Saturday, August 1, 2009

Mystic Seaport-So Much for So Many

Before I went with my family to Mystic Seaport, I was convinced of a few things. First, I was sure that Mystic Seaport and the village of Mystic were one and the same. Second, I was skeptical that it would hold the interest of me and my family as we are not people who sail. Finally, I assumed that after one visit, we could check it off our list of places we have visited.I couldn’t have been more wrong. Mystic Seaport was one of the most wonderful places that we have gone and we will return many, many more times. Offering the best of so many worlds, the mother in me loved watching my children be completely entranced by all that there was to offer them, even though they are only 3 and 1 1/2. The teacher in me was beside myself with the way history absolutely comes alive. Finally, my husband and I enjoyed exploring a new place, taking a ride on a historic steamboat and walking through the grounds.For those of you (like me) who don’t know what Mystic Seaport is: It is many things. When visitors first walk in, you enter into a re-created 19th century seaport and village, full of craftspeople, historians and storytellers. To the left is a preservation shipyard that includes the world’s last (!) surviving whaling ship and has craftspeople preserving 19th century ships. Then, far to the right, are wonderful current exhibits, a Children’s Museum and playground, a Planetarium and a research center. And throughout, are boats that you can board, explore and even go on for a ride down the Mystic River.

In fact, Mystic Seaport is so enormous (19 acres) that I have decided to break down the post into three sections.

1. The Main Village. When you walk into Mystic Seaport, you are instantly transported into the past. The Seaport transported stores and homes, recreating the 19th century. You can walk into almost all the buildings (there are over 35!), such as a store, a cooperage, a shipsmith shop, a hoop shop and a school. At many of the sites, you can see staff people actually working. For example, we saw someone creating a tool, working on a printing press, carving a bed board, cooking, etc. My older son loved the chance to watch and ask questions. I was impressed at the knowledge of the staff people, and also how much they enjoyed what they are doing. During the day there are many chances to actually take part in 19th century life. We saw a storytelling session/play, games being played on the green and a sailor singing sea shanties (songs). For our children, their favorite parts of the main village were the chance to create their own boats. For $5.00 a person, children are given wood and (with the help of an adult) a glue gun, to create their own floating ship. Next time, we will take advantage of the chance to paint. My sons also loved getting on boats and going underneath. Mystic Seaport offers the chance to take a free water taxi from one end of the Seaport to another. However, I would suggest spending $5.00/person and taking a ride on the steamboat, Sabino. A coal-fired Steamboat from 1908, not only can you have a chance to ride on a historic boat, but you get a lovely and peaceful view of the Mystic Seaport, the River and the village of Mystic itself. For those that are less navigationally challenged than us, there are also rowboats, catboats and captained cruises.

2. The Shipyard
In terms of the shipyard, I had no idea I would be so completely captivated. I have taught about whaling to my students for almost 10 years. But there was nothing like standing next to and, then on, the Morgan. Built in 1841, it is the last surviving 19th century whaling ship-in the world! The Seaport will be restoring the ship over the next 3 years. Looking at it gives you a true sense of the scale of the boat and the initial craftsmanship that went into this vessel. As you walk through the rest of the shipyard, you can see men splitting lumber, painting vessels and helping to restore the fleet of historic vessels. Seeing all this up close helped me to appreciate our country’s reliance on shipping, as well as the craftmanship that has gone into boat building.

3. The Museum Exhibits.
I suspect that if we hadn’t torn them away, my children could have spent the entire day at the playground and the Children’s Museum. The playground consists of 3 miniature boats that children can board. Our sons couldn’t get enough of a chance to be captains, to “fish” and to pretend to sail away. However, they also loved the adjacent Children’s Museum that is well-lit, interactive and just perfect for young children. (There is also a Discovery Barn that has activities, such as learning to tie knots, for the older children.)

However, I am so glad that we brought our children to some of the newer exhibits. One of the current exhibits (open through October) tells the amazing story of Captain Comer who got stuck in the ice of Hudson Bay in 1903. My sons loved getting in the igloo, while I appreciated the chance to get accurate information about the Inuit in a compelling way. As a social studies teacher, I was also incredibly impressed with the exhibit on maps. Adults can look at historical maps and figureheads. Children can make their own map, survey the floor, try to trace a map and play other geography games. There is so much more that Mystic Seaport offers. You can pay $5 and children (and adults) can get watercolors or canvas and paint and draw throughout Mystic Seaport. Children can learn to sail and sleep over on the boats. There are special events throughout the year. There are also many gorgeous gardens, places to get a bite (more on that in another post), an excellent book shop and a gift shop. There is so much more such as the exhibit, “Voyages: Stories of America and the Sea.” However, with two little boys, I felt lucky that we were able to visit for over 6 hours. (FYI: We were given tickets to explore Mystic Seaport by the Mystic Seaport itself. However, we were truly smitten with this place!)

In fact, as your admission ticket is good for two days, I would suggest this. Splurge for the “Mystic Pass Card.” It is $52 for an adult, $42 for youth, 6 to 17 and $22 for kids 3 to 5. It allows you to go to both the Seaport and the Aquarium for two days. Spend one morning at the Seaport and the afternoon at the aquarium. Stay over. Eat good food. And do the reverse the next day. Both of these places are much more enjoyable if you don’t need to rush. Alternatively, go for a day and just plan to spend that day at the Seaport and return for the Aquarium another day. There is just that much to do.

Mystic Seaport, 75 Greemanville Ave, Mystic, CT 1-888-973-2767

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