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When the weather outdoors turns frightful, Connecticut offers family-oriented indoor attractions that are delightful. You’ll find your kids a great place indoors whether their idea of fun runs to dinosaurs, tigers, sharks, sports or flora and fauna. Put together a vacation day, weekend, or even a snow day with an indoor itinerary they’ll remember.
The Great Indoors
The challenge of finding family fun in the middle of winter can be made a lot easier with the addition just a few of Connecticut’s stellar indoor attractions. Any of these will do on days when the weather isn’t saying “Come out and play” but you don’t want the kids staying in the house all day. And if you are on an overnight trip to the state, any of these will prove a highlight of your stay.
The Connecticut Science Center in downtown Hartford is a world unto itself. With 150 hands-on exhibits, a state-of-the-art 3D digital theater, four educational labs, plus daily programs and events, the Center offers endless exploration for children, teens and adults. From physics to forensics, geology to astronomy, visitors have the sciences at their fingertips. Special exhibits abound, as do fascinating programs, so you can plan on spending a good deal of time here when you visit.
If you’re looking for a day trip that’s different, a visit to to CoCo Key indoor water park in Waterbury may be just the ticket. Here you’ll find the temperature a balmy 84 degrees in the 50,000-square-foot attraction that includes Adventure River, three 40-foot body and raft rides, and activity pool and an arcade. Not what you’d normally expect during a Connecticut winter? Well, it’s always good to be open to surprises.
There’s more indoor fun to be had at SportsCenter of Connecticut in Shelton. Here, the activities come in a wide range. There’s ice skating and hockey, year-round mini-golf and a driving range, batting cages, bowling, laser tag, paint balling, arts and crafts and arcade games.
There are movies, and then there are IMAX movies. The screen at The Maritime Aquarium in Norwalk, for instance, is huge and the shows tend to be riveting (and it’s the only real IMAX screen in Connecticut). Check the aquarium’s schedule to see what shows are coming up.
The Age of Giant Reptiles
You may not normally associate Connecticut with dinosaurs, but think again. There are attractions here that will enthrall any self-respecting junior paleontologist, and provide a little extra learning along the way. Here are a few of the highlights.
The Yale Peabody Museum in New Haven has long been a place where kids felt they got their first feel for how big, varied and interesting dinosaurs actually were. In fact, the Peabody is home to one of the world’s top paleontology collections. Inside the Great Hall, you’ll see a juvenile Apatosaurus skeleton, a mesmerizing and world-famous 110-foot-long mural, “The Age of Reptiles,” painted by Rudolph Zallinger, and a fossil of the largest known turtle species, Archelon.
At Rocky Hill’s Dinosaur State Park, see 500 authentic sandstone dinosaur tracks (one of the largest collections of preserved Jurassic tracks on the continent), explore an arboretum filled with plants from families that flourished during the Age of Dinosaurs, and touch fossils in the Discovery Room. Then your kids can head to the museum’s casting area to make a trip souvenir – a plaster cast of a Eubrontes footprint. For details and tips about the casting process (a change of clothes is a good idea), check the website.
At the Connecticut Science Center overlooking the Connecticut River in downtown Hartford you find lavish displays in more than 150 permanent exhibits. Check out the soaring Pterosaur and hear the roar of the life-like animatronic Dilophosaurus. See a real fossil and find your own in the dig pit and then take a stroll to the Rooftop Garden to meet Julius the Apatosaurus in the children’s garden. The museum’s state-of-the-art theater may even be featuring a dinosaur-themed 3D movie.
For more dinosaur-related attractions, deals and ideas, visit the CT Dino Trail.
There are lots of nice winter days when getting out and taking in a little of the natural world seems like a good idea. Luckily, there are many places in the state where you and the kids can bundle up and get out into the woods and trails, take nature classes or view how animals spend the winter.
There are dozens of nature centers (you can find a pretty comprehensive list right here), but the following offer some special pleasures:
The 118 acres of the Stamford Museum & Nature Center is a wonderland for young (and older) lovers of nature. There’s a museum with 4,000 square feet of exhibition space, an 18-acre working farm, an observatory, nature center, playground and interpretive trail system. Kids of all ages are taken into consideration here, and even winter bursts with events.
Roaring Brook Nature Center in Canton is a member of the Children’s Museum family. You’ll find live animals and mounts of local animals in the main building, a replica of an Eastern Woodland Indian longhouse, a beaver habitat and more. Get outside for five miles of trails and a refuge that’s home to more than 150 bird species.
Manchester’s highly-regarded Lutz Children’s Museum oversees the activities at the nearby Oak Grove Nature Center, a 52-acre preserve featuring a pond, covered bridge and walking trails. The museum’s programs onsite include bird searches, bug hunts and the doings many years ago of the local Podunk Tribe of Native Americans.
Kids wondering what they can do to have a positive impact on the future of Connecticut’s wildlife and other natural resources might well benefit (and greatly enjoy) a visit to Sessions Woods Wildlife Management Area in Burlington. Here, the state Department of Energy & Environmental Protection runs regular programs, demonstrations and workshops pertaining to wildlife and natural resource management – as well as miles of hiking trails.
Denison Pequotsepos Nature Center in Mystic is a 300-acre preserve that offers eight miles of trails for hiking, walking and excellent birding near the shoreline. The nature center also offers a museum and small meadow theater, live reptiles, amphibians and birds of prey.
There’s nothing like an animal to stir a kid’s interest, and if they’re big and maybe a little menacing, well that’s okay, too. Just off I-95, Connecticut offers three such experiences, not only for kids but for their parents as well. And not all of the creatures are beastly, some are downright friendly.
It’s not every day you can look a shark in the eye or spend time with a harbor seal – or observe river otters, rays, sea turtles and jellyfish. But you can do all that at the Maritime Aquarium at Norwalk. You can even get cute with meerkats, And don’t forget the aquarium’s IMAX movies!
A few miles up the turnpike is Connecticut’s Beardsley Zoo whose 300 animals include a Siberian tiger, Andean condor, spectacled bear, red wolf and golden lion tamarin. Out on the Hoofstock Trail, you’ll find bison, pronghorn and white-tailed deer. And in the South American Rainforest, exotic reptiles and alligators slink through the lush vegetation. Check in for admission deals, discounts on carousel rides and other special offers.
A little further up the coast, Mystic Aquarium and Institute for Exploration has long been a must-see for families visiting Connecticut. The one-acre beluga whale habitat is a huge draw, as are the enormously entertaining 25 African penguins and the endangered Stellar sea lions. In addition, there are shows at the marine theater, a 4-D theater (check the schedule) and “Titanic – 12,450 Feet Below,” which recreates the last hours on April 14, 1912, of the “unsinkable” ship through recovered artifacts and the inspiring personal stories of its passengers.
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