continuing on with the posts. Last we left off was in Salem, Massachusetts.  Traveling from Massachusetts back to New York, we had time to stop at…

Mystic Aquarium & Institute for Exploration, located in Mystic, Connecticut

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The Mystic Aquarium has quite varied operating hours: April to Labor Day, the aquarium is open 9am to 5:50pm; Labor Day to November, 9am to 4:50pm; December to February, 10am to 4:50pm; and March, 9am to 4:50pm. (Check the aquarium’s website for the most accurate operational hours.) General admission to the aquarium is $34.99; if you plan ahead and buy the tickets online, you’ll save  at least 10% (when I visited, the discount was 15%, so it seems to vary, but saving is saving). Driving seems to be the only way to get to the aquarium, as I don’t remember seeing any public transportation in the area. Parking is free at the aquarium, so that’s a plus. If you have time after visiting the aquarium, you can consider visiting Mystic Seaport to make it a fun day out.

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Mystic aquarium has various outdoor and indoor exhibits, and I started with the outdoor ones. First up is the “Arctic Coast” where visitors can see the beluga whales. They are the only beluga whale exhibit on the east coast and one of the highlights of the aquarium. Following along the outdoor path will lead to the “Pacific Northwest” where the Stellar sea lions and Northern Fur seals are located. Next is the “Penguin Pavilion”, which contains both an outdoor and indoor exhibit featuring penguins. Visitors can see the penguins swim underwater in the indoor portion.

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Next up, walk the boardwalk along the “Marsh Trek” to see native animals, such as frogs and ducks. There were mostly frogs of various shades of green and yellow along the way, and if you look closely you can spot some tadpoles in the water; they also jump out of the water from time to time. There is a “Birds of the Outback” exhibit that is both seasonal and requires an additional entry fee ($3), thus I skipped it. Right across from the birds exhibit is the “Seal Rescue Clinic” where visitors can see how the animal rescue team works.

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The “Main Gallery” is the first indoor exhibit of the aquarium that I visited. In this gallery  visitors can view a variety of aquatic animals, including jellies, sharks, and tropical fishes. The Mystic aquarium has a touch tank for sharks; it’s the first time I’ve seen or heard of such a thing, so if you’ve ever wanted to touch a shark, here is your chance. There is also the standard touch tank containing horseshoe crabs and sea stars. Highlights in the “Main Gallery” for me include the sea jellies, they have upside down sea jellies, which I’ve also never heard of before (sea jellies were my animals when I volunteered at the local aquarium, so I knew plenty of facts way back when); the stingrays, they look like they’re flying around in the water; and the exhibit about fluorescent aquatic animals, I like things that glow in the dark.

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While waiting for the sea lion show to start, I had a chance to look at the “Roger Tory Peterson Gallery”, which is located on the second floor of  the same building as the Main Gallery. Visitors can see a variety of drawings by the gallery’s namesake. Don’t miss the California Sea Lion Show, where one can learn the difference between sea lions and seals, and see them perform some tricks. The show is about 20 minutes long. Also, there is stingray touch tank outside of the Main Gallery building; it’s easy to miss it since it’s kind of hidden, so look out for it if you want to touch some stingrays.

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Last, but not least is the Ocean Conservation Center that features two exhibits, “Exploration:WILD!” and “Frogs!”. “Exploration: WILD!” focuses on five different environments: the desert, the rain forest, the open ocean, the wetlands, and the Arctic, and the various creatures that call these environments home. The exhibit is filled with fascinating facts, and even an opportunity to touch some reptiles. “Frogs!” is an exhibit about frogs; learn all about the life cycle of frogs and other fun facts while being surrounded by a multitude of frogs. (It’s frog-land in there, frogs are everywhere you look). There are two additional theaters in this building that shows featured films, but they require an additional fee.

My travel buddies and I took about 3.5 hours to explore the aquarium, but others will take more or less time depending on their interest, and if they decide to do the additional activities. The aquarium is a great place for families and/or friends to visit, although a bit expensive, so look around for discounts and deals (check the aquarium website and around internet for deals). Although the admission is kind of pricey, the aquarium is one of the bigger ones I’ve been to so far, and the money does go to help the animals (I think), thus it’s worth it. So pack some snacks, bring your family and/or friends, and go enjoy all the aquatic animals that the Mystic Aquarium has to offer.

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