Once summer fades and fall arrives, family travel feels different, too, with a new sort of excitement. In Connecticut, it means the pick-your-own season moves on to apples and pumpkins, hayrides become haunted and prices, in many places, go down. In many ways, Connecticut is at its best in fall. Come find out for yourselves - and be sure to bring the kids!
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 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. Similary, Connecticut Sportsplex, located in North Branford, is one of New England’s largest indoor/outdoor sports complex, with amusements and activities. They include laser tag, batting cages, children’s playscape, and arcade. Another feature is Cyber Sport, which is a combination of lacrosse, basketball and hockey played with two teams driving custom cars. Sundays are family fun night with dinner, unlimited laser tag, playscape access and 60 arcade tokens.
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). Movies planned for early winter include “The Polar Express,” “Great White Shark” and “Tornado Alley
Nomad’s Adventure Quest in South Windsor is the mecca for family fun. Set appropriately against a backdrop depicting the mythical lost civilization of the ancient Mayans, the 60,000-square-foot space has adventure around every corner. Choose from laser tag, black light mini-golf, a rock-climbing wall, or mini-bowling. Try riding the Mechanical Bull or driving a few laps in the bumper cars. Compete against others in the interactive Sportwall Drone, shoot some hoops in the 12,000-square-foot basketball arena or try your hand at an array of arcade games. For young explorers, the center offers a three-level soft play area.
Indoor rock climbing at Mountain Fun in Wallingford, is perfect (and perfectly safe) for little kids who would like to experience rock climbing for the first time. Climbing vertical wall indoors requires a unique combination of mental and physical challenges. The adjacent Prime Climb, Inc. offers almost 20,000 square feet of climbing walls, including 40-foot verticals, to challenge the mind as well as the body of older kids and adults.
Winter time calls for many belly filling breakfasts, like hot pancakes and syrup. Wouldn’t it be nice to know just where that syrup comes from? Visit the Sugarhouses in Connecticut to find out! The traditional maple sugaring season starts in February and runs through late March, depending greatly on the weather. Maple producers welcome individuals and parents with children during the sugaring season. See how sap is gathered and boiled, and smell the hot steam rising off the evaporator.
Let It Snow!
Whether you crave the adrenaline rush you get whizzing down a ski slope, or you simply want to try a new winter sport with loved ones, look no further than Connecticut, where ski areas roll out the white carpet for kids and adults of all skill levels with learn-to-ski programs and package deals.
There’s great news on the Connecticut slopes this winter: You can find action again on Powder Ridge in Middlefield at the completely refurbished and re-imagined Powder Ridge Mountain Park & Resort. Beginning in time for the holidays, the mountain will open for skiing (22 trails, from bunny runs to an expert trail called Viper), snowboarding (Pipe, the state's only half-pipe, will test your boarding skills) and Tube Town (for those who prefer inflatables). As the winter progresses, brand new amenities will join the scene at Powder Ridge, including Fire at the Ridge Restaurant, Ridgeside Tavern and The Market Place, a central hub with retail shops and a cafeteria. The resort will even offer "day rooms" that will be set up as living rooms with sofa beds and can be rented for a half-day, full day or overnight. Stay tuned to the website for opening dates - and up-to-the-minute conditions on the slopes.
What is a more fitting place to participate in winter sports than Mohawk Mountain, where snowmaking was invented by founder Walter Schoenknecht? Features 24 trails for skiing and snowboarding, as well as a “wonder carpet” for beginners. Beginner and advanced ski and snowboard package deals include a lift ticket, group lesson and rental for the day. The Learning Center offers ski and snowboard lessons for any age and ability. The children’s program Snowhawks is for kids ages 5 through 13; for 12 and older, the group lessons is an excellent option. For the very young, the popular class Parent-Tot, an accomplish parent skier along with the child. Nearby Breadloaf Mountain Lodge & Cottages in Cornwall Bridge, featured in National Geographic as one of the “150 Hotels You’ll Love,” offers unique accommodations, as well as ski packages the whole family will enjoy.
In Southington, Mount Southington offers an array of programs and 14 trails of varying difficulty to fit all families’ needs, including special weekend lessons for kids ages 4 to 10. For parents with pint-sized skiers, Ski Threes is a unique, multi-person private lesson for a parent and his or her 3-year-old. The one-hour weekend session teaches parents how to introduce their child to skiing with the help of learning tools. After a long day on the slopes, the nearby Holiday Inn Express is one of Connecticut’s certified “green” lodging property. Offering a free buffet breakfast in the morning.
Skiers and snowboarders alike can benefit from the after-school and weekend programs at Ski Sundown in New Hartford. Little Puffins (ages 4 to 6) can experience the thrill of skiing through fun exercises and games during this weekly program, while kids ages 5 to 17 will enjoy the Weekend Alpine & Snowboard Adventures, a five-week program that consists of 2.5-hour lessons. Club Sundown, open to skilled skiers ages 8 to 17, includes six weekly after-school lessons and a lift pass. Extend your skiing adventure and stay at one of the many local hotels or bed and breakfasts in the surrounding Farmington, Avon, Simsbury and Winsted areas. The Centennial Inn Hotel & Apartments in Farmington even allows pets, so no one in the family needs to be left behind!
This winter, step away from the television! Children’s theaters, arenas, IMAX theaters and planetariums throughout Connecticut offer an exciting alternative on blustery days.
Bridgeport’s Downtown Cabaret Theatre features the Downtown Cabaret Children’s Company, Connecticut’s only resident, award-winning theater company providing original musicals for children and their families. This season, catch Annie, Jr., running thru Dec. 29 and then The Littlest Mermaid thru mid-March.
For a variety of family programming, look no further than the Ridgefield Playhouse. From The Nutcracker, The Adventures of TomSawyer, and Pinocchio to the Golden Dragon Acrobats, the performances this winter guarantee families a fun-filled arts experience.
At the Webster Bank Arena in Bridgeport, families can cheer on the Sound Tigers hockey team or attend special ice and sports shows throughout the season. On January 2 to 5, Disney on Ice celebrates Princesses and Heroes, featuring the stars of The little Mermaid, Beauty & The Beast, Sleeping Beauty and more in this skating spectacular filled with magical moments.
For a truly out-of-this-world experience, visit The Children’s Museum in West Hartford. The Gengras Planetarium’s Travelers Science Dome is a full-dome digital planetarium projection, meaning the 40-foot domed ceiling can become a real-time space/sky simulator. Audiences can fly through a virtual 3-D universe in seconds and learn about the arts and sciences during exciting multi-media productions. Some examples include Space Shapes, Dancing With the Dinosaurs, Lars the Little Polar Bear, Extreme Planets and Oasis in Space: A Solar System Adventure.
At the Discovery Museum in Bridgeport, watch engaging movies on our universe in the Cinemuse High-Def Theater. The Henry B. duPont III Planetarium’s children’s productions such as The Little Star That Could and Dawn of the Space Age introduce budding astronomers to the planetarium and space.
With more and more culinary shows going prime time and personalities like Rachael Ray combining cooking with celebrities, kids’ interest in the kitchen is quickly growing. If you suspect your child is the next Wolfgang Puck (or would like to be!), look no further than Connecticut. Cooking schools throughout the state introduce children and teenagers to the kitchen through a variety of hands-on classes.
At the Sur La Table store in Canton, children ages 8 to 18 can learn to prepare a variety of cuisine during unique morning and afternoon classes. The Kids 2-Day Camp: Food Passport Around the World is unique – and there’s one for teens, too.
Discover the secrets to creating fine Italian cuisine at Cucina Casalinga in Wilton. Owner, cookbook author and television cooking expert Sally Maraventano’s afternoon and evening classes, ranging from innovative pastas and regional dishes to party planning menus. After working up an appetite, indulge in the lunch or dinner included in the class fee. Classes for kids ages 10 to 16 is a great way to introduce them to the tasty world of fine cooking and includes lunch.
The Silo Cooking School at Hunt Hill Farm in New Milford, which has welcomed world-class instructors including Rachel Ray, features classes for children of all ages. In December, children can enjoy classes devoted to making a magnificent gingerbread house. When cooking class is dismissed, parents and kids alike will enjoy exploring the Silo Store, as well as the Skitch Henderson Museum, The Silo Gallery and The Hunt Hill Farm Land Preserve.
Children’s Museums for Little Tykes
Shhh…don’t tell the kids, but not only are the children’s museums in Connecticut tons of fun, they are also educational. When the weather outside is a little too frightful for outdoor activities, head to one of the many museums across the state for plenty of indoor excitement.
The Lutz Children’s Museum in Manchester brings a wide variety of fun for children and with frequently changing exhibits, there is often a new experience with each visit. Exhibits include “Marlow’s Main Street,” which places children on Main Street in 1943. The Farm Exhibit, highlights Connecticut’s rich farming history; there is the Children’s Art Gallery, featuring children’s artwork and occasional works by professional artists; and the Collections Gallery in the entry hallway which hold displays from the museum’s extensive collection of artifacts. Finally, thanks to the museum’s Adopt-An-Animal Program, which brings trained and licensed staff to care for injured wildlife, kids will enjoy observing animals, including “Bounce” the chinchilla and about fifty of his closest friends.
Named “One of the Top 50 Children’s Museums” by Child Magazine, Stepping Stones Museum for Children in Norwalk features four main galleries, a toddlers-only gallery and more than 100 interactive activities for kids ages 10 and under, as well as brand-new hands-on exhibits, art studio, science lab, and a technologically-unique multimedia gallery. Highlights include the “Healthyville” exhibit, which teaches children about their bodies, nutrition, fitness, hygiene and safety; the “Energy Lab,” where kids actively discover that energy is all around us and important to every day life; and “Color Coaster,” is a non-stop giant mechanical toy that uses energy, motion, gravity, color, and light as it spins, whirls, fascinates and delights children.
In Niantic, the Children’s Museum of Southeastern Connecticut engages and educates children on arts, sciences, safety and health and culture and history. Museum adventures include piloting a fishing boat, visiting the Seaside Village, and creating new structures in the construction exhibit. During your visit, try one of the five scavenger hunts. Pick out a puzzle, solve the clues, and have lots of fun.
Imagine Nation Museum located in Bristol offers hours of entertainment for children. One area “Rubber Band Wall” is where children can make designs, shapes, spell out words using only brightly colored rubber bands on the Stretch-It Wall. At the “Magnet-Go-Round” you can build your own invention on the magnetic wall and see if you can get balls to roll all the way through. Your child can even have themselves broadcast at the “ESPN Sports Center”. You will find many more exhibits and fun here at the Imagine Nation Museum.
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