Last Wednesday I played hooky from work. Took a day off in the middle of the week. The original plan was to go to The Bronx Zoo, but because Wednesday is ‘free day’ and very crowded, and there was a major heatwave going on, we opted for something a little more climate controlled.
The Maritime Aquarium in Norwalk, CT.
We met Mabel’s godfather and his son there- they are Aquarium regulars and showed us the ropes.
The place was swarming with camp groups of all ages, so we spent the morning trying to dodge them (it was much more relaxed and empty after lunch).
Mabel is only 18 months old, but there were lots of exhibits she was able to enjoy. The highlights were…
The touch tank- Docents were there to help the kids touch the animals and to teach about each of them. A different aquarium we’d visited in the past didn’t allow the animals to be lifted out of the water, and since Mabel was too small to reach down into the water, that meant she couldn’t touch anything. Having the docents there to facilitate the interactions really added a lot to the experience. She was able to touch a horseshoe crab, starfish, another species of crab I don’t remember the name of, and a hermit crab. At first, Mabel was a little tentative, but once she saw me touching the creatures and oohing and ahhing, she got into it as well.
The seals- I’m pretty certain Mabel could have spent the entire day watching the seals. The Aquarium has a walkway on the second floor that allows you to look down on the seal exhibit. For the pint-sized set, this is a great way for them to get unobstructed views of the animals. We were able to watch as the seals got their vitamins (hidden in fish) and were put through their paces, learning behaviors that facilitated their care. The seal habitat extended outside as well, so Mabel was able to watch the seals sun themselves on the rocks.
There’s a special exhibit at the Aquarium right now called “Dinosaur Summer” with animatronic dinosaurs. Mabel definitely got a kick out of them and their roaring, roaring right back. However, what she really had fun doing was digging for dinosaur bones! Outside the Aquarium, under a tent was basically a sand-box filled with rubber granules, under which were plaster dinosaur skeletons for the kids to excavate. They grabbed a brush, climbed in, and cleared the ‘dirt’ from the buried bones to expose the ‘fossils.’ Getting Mabel away from this activity involved lots of protesting and some tears.
There were several more worthwhile activities for toddlers. There was a kid-sized fishing boat for them to play in/on/around. There was a play area full of rubber mats for crawling/climbing/tumbling (for kids under 5yo). There was a meerkat exhibit, complete with tunnel and plexiglass bubble so kids could be in the middle of the exhibit. Additionally, most of the exhibits have step stools or built-in steps for little kids to climb up and get a better view of things.
Given Mabel’s age and size, I feel like a lot of kids’ activities aren’t worth the expense because she can’t fully participate. The Maritime Aquarium was definitely worth the price- only $12.95 per adult, and free for kids under two. We didn’t pay for the IMAX film or the ride film because Mabel was too young/small for those. Parking was an additional $7 right across the street. The aquarium was small enough that we could do it all in a few hours, but big enough that there was plenty to do.
We definitely enjoyed the day and will certainly be back!
Tips for families who want to visit The Maritime Aquarium in Norwalk–
If you are close enough, consider going in the afternoon. The place cleared out when the IMAX movies started and the camps left after lunch.
Bring wipes and hand sanitizer- there were lots of things to touch, but not many places to wash hands.
Some of the activities cost extra- like the current build a sailboat activity which is $5 (and then you have to carry a sailboat around all day! We skipped it after watching other parents struggle to juggle kids and sailboats).
Don’t bother eating in the Aquarium Cafe- there are loads of yummy cafes and restaurants within walking distance, so you don’t even have to move the car. As long as you keep your receipt and ticket stub, you can go back after lunch. We took a lunch break at the the SoNo Baking Company & Cafe. It didn’t have a lot of seating, but there were high chairs, kid-friendly menu items (the yummiest looking PB&J I’ve ever seen as well as grilled cheese), and delicious lunch items for the grown-ups (hello ham and cheese croissant), not to mention the large assortment of baked goods (macaroons!).
For those who want to bring lunch, there’s a picnic area along the waterfront right outside the museum- complete with picnic tables and toys for the kids to climb on.
The Aquarium says it’s stroller friendly, and that’s true for the most part. Since Mac was with me, one of us took Mabel and the other took the stroller. If I had been there by myself, it definitely wouldn’t have worked. So if you’re going solo, opt for a baby-carrier and leave the stroller in the car.