I had a definite image of Mystic before our recent visit. I imagined a seaside town full of nautical charm. It may or may not have had something to do with its movie namesake, but Mystic sure shone like a star in the 1980s hit film with Julia Roberts.
Whatever the case, the town lived up to my expectations. It’s very picturesque and has a rich maritime history with a few major attractions and plenty to do for families. I’m actually glad I waited to go with my kids. When I travel with them, I tend to see things through their eyes, and it makes my experience so much richer. That is certainly the case with Mystic.
Mystic is a great getaway weekend from New York City. It’s only 2-1/2 hours away and it’s not only home to the ships of the Mystic Seaport, but to New England’s finest Aquarium and to the Olde Mistick Village. Of course, there’s also Mystic Pizza. With the lull and smell of the seaside in the air, sail boats every which way you look, I became instantly hooked on the town. And my kids and husband did, too.
There are a number of places to stay in Mystic, but we opted to stay at the Residence Inn Marriott. It’s centrally located, very close to the Aquarium, the Seaport and the Olde Mystic Village. It’s a very nice, clean hotel where we had a suite with ample room for the four of us, a kitchen, high speed Internet, two flat screen TVs and, best of all, a hot breakfast in the morning. They have a lovely indoor pool and jacuzzi which we made use of four times during our visit.
The Residence Inn Marriott has a number of specials right now, and we were able to take advantage of one called “A Slice of Heaven – Mystic Pizza”. From now until July 5th, 2012, for the price of $179-$350, you get an overnight stay at the Residence Inn in Mystic, a meal at Mystic Pizza, a $25 gas card and two tickets to see the film “Mystic Pizza” at a cinema in an adorable town next door called Stonington (which we unfortunately couldn’t use because of the children).
We started off our weekend at the Mystic Aquarium [55 Coogan Blvd., Mystic; 860/572-5955]. My kids were really excited to see Juno, Kela and Naku, the three beluga whales currently residing at the Aquarium, as soon as we entered the park. We spent a while gazing at the 1,000 pounders from various levels and they were pretty amazing sights to hold.
Then we went to watch the sea lions. A guide gave us information about this endangered group. That’s one of the great things about the Aquarium. There are guides and demos every which way you look, full of useful information.
Then when we got to the penguin exhibit, my kids were really jazzed up. They love penguins, and there were plenty flying around. This was all pat of the outside exhibition. Inside the my kids spent ample time at Shark Encounters where they could touch the backs of white-spotted bamboo sharks. They loved the jellyfish exhibit and learning about stingrays, belugas and barracudas.
Tickets to the Aquarium are $29 for an adult, $21 for a child age 3-17. Or you can combine the ticket if you know you’re going to the Seaport for a combination of $50 and $32 for youths ages 6-17. If you live in or around Mystic, a family membership is a great value at $169 for a year. You also have to pay extra for special exhibits. We paid $3 each for Birds of the World, an interactive exhibit where we were given bird food to feed the birds, and we paid $3 for each child to go on the Animal Adventure 3D ride in the XD motion picture theater. My kids said that the ride was just fair, and perhaps not worth the extra money, but we all loved the birds exhibit. Apparently, you can reserve a time to pet the penguins or put on waders and go into the beluga tank, but we were happy with the regular, self-guided tour.
We spent an afternoon at the Aquarium, but we didn’t see everything, and you could clearly spend an entire day here or perhaps longer.
The Mystic Seaport [75 Greenmanville Ave., Mystic; 888/973-2767] is a museum that preserves the nautical history of the 1800s. Mystic in the 1800s was a ship-building community and it tells the story of that time period, and boy does it tell it well. We showed up during “First Responder’s Weekend” and were able to experience special events planned for the weekend including their regular offerings. It’s a fantastic place for both kids and adults. You can board the oldest whaling ship in the country, visit a 19th century recreated village, ride a steam boat, watch experts restore antique vessels or visit the planetarium where you learn how stars are used for navigation. We spent five hours at the Seaport, and I have to admit it wasn’t quite enough time. You need either a whole day or you need to spend two days to see everything. We took a steam boat ride on Sambino, a 1/2-hour boat ride. We saw a schooner from Australia. We went on a horse and buggy ride. The kids made toy boats they were able to take home. We attended a Newfoundland Dogs Demonstration. We went inside a replicate of an 1800s grocery store, school house, church and and old house. We dined at a terrific restaurant called Lattitudes when we needed a rest. Adults are $24, Youth (6-17): $15, 5 and under: free.
Another place to take the kids is the Olde Mystic Village, a unique collection of 60 shops and local artisans with hand made crafts and interesting shops. Built in the shape of an old colonial American village, the shops are centered around a lovely duck pond and waterwheel. When we were in town, there was a festival going on with superb craft work. My husband and I were enamored with the pottery from a local artist named Ria Lira Levine (pictured on the right) and we bought one of her sets. I might have to blog about her work in a future post. Her work is incredible. Our kids also really enjoyed strolling around the village. We watched artists at work on the easel. We met an author who handed me his books to review. My daughter bought handmade clothes for her barbie. We even discovered hand bags made out of classic book covers. There was a lot of unusual art work and it made for a very interesting afternoon.
The food in Mystic is definitely worth noting and we had no problem dining out with the kids. Mystic Pizza [56 Main Street, Mystic; 860-536-3700] certainly lives up to its reputation. The pizza at Mystic Pizza is fabulous and they have reasonably priced options for kids for just $5 and less. I couldn’t stop thinking of the hit movie and its plot line while having dinner, and I have to admit I got a thrill out of being in the same restaurant that inspired the hit film that meant to much to many of us. Unfortunately, the wait staff is terribly young and when I asked the hostess where the movie was playing locally (as I had been given tickets to see the film by the kind folks at the Marriott), she glared at me and told me it was actually released in 1989. Thanks a lot. In any case, I have to say the food made up for her snippiness. It’s really scrumptious, despite all the place’s hype.
Anyway, we had some other great meals in Mystic. We had the most scrumptious grilled cheese at the Bleu Squid Bakery & Cheese Shop [27 Coogan Blvd, Mystic; 860-536-6343]. We all had the Grown-up Grilled cheese sandwich which is a blend of 4 cheeses (Havarti, Fontina, Sharp Cheddar and Muenster) with tomatoes (an extra) grilled on sour dough bread. It was mouth-watering, to say the least. We also had homemade ice-cream at the Mystic Drawbridge in the center of town. Go Fish [26 Coogan Blvd, Mystic; 860-536-2662] is another family-friendly restaurant that offers fish, sushi and a decent kid’s menu. My only complaint is that the menu for kids consists of chicken nuggets, mac & cheese and other kid’s staples. Why not just make smaller versions of the adult food? But that’s another blog, too.
I honestly can’t give Mystic a higher recommendation. If you’re up to a real explore, you can venture into the town of Mystic, which has a slew of beautiful boutiques and shops. Every hour on the hour, the drawbridge lifts up into the air and stops the traffic. It’s quite a spectacle. Right next door you’ll find the town of Stongington, which offers the same and more of a quaint experience. It just isn’t as child-friendly as Mystic.
Disclosure: I was the guest of many of the locations mentioned in this article, but not all. The folks at the Residence Inn, the Seaport and the Aquarium were kind enough to grant me access to facilitate this review.