Earlier this year, the Norwalk Maritime Aquarium underwent some renovations. Like, $4 million dollars worth -- the largest transformation the attraction has seen in more than a decade. I'm going to blame the mommy rock I live under for not noticing until now! The Maritime Aquarium is just far enough from my house that we don't invest in annual passes, but we do try to get there at least once a year, because it's a respectable small aquarium. Every time we go, my small fries are that much older and we get that much more out of it. The recent changes aren't drastic enough to justify an immediate stopover, but fans of this local treasure will be pleasantly surprised by the upgrades when they get around to their regular visit.
The first you'll notice is the now brightly-colored main hall, dubbed 'Newman's Own Hall.' It features a massive map of Long Island Sound and an interactive game called "Found in the Sound." The renovation directors would tell you this illustrates the project's goal of better telling the story of the Sound, but the facelift is equally adept at providing a more inviting backdrop for event planners in the region. Clever. They've also ripped out that central staircase that got in the way of the seal show, and overhauled the show itself with a new narrative. Anyhow, you might kill a few minutes on the new map game with older kids, before sauntering onto massive upgrade #2: the Sharks and Rays gallery.
This renovation is truly fintastic (sorry, puns are done now). There was a ray touchpool before, but this one just feels more state-of-the-art, and works beautifully and colorfully in the hall's space. This entire wing actually feels a little narrower than it used to, but they had the space to spare. They've added nurse sharks to the mix, which is awesome, but the best new feature is its accessibility. The pool is centered, so curious types can reach in and touch the scaly swimmers from all four sides. They've also added glass on one end so kids can get eye-to-eye with the sharks and rays, and at the opposite end, notched glass, so folks wondering what a ray looks like from underneath can lie down and get an answer. Around the pool are smaller live displays, including a cool one giving you a glimpse inside those skate egg cases you find at the beach. Finally, they've added a more deliberate facade to the Marine Lab, so that what's special is more obviously featured in 'windows'. As someone interested in all the workings (I was a marine science major in college), I didn't love this, but could appreciate that it was a smart move for the average visitor, and certainly is more aesthetic. P.S. Be sure not to miss the Pacific octopus, a new resident, currently lurking in this area.
The third and final phase of the renovation was completed just a few weeks ago (apparently I'm not THAT far behind the times). The largest IMAX theater in the state is housed at the Maritime Aquarium, and now it's a soup-to-nuts experience, complete with concessions and an inviting new foyer. They've also added comfier seats, cupholders, new floors and wall treatments, and a stage for live presentations. It will be closed Thanksgiving Day, but open every day through December 23, with five feature films in the lineup (including The Polar Express).
The rest of the aquarium will be mostly as you remember it (which isn't a bad thing). There are some new creatures scattered throughout: tropical fishes brought up north via the Gulf Stream, American eels, fiddler crabs, a lemon shark, skeleton shrimp, nudibranchs, and reptiles from the local watershed -- make a scavenger hunt out of finding them (you may want to print this out -- we didn't see anything really bringing attention to the new residents). There is also a new outdoor playspace for young children (near the gift shop), that looks colorful and inviting for the warmer months. If you make it out between now and January 21, 2013, don't forget to vote on your favorite handmade lighthouse from the 'Festival of Lighthouses' display scattered throughout the Hokin Family Sound Voyage wing.
10 N Water St., Norwalk, CT 06854
Aquarium Tickets: $13.95 Adult, $10.50 Children (2-12)
Classic IMAX Tickets: $9.50 Adults, $7 Children (2-12)
Adventure Pass (both of above): $20.95 Adults, $15.50 Children (2-12)
Tickets available online