By Brian Jewell
With a centuries-old New England heritage and a number of nationally known attractions, Connecticut’s tourism leaders could be tempted to rest on their laurels. But there’s no time for rest in this state, where 2012 brings a host of new and newly imagined travel opportunities for groups.
Connecticut has plenty of history, including numerous Colonial figures and an Ivy League pedigree. History is only part of the appeal, though. Today’s visitors will find a number of new developments that highlight the riches of the Connecticut coast, as well as some whimsical places to stop and enjoy inland.
Visitors can learn about the lives of the area’s early Native American inhabitants at the Mashantucket Pequot Museum, where a new permanent exhibit re-creates a 20th-century Pequot home. The Yale University Art Gallery will have plenty of new things to show off as well when it completes a $135 million expansion and restoration project in December.
On the coast, Norwalk’s Maritime Aquarium is emerging from a large renovation project. At Mystic Aquarium, groups can explore a new exhibit that details the experiences of the team that discovered the sunken Titanic. And in the small town of Orange, the new Pez Visitors Center takes guests inside a classic American candy brand..
Discovering the Titanic
Mystic Aquarium is known for its diverse collection of sea creatures, but a new exhibit that opened this spring highlights another resident of the deep Atlantic Ocean: the Titanic.
Unlike many Titanic museums and attractions, which focus on the building, sailing and disastrous sinking of the Titanic, this exhibit will explore the famed shipwreck through the perspective of the team that rediscovered its remains on the ocean floor.
Titled “Titanic — 12,450 Feet Below,” this multimillion-dollar exhibition was planned in conjunction with Sea Research Institute for Exploration president Robert Ballard, who first located the legendary shipwreck in 1985.
Aquarium visitors will see replicas of the submersible vehicles that Ballard’s crew used to find the remains of Titanic, as well as depictions of what portions of the ship look like in their current state at the bottom of the sea. The exhibit includes numerous documents, photos and rare videos taken by Ballard’s crew.
‘Extreme Makeover’: Aquarium edition
On the western end of the Connecticut coast, the Maritime Aquarium at Norwalk focuses on educating visitors about the marine life found in Long Island Sound, in addition to other fascinating sea creatures. This year, the aquarium welcomes the public to rediscover its remade facilities, which recently underwent a $4.5 million renovation.
In addition to enhancing the aquarium’s physical plant, the renovation brought multiple new dimensions to the visitor experience. Organizers added 21 new exhibits and interpretive elements to the aquarium, introducing more than 300 animals from among 27 species.
The highlight of the new exhibits is the Shark Touch Experience. This 6,000-gallon touch pool includes rays and live baby sharks. Visitors can see the young sharks before and after they’re born, and touch their skin as they swim by.
The exhibit also includes opportunities to touch shark teeth and to pose for a photo in a shark dive cage.
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