Kids can splash water all over summer, scream through it on a roller coaster ride, drip ice cream on it, ambush it with a host of penguins - but summer never minds. That's because summer and kids have gone together since . . . well, just about forever. Come see what cool ideas Connecticut has for when the temperature starts to rise.
Nothing is Cooler
There are those who say Connecticut is home to the finest ice cream shops in America, and who are we to disagree? We’ll only add that summer is the perfect time to go find out if these reports are true. It’s also the time of year when farm-fresh flavors find their way into cones and cups. Here’s just a sampling.
If you enjoy your ice cream with a view of cows grazing in nearby fields, we’ve got a few good choices for you. At Rich Farm in Oxford, the flavors on the big board change all the time, but some are tied in directly to summery traditions. Their Strawberry Rhubarb, for example, is produced only when rhubarb is in season. Even more special is Full Moon Chocolate, served only on nights of the full moon. (Look for this double chocolate ice cream with fudge swirl this year on May 25, June 23, July 22 and August 20.) Meanwhile, in nearby Newtown, Ferris Acres Creamery operates out of Fairfield County’s last remaining dairy farm. Its lineup of flavors is excellent, as are its views of cows and tractors, but the peach ice cream, made with the freshest fruit of summer, is worth a special trip.
The University of Connecticut, now known officially as UConn, began its life as an agricultural school, and it still retains an aggie degree program and a working farm. And a good portion of the cream produced by the cows there gets shipped across Horsebarn Hill and directly into the ice cream making machinery at the UConn Dairy Bar. There are many great flavors here – and the student servers know how to fill a cone – but the most distinctive is Jonathon Supreme, named for the university’s Husky mascot. It’s vanilla ice cream swirled with peanut butter and chocolate covered peanuts.
Toasted Almond. Sometimes just those two words are enough to send some of us out on a quest. In Connecticut, the search ends at Big Dipper Ice Cream Factory in Prospect, where Harry Rowe’s toasted almond is always on the menu and never fails to bring a smile.
Drive along a quiet country road past red barns and open fields, turn into a dirt driveway, and find your reward at The Collins Creamery in Enfield - “on the quiet side of town,” as they put it. The ice cream menu speaks right out loud, however, with Black Raspberry, Coconut Chocolate Chip and Rum Raisin leading the way.
There are old school ice cream shops, and then there are old school ice cream shops run by a school. Such is the case with Michael’s Dairy in New London, managed by students from Mitchell College. Everyone loves the milkshakes here, but we’d advise a side trip to a strawberry cheesecake cone.
And let’s not forget Route 10’s very nice daily double in Hamden and Cheshire. Wentworth Homemade Ice Cream in Hamden has been honored as Best of Connecticut a number of times by Connecticut Magazine readers. Meanwhile, just up the street, Sweet Claude’s in Cheshire is open for its 23rd year with a menu of steady faves (Claude’s Cupcake, Caramel Cashew) and occasional specials such as Girl Scout Cookie. Can’t decide which to go to? There’s no law against trying them both.
There’s something new all the time at Connecticut’s amusement and adventure parks. Here’s this summer’s lineup for serious fun.
If you and your family are lovers of outdoor adventure sports, you really ought to check out Brownstone Exploration & Discovery Park in Portland. Located in a historic old brownstone quarry by the Connecticut River, this park offers rock climbing, cliff jumping, wakeboarding, kayaking, scuba diving and more. This summer brings the addition of new zip lines, so there’ll be shorter waits for that ultimate crash-into-the-water thrill.
More zip lines await up in the trees at The Adventure Park at the Discovery Museum in Bridgeport. Billed as “Connecticut’s first aerial adventure park,” the layout comprises a network of platforms, walkways and zip lines ranging in difficulty from beginner to expert. In all, there are 11 “trails” through the trees, ensuring a different adventure each time out.
Lake Compounce in Bristol may be most widely known for its three roller coasters (the Boulder Dash having been named the No. 1 wooden coaster in the world), but the ever-expanding water park at Crocodile Cove is now officially giving the coasters a run for their money. New this summer is the Bayou Bay wave pool, where hundreds of thousands of gallons of water rise and fall, and the surf’s always up.
Meanwhile, at Quassy Amusement Park in Middlebury there’s a water theme, too, from Saturation Station (a kind of watery jungle gym) all the way out to the pedal boats that ply the lake waters. On land, there’s the Wooden Warrior roller coaster and, new this year, the Laser Maze Challenge, where participants zigzag through a web of laser beams in a race against time.
And then there’s the salt water at Ocean Beach Park in New London, with its sandy beach and impressive menu of things to do. The 50-acre park offers an Olympic-sized freshwater pool, miniature golf, a carousel, rides and a full schedule of summer events. There’s even a new nature walk and observation deck for viewing shore birds in their natural habitat.
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, beginning Memorial Day Weekend, go see “Lorikeets,” a new aviary featuring a collection of parrots that, they say, “will fly down and eat right out of your hand.” And don’t forget the aquarium’s IMAX movies; June 21 brings the debut of Tornado Alley. Hold onto your hat!
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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