SPECIAL OFFER: - Limited Time Only!
(The ad below will not display on your printed page)
Whether you have "Little Mermaids" or "Captain Nemos" in tow, a trip to Mystic is a sure-to-please maritime adventure. The nautical fun includes exploring nooks and crannies of tall ships, coming nose-to-nose with beluga whales, and "manning" controls of the world's first nuclear submarine.
Part of Mystic's appeal is its old-time ambiance. This former shipbuilding and whaling village is quintessential New England charm -- plenty of white steeple churches, clapboard buildings, cobblestone sidewalks, and weathered boats. During a long weekend, there's lots of time for sailing, swimming, and super-fresh seafood.
Mystic's major attraction is Mystic Seaport, a 17-acre re-creation of a 19th-century maritime community. Your little ones will be happiest in the village area, where they can scramble from one ship to the next -- turning captain's wheels, peeking through portholes, and climbing ladders between decks. The village also has more than 30 historic buildings, including homes, a one-room schoolhouse, and a general store with old-fashioned toys and games on display.
For hands-on activities, plan time at the Children's Museum (ideal for ages 7 and under) and the Discovery Barn (ages 8 and up). The fun includes floating paddleboats, donning sailor's garb, and "cooking" in the galley. Over at the Discovery Barn, young mates can test their seamen's skills tying knots, identifying signal flags, and furling sails.
Older children, as well as sailors and history buffs, will enjoy talks about life on land and sea during the whaling industry's heyday. But the big wows go to Seaport "sailors," who'll climb 60 feet of ropes and rigging to show how a tall ship is readied for sail. Visitors are usually welcome to pitch in with the hauling and hoisting. All hands on deck!
Throughout the day, there are plenty of family events and activities. Here are some of the best:
Ever sing Raffi's "Baby Beluga" to the kids when they were little? Then they'll enjoy seeing the real thing at Mystic Aquarium. Three beluga whales share an outdoor home in the Alaskan Coast exhibit with several neighbors -- seals, sea lions, and African penguins, who "fly" underwater. Inside, touch-tanks housing tropical fish, sharks, seahorses, and a new California sea lion show offer plenty of thrills.
What's a trip to a seaport village without a boat ride? Here are some fun ways to travel up and down Mystic River.
The kids will really appreciate the comforts of home once they get a look at the tight quarters on the Nautilus, the world's first nuclear submarine. A crew of 116 men lived on the sub (319 feet long by 27 feet wide) during its historical crossing underneath the North Pole (1958). The self-guided tour takes about 20 minutes and visits all the most exciting areas -- the attack room, torpedo room, control center, and officers' living quarters.
At the Submarine Force Museum next door, you can fiddle with periscopes, watch films on submarine history, and check out some mini subs. Sorry, no film clips of Sean Connery and Alec Baldwin in The Hunt for Red October, but numerous references to Jules Verne's 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. After all, the Nautilus was named in honor of Captain Nemo's pride and joy.
Type of trip: Historical, educational, sightseeing
Best ages: 5 and up
Ideal trip length: Long weekend
Distance: Hartford (47 miles), Boston (108 miles), New York City (125 miles), Albany (160 miles)
Best time to go: May to mid-October, for the most comfortable and dependable touring weather. Summer weekends can be hot and crowded.
Weather: 70/48 degrees in May, 79/57 in June, 82/62 in July and August, 74/53 in September, and 64/42 in October
Lodging: Mystic has only 1,200 hotel rooms, making it difficult to get last-minute reservations for holiday and summer weekends.
Squirm factor: Some, if you don't choose activities carefully.
Mystic Chamber of Commerce Information Center 28 Cottrell St. in Historic Downtown Mystic Phone: 860-572-9578
Mystic Seaport 75 Germanville Ave. on Route 27, one mile south of I-95 (exit 90) Phone: 888-9SEAPORT
Mystic Aquarium 55 Coogan Blvd., off I-95 (exit 90) Phone: 860-572-5955
Mystic Whaler Cruises 15 Holmes St. Phone: 800-697-8420 or 860-536-4218
Voyager Cruises - Tall Ship Argia Steamboat Wharf Phone: 860-536-0416
Steamboat Sabino Sabino dock near the main entrance of Mystic Seaport Phone: 888-9SEAPORT
Sailboat/Rowboat Rentals Boathouse at Mystic Seaport Phone: 888-9SEAPORT
Historic Ship Nautilus/Submarine Force Museum Naval Marine Base, Route 12 (Exit 86 off I-95), Groton Phone: 860-694-3174
Mystic Pizza I 56 West Main St., downtown Mystic Phone: 860-536-3700 This is the pizza parlor featured in Mystic Pizza, the movie that launched Julia Roberts' career. Hollywood hasn't gone to the restaurant's head, though...the pizza is still mouthwatering.
Local foods: Yankee pot roast, lobster, fried clams, and clam chowder
Best souvenir: Captain's hat from Mystic Seaport
Seasonal Events: Unless otherwise noted, contact Mystic Seaport (888-9SEAPORT) or the Mystic Chamber of Commerce (860-572-9578) for more information.
Traffic alert: Beware of the working drawbridge in downtown Mystic. It's charming but can snarl traffic when it rises to let boats pass. During peak boating months, the bridge goes up 15 minutes past the hour throughout the day. The only exception is noon, when lunch-hour traffic takes precedence.
After a few busy days of seaside touring, give that gang of yours a change of pace. At the Denison Pequotsepos Nature Center, a 125-acre wildlife sanctuary, seven miles of trails wind through meadows, woodlands, wetlands, and a butterfly garden. The 20-minute red trail and one-hour white trail are the easiest for families with small children.
Call ahead about educational programs. If you hit it right, your little ones might be able to participate in classes about "Cold and Clammy Critters," "Warbler Watching," "Fireflies and Friends," and more. There are also canoeing and salt marsh adventures for the whole family. Don't forget to pack your pond nets and bug catchers. Denison Pequotsepos Nature Center 109 Pequotsepos Rd. in Mystic, 2 miles off Route 27 Phone: 860-536-1216
Reviewed April 2004.