Mystic Seaport – The Museum of America and the Sea – is known as the country’s leading maritime museum. This destination, set up like a historic village, stretches over 19 acres on the Mystic River along the beautiful Connecticut coast. Each year, thousands of visitors board old-fashioned ships, see a working shipyard and peruse fascinating artifacts. Kids can even get hands-on at interactive exhibits. It’s a great place for families to unplug and learn together.
A Great Spot for a Little Family Bonding
On a recent summer afternoon, I felt like getting away from it all. The boys – ages 11 and 13 – had been busy at camp while I was working hard. Finally, we had a free afternoon. So, we jumped in the car and headed to a place that never disappoints: Mystic Seaport. This charming spot is beautiful and offers an abundance of sights and sounds to spark conversation and promote family bonding.
We used to spend a lot of time on wooden play ships, located near a sweet Children’s Museum that invites little kids to fish with magnets and cook in a pretend kitchen. But the boys have grown out of those activities. So, we ventured out to find a new groove. Guess what? It didn’t take long to discover it. Check out these five ways to engage the kids at Mystic Seaport:
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Learn about Lighthouses at the Mystic Seaport
The museum features a replica of Nantucket’s Brant Point Lighthouse, a nostalgic spot for me. Inside the replica, is a multimedia exhibit called “Sentinels of the Sea.” See gorgeous footage and learn all about life in these fascinating structures during a well-done panoramic movie. The boys and I loved it!
Step Aboard Amazing Vessels
Visitors can board several historic vessels to learn history by stepping back in time. The L.A Dunton – the last fishing schooner of its kind – was built in 1921. We climbed down a ladder, into the ship’s belly, to see simple living quarters. Fascinating plaques detailed the Dunton’s travels to cities such as Gloucester, Massachusetts – a destination we recently visited on a whale watch.
While the Dunton feels impressive but sparse, the Charles W. Morgan is simply magnificent. The last wooden whaleship in the world – it features Captain’s quarters outfitted with period furniture and knick-knacks. The crew bunks are dressed with sheets and curtains to really give visitors a sense of what it was like to live at sea in the mid-1800s. Both of these ships are National Historic Landmarks.
Try Interactive Exhibits During a Family Trip to Mystic Seaport
After exploring outside for awhile, we wandered into the Stillman Building which houses an incredible exhibit called Voyaging in the Wake of the Whalers. It details the country’s past and present relationship with whales and whaling. Along with a cool display of more than 100 whaling-related artifacts, artwork, models, documents and scrimshaw, we found modern audiovisual stations. Press a button under a glowing orb to hear narration and see images that aim to teach and inspire. We learned about Peter George, a Mashantucket Pequot whaler.
Get Out on the Water for a Cool Boat Ride
This Mystic Connecticut spot makes it really easy to hop in a boat and get a view of the lovely landscape from the water. Check out the Sabino, which recently returned after a two-year restoration. You won’t forget a ride aboard this truly unique steamboat from 1908, also a National Historic Landmark. Or, board a launch called Liberty. It offers a comprehensive, easy 25 minute cruise around the Mystic River. Experience a sail on the Breck Marshall, a 20 foot Crosby catboat reproduction. Visitors can even rent a rowboat or sailboat.
Talk, Talk, Talk – Then Talk Some More!
We love to relax and simply enjoy each other’s company during these spontaneous family outings. I really cherish the conversations I have with the boys – sparked, often, by interesting facts we learn at destinations such as Mystic Seaport. In addition to the historic village, the ships and the exhibition hall, this museum features a hands-on Discovery Barn for kids, as well as a planetarium. When my sons were younger, we would always build our own wooden boat – the perfect hand-made memento to take home with pride. Need a rest after exploration? The Seaport sports a great cafe where you can grab a refreshing drink or ice cream.