the maritime aquarium feature

Visiting the Maritime Aquarium in Norwalk, Connecticut

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I go to the Maritime Aquarium at least once each summer for the visiting exhibit. Over the years they have had butterflies, lorikeets, penguins, flamingos, and no doubt others I’ve forgotten…this year there was a rare albino alligator, and of course, we had to go to see “Snowflake.” (Make of that name what you will. Snowflake himself had nothing to say, and seemed singularly unimpressed with us, and the rest of his admirers.)

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In truth, any time of year is a good time to visit the Maritime Aquarium. It tends to be crowded on Saturdays and whenever the local schools are closed, but it’s the good sort of crowded…harried moms pushing kids in strollers, large and boisterous groups of small people in matching t-shirts, kids on educational excursions with their schools or camps, and everyone generally making a lot of noise and having a terrific time.

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They are there to see the harbor seals (there is a seal training demonstration three times a day), the otters (generally either rushing around frenetically or sound asleep—there seems to be no in between with otters), the meerkats (I’ve never been entirely sure exactly what they are doing at the aquarium, but they’re delightful), the sharks (fortunately, behind glass), the jellyfish (surprisingly hypnotic to watch), many kinds of fish, giant sea turtles, and all manner of sea creatures from near and far. The aquarium puts a big emphasis on conservation, and particularly on protecting the Long Island Sound’s ecosystem.

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sharks the maritime aquarium

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For the little ones, there are some really lovely opportunities to get up close and personal with the animals; my five-year-old daughter particularly enjoys the touch tank, where kind volunteers guide youngsters in gently touching crabs, sea stars (that’s what they call starfish these days), and “mermaid’s purses” (more prosaically known as skate egg cases). There is another tank where they can “jiggle a jelly,” and one where they can touch stingrays as they swim by, and it’s all great fun. There’s also a play space for the five and under set, where they can let off some steam without being run over by bigger kids.

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sea otter the maritime aquarium

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You’ll get hungry at some point, and you can go upstairs to the cafeteria if you like, but it’s nothing special, and Norwalk has plenty of decent restaurants. We usually go to Beach House SoNo, because of its convenient location across the street, and because they tend to be very patient with kids, but there are many other dining options close by, mostly clustered around Main Street. (If you have a car with you and don’t mind a short drive, Barcelona Wine Bar is quite good and opens at 4:00 pm on weekdays, and at 11:30 am for weekend brunch.)

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jellyfish the maritime aquarium

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Getting there: there’s an inexpensive parking garage across the way on Water Street if you come by car (and there’s also limited street parking). If you’re coming up from New York City, you can instead take the Metro-North train from Grand Central to South Norwalk Station, which will take about an hour on the train, followed by a short walk.

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Adult admission is $24.95; children ages 3 through 12 pay $17.95, and senior citizens pay $22.95. Since we’re there so often, it’s more economical for us to pay for an annual membership, which allows for unlimited admission (and a gift shop discount).   Admission also includes an IMAX movie; at the moment the available options are about backyard wilderness, pandas, and ocean life, but the programs change frequently. These shows tend to be about 40 minutes long, which is a good length of time for young viewers who don’t yet have the attention span to enjoy a Hollywood film. Have some popcorn and enjoy the giant screen—it’s six stories high! Plus you’ll likely learn something.

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I hope to see you there! I’m sure I’ll be back next summer, and more likely before then.

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Laura LaVelle is an attorney and writer who lives in Connecticut, in a not quite 100-year-old house, along with her husband, two daughters, and a cockatiel.

Laura can be contacted at laura@newswhistle.com.

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Images Courtesy of The Maritime Aquarium