There’s a village on the water in eastern Connecticut that can let your imagination set sail this summer. Just over a two-hour drive from lower Westchester, a trip to Mystic transports your family back in time and gives you endless opportunities for fun.
The easiest way to get to Mystic is to take Interstate-95 north to exit 90 and follow the well-posted signs to downtown. There are two main attractions in historic Mystic, the seaport and the aquarium. Both are definitely worth a visit.
My husband, Douglas, and I recently went on a weekend getaway to Mystic with our 3-year-old daughter, Ava. It was the perfect mini-vacation close to home.
We started our adventure at Mystic Seaport: The Museum of America and the Sea. When we walked through the patriotic entrance gates we found ourselves in the 1800s. This is not your typical museum. There’s an entire re-created seafaring village with many New England buildings to explore including an old schoolhouse, a general store, a ship carver’s shop and more. Each building has old artifacts and many have staff members dressed in costume, working and explaining life as it was in the 19th century.
For younger children, you may want to visit these buildings quickly and then head for The Children’s Museum where you’ll find hands-on fun for children ages 7 and under. Ava really enjoyed steering and mopping the deck of the wooden ship replica. There’s also a dress-up area complete with sailor-inspired wardrobes, a galley to cook in and puzzles and books that carry the theme of life at sea. And just outside the Children’s Museum is a playground with three wooden boats for kids to climb on.
The main attraction at Mystic Seaport is the tall ships and vessels. You can climb aboard the historic training ship, the Joseph Conrad, or see the current restoration project of the last surviving wooden whale ship, the Charles W. Morgan. A great way to enjoy the boats is from on the water. The Seaport is right on the Mystic River, so there are plenty of options.
Douglas, Ava and I took a half-hour ride on the S.S. Sabino steamboat (for an extra fee). The boat is an actual National Historic Landmark, some 100 years old, and you can see the coal-fired engine in action. We also rented a rowboat (Ava was eager to help, but I let my husband do all of the rowing!). It was a nice way to get on the water and enjoy the view of the beautiful Seaport.
To wrap up our day, we got on the water one more time, this time on the Schooner Argia. The ship is a modern replica of a 19th century sailing schooner. Day cruises are offered, but we chose the beautiful two-hour sunset cruise through downtown Mystic and beyond.
After a day of learning about life on the sea, we wanted to learn about life under the sea. Mystic Aquarium is the perfect place to do just that. The aquarium isn’t too big, but there are so many great animals to see.
Just past the very distinctive entrance is the huge “Arctic Coast” exhibit, where you’ll see New England’s only beluga whales. The white mammals are so graceful to watch and there are lots of photo opportunities next to the huge viewing windows, so have your camera ready. You can then follow the picturesque outside paths to see sea lions and my favorites, the African penguins.
Brave visitors can check out the “Birds of the Outback” exhibit. You’ll enter an enclosure with hundreds of colorful (and noisy) birds inside, armed with a popsicle stick with birdseed on the tip (there is a fee to participate). Ava had to be picked up to reach the birds, but she liked holding up her stick and watching them eat right in front of her. And luckily, we all left with clean clothes!
You can then enter the indoor exhibits, where you’ll see numerous fish species. Ava had fun finding Nemo (the clown fish) in the different tanks. I liked the seahorses and Douglas liked the jellyfish and the shark tank. Children will also love the Discovery Lab, where they can touch starfish, crabs and a lobster. An even better hands-on opportunity is the Ray Touch Pool, where you can reach in and feel a ray or pay a small fee to feed one.
No visit to the Aquarium is complete without seeing the California Sea Lion show. We saw four of them perform jumps and other tricks. Ava’s favorite was the 900-pound sea lion, Coco. They are all adorable and very smart.
If you can manage to stay the night in Mystic, you can spend more time at these great attractions. You can also walk through the main village, past unique shops and restaurants (including Mystic Pizza, made famous by the movie that starred Julia Roberts). We stayed overnight at the Mystic Marriott, right off exit 88 on I-95, about a five-minute drive to downtown. The room was spacious and we took advantage of the indoor pool.
If you can’t make it a two-day getaway, don’t worry. You’ll find Mystic to be a destination worthy of visiting again and again. It’s truly a mystical place.
Andrea White is a writer and mom who loves adventure.
When You Go …
Mystic, Conn. www.mystic.org
• Mystic Seaport: The Museum of America and the Sea
75 Greenmanville Ave., Mystic, Conn. 860-572-5302 or 888-973-2767 www.mysticseaport.org
$24 adults (ages 18-64) $15 children (ages 6-17) Children ages 5 and under enter free! Hours Until Oct. 30: open daily 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. If you have your ticket validated before you leave, you can return a second day for free within seven days of validation.
• Mystic Aquarium
55 Coogan Blvd., Mystic, Conn. 860-572-5955 www.mysticaquarium.org
Admission $29 adults $21 children (ages 3 to 17) Children ages 2 and under enter for free!
Through October: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Once inside, guests may stay one additional hour after closing. If you have your ticket validated before you leave, you can return for the next two consecutive days! Note: The Seaport and Aquarium both have free parking. There are also options for light food at each attraction.
• Schooner Argia
Schooner Wharf, 15 Holmes St., Mystic, Conn. 860-536-0416
• Mystic Marriott Hotel & Spa
625 North Road (Rte. 117), Groton, Conn. 860-446-2600 www.marriott.com/hotels/travel/gonmm-mystic-marriott-hotel-and-spa/