The drive from Westerly, Rhode Island to Mystic, Connecticut was an easy 15 minute drive east. Upon arriving at Mystic it was still raining quite heavily. I unintentionally parked in the little tourist village parking lot that was next to the museum's parking lot thinking it was the one for the Aquarium. A little building near where I parked said the Mystic tourist center. I walked in and found a lady at the front desk. I asked where the Aquarium was and she told me I was right next to it. She said I could buy tickets there for a discounted price. Her tickets were only the general entry tickets and did not included the "Birds of the Outback" or the "4-D Theatre" which I had read about as part of the combo tickets on the website. I bought the ticket from her anyway and figured I would buy the other tickets separately at the Main Gait.
I decided to stroll through the tourist village before going to the museums. They had a number of extremely cute little shops, all painted in bright colors with lanyards hanging outside on sign posts at the front of each property. They had a Vera Bradley shop (where they sell her signature pocket books), A sweets shop, A chocolate shop, A shop for stuffed toys, A shop that sold lawn ornaments, a variety of clothing stores and several restaraunts, among many other things. The little town was extremely beautiful. They had huge weeping willow trees and red maple trees as well as japanese willows. One of the shops had a pond and attached to the building was a water wheel. Ducks particularly enjoyed the lawns and yards of all the village shops. A family of Ducks crossed the road in front of me as I walked through the village.
I did not go into any of the buildings themselves because I did not have much money on me for my trip and I did not want to be tempted to spend what little I had. I crossed over from the village to the parking lot of the Aquarium. At the gate of the Aquarium I asked if I could buy the separate tickets for the Birds of the Outback and the 4-D theatre. It turns out because I was buying them seperate and not as part of a combo ticket that I ended up paying just as much for my three tickets (with my discounted price for the regular ticket) as I would have if I had been able to buy the combo ticket from the travel center. I was not really bothered that she did not tell me that because it didn't cost me any more. I'm sure she wanted the sale but I think I would have expalained to someone that the price would be the same.
The first thing you see in the museum is the rather large area that they have for the Beluga Whales. The Aquarium staff was doing a Beluga Whale feeding when I first walked in. As such there were several people, mostly little kids, lined up along side the containing walls. Little Rock outcrops which look like the entry ways to tunnels are built around the containing walls. I liked the rock outcrops because it was still raining and they provided shelter from the rain. While I had my umbrella at the beach, I had not brought it with me into the Aquarium for fear of leaving it somewhere and forgetting it. The only negative to the rock outcrops was that even more people were crowded beneath them to avoid the raindrops, which made it a bit harder to get a good view of the Beluga Whales.
There was a Ray petting pool next to the Beluga Whale area. I think it likely that these two things were closest to the park entry because of their popularity. Little kids love petting the various Rays swimming in the Ray pool. I did not pet any of the Rays because I have done so in the past when I visited the Riverhead Aquarium on Long Island. They feel more silking than slimy. I wonder if they do not care to be touched all day or if they like it? I think I should have stayed around the Ray pool a bit longer and asked the lady who was supervising. As she was busy instructing people though, I am not sure she would have had the time to answer my question. After watching the Rays for a bit, because it was still raining I entered the museum to view the underwater holding tanks.
In the holding tanks there were several different aquatic animals. I was surprised how dark it was inside there. While I was taking pictures my flash kept going off and I do not know if that annoyed the animals, but the staff did not say anything to me. Everyone else had I-pods or cameras that did not flash it seemed, because I felt like I kind of stood out. I saw jelly fish, some of them were bright pink and almost glowed while others were green and more understated. The smaller jellyfish tended to be brighter colors while the larger ones were generally less colorfull. I enjoyed watching the sea lions swim under water as they looked like they were having a lot of fun. The eels have little hidey-holes which they all seemed to jam themselves into rather than swim about in the open. I guess it must be comfortable jammed all up in those little holes? There was a cute turtle that is endangered and was in a container designed like a sand castle. I wanted to take a picture of the turtle, but I was worried that my flash might hurt his or her eyes so I decided not to take a picture of the turtle. I feel like the sharks were quite small. I saw one or two medium sized sharks, but no giant sharks, and no tiger sharks or hammerhead sharks, which both tend to be very distinctive and usually part of aquariums because of their unique looks.
After looking at the various animals inside I went back out to find that it was still raining. I tried to think of the next thing I could do at an inside venue until the rain let up, and I saw the 4-D theatre. As I had gone rather early in the morning it was somewhat slow at the aquarium early on, but the crowd was picking up more and more. I was there the last week before school starts again in New England, so I'm sure that accounted for the rather large crowds that were building. Part of the relief of the 4-D theatre was that it was less crowded because it was more of an expense to get a ticket for. Not outrageous mind you, as it cost a very reasonable $3.00 more, but I'm sure that people with large groups of children might avoid the theatre. I really did not know what to expect from the 4-D theatre, but it was definitely designed with kids in mind. I don't know if they always have the same show or not, but ours was a show about Sponge Bob Square Pants. Sponge Bob, Patrick, Squidward and Sandy have to stop Plankton from using the electricity which he had harvested from jellyfish in the jelly fish field in order to use it to generate a weapon to destroy the Krusty Crab, where Sponge Bob works. I liked the 4-D effects and thought the show was quite good. It was worth the $3.00. In exiting the 4-D theatre you enter the Titanic display at Mystic.
Mystic Aquarium's section about the Titantic does not contain any artifacts from the ship. There has been a big controversy over the trips to the Titanic in recent years, because of the things that are being taken from the wreck and the pollution of the area where it is buried. They did not mention that at the aquarium but I am sure it is why they do not have any artifacts. Mystic Aquarium works closely with Bob Ballard, the man who was in charge of the team that discovered the Titanic. I know that he is rather put-off about how much the scene of the tragedy has changed with all the tourist trips to the site since it's discovery. One thing I thought was really neat was a replica of a first class cabin on the ship. It was insanely small, with a twin sized bed and a table to powder one's nose I guess? Other than that it would have been difficult to fit any kind of furnisings in the tiny space. It made me wonder what the rooms where the 2nd and 3rd class passangers had to sleep looked like. There was a movie room in the Titanic display where Bob Ballard discuses the discovery of the Titanic and how the search for it was really a "cover" for a covert mission by the U.S. government to find two submarines it had lost. They wanted to find the submarines before the Soviet Union did.
After watching the Bob Ballard movie I went into another room called the Nautilus theatre. To me this was by far the best feature of the Aquarium. In it we had a live feed with Bob Ballard's ship the Nautilus and could see exactly what they were researching under water at that moment. We also connected with someone live on the ship to discuss their current mission (which was to explore underwater sea vents in the waters of the Carribean) and had a question and answer session with them regarding their research. I liked this most because I think it could really inspire young people who might like to get involved in researching our vast and mostly unexplored oceans.
When I exited the theatre I decided to go back outside. Thankfully the rain had let up considerably. I walked around and visited with the fur seals, sea lions and penguins. Unfortunately there were no shows going on at the time, but it was still nice to watch the animals swimming around. The penguins looked a little sad, but perhaps that wasn't helped any by the fact that the lady who was talking about them was mentioning how their is a somewhat new phenomenom where they give up their nests to predetors, something they never did in the past. I also walked through a swamp area where they have little frogs and turtles and other swamp creatures. The swamp creatures are very tough to see as they hide amidst the tall grasses. It was quite busy at this time too, so after getting a picture of a few frogs I made my way to the Birds of the Outback display.
The Birds of the Outback was a cute idea, but probably the most disapointing part of the Aquarium for me. I do not think I would have paid the extra $9.00 for it had I known what it was. It was a cage with hundreds of small colorful birds flying around. You were given a "feed stick" and allowed to enter the cage and feed the birds. I had expected a much greater variety of birds and some large birds as well as the small birds. There also was no one to give you any kind of information on the birds and tell you how common or how rare they are or where they are found in the Outback... i.e. what environments. It's obvious that both of the extras the Aquarium offers are aimed at making a little more money on the parents who bring their kids to the museum. They both are a fun thing for the kids, but I kind of wish they'd make it a regular feature for everyone and simply ask for donations at the end of the visit instead. Perhaps they would not make as much money that way though.
After the Birds of the Outback I considered getting something to eat at the Penguin Cafe they had on site. Again I felt like I would probably be spending more money than I wanted to, so I chose instead to save my money to buy something for dinner once I got home. I did go through the gift shop before leaving the Aquarium. I bought two post cards and a small gift for a family memeber come Christmas time before heading home.
The Aquarium as a whole was a bit smaller than I thought it would be... which is not to say it was small, I just had more grand expectations I think. I was a bit disapointed that there were no shows or programs going on, but that could have been because of the time of day too. I bet they hold off on the shows for the afternoon hours when the aquarium is most packed. The things I liked best were the 4-D show, the Beluga Whales and most of all the Nautilus theatre. I also think that the little tourist shopping area was beautiful, and depending on how much things cost there, could be a fun place to go shopping for presents. If I ever go back to Mystic some day I think I would like to spend more time visiting the little shops and stores and perhaps even eating at one of the restaraunts there.
The trip to Rhode Island and to Mystic Connecticut was really worth while. For one thing it got me off my bum, out of the house and doing something fun. I think that is always a good thing. It also was the first time in quite some time that I had proved to myself that I could do something alone and have a good time. Sometimes I let the idea of knowing that I don't have anyone to go with me someplace stop me from doing it. I look forward to more adventures in the future and would love to visit Rhode Island more extensively some day.
One new U.S. state down and one to go before January. While the next trip would have to be further away to get to Maine, Ohio or Deleware most likely, I look forward to planning it. This next trip will also likely require a stay over as the nearly 8 hours I spent in the car in one day visiting Rhode Island and Connecticut did take quite a lot out of me.
I hope that our readers will not shy away from taking their own little adventures and sharing them with us through their own blogs or by retelling their own stories. =)