It’s been a long time since I traveled to a place that had nothing to do with Disney. So when my husband and I decided to take a quick weekend trip up to Mystic, Connecticut I had a hunch I was going to make some comparisons between Walt Disney World and our main destination, the Mystic Aquarium. I know, I know. A theme park vs. an aquarium isn’t the fairest matchup but at the core both are meant to do the same: provide a little bit of an escape from the real world and a pleasant mix of education and entertainment.
And thanks to the inspiration provided by Melissa over at Mouse on the Mind on her recent trip to Six Flags, I’m glad I’m not entirely alone in my nitpicking nature.
Truth is, despite minor discrepancies, Walt Disney World spoils us with its attention to detail and customer service.
But in our Mystic Aquarium experience, I found even the most logical bits of information missing, which was undoubtedly perplexing. (And zero Muppets.)
Example one: We never were able to find out the time of the Sea Lion show because the times were not listed in the center court of the aquarium nor on the map we were given at the door. (Somehow a mother was privy to that information because she was freaking out about making it on time.)
Example two: James and I were both interested in catching a screening of the Nautilus Live Theater, which focused on the explorations of Dr. Robert Ballard. Due to limited seating we were permitted to get a ticket and had to walk back to the center court, only to be told to follow an aquarium employee who had just taken the tickets from the box office. We speed walked to catch up with him, only to be the first people in the theater and hand him back the tickets he had just give us.
Now let’s talk about theming. There really wasn’t any. And while this didn’t do anything to make my visit to the aquarium less pleasant, it was surely something I couldn’t help but point out.
Can you see the car dealership?
The most random of all was this empty soda cooler in the penguin viewing center. Perhaps the penguins hang out in here after hours. (Not to mention, there was a sign for a gift shop down here and there was none to be found.)
This sight could have used a “pardon our pixie dust” sign.
One of the more laughable moments was actual Nautilus Live Theater presentation. My husband and I are certainly aware that much of what Disney presents is meant to be a kind of advertisement for something — a movie, music, a company, you name it. Well, Mystic hasn’t exactly mastered the art of making an advertisement more than an advertisement. Sure, it was off-season and we wouldn’t be taking part in any live deep-sea exploration but I think they could have concocted something more clever than a plug for the website and what we might see when we return next time. It felt like a big joke, and I was glad that the family with two young children opted out before it started.
While I know every establishment won’t reach the caliber of service we receive at Walt Disney World, I wished that the employees pretended to enjoy their job a little bit more and didn’t stare at us with Bambi eyes when we asked them the simplest of questions. It was a bit off-putting. Sure, they were high school kids and probably thought their job was totally lame but I can count ONE employee who actually seemed liked they were having a good time. (She worked with the stingrays.)
A surprising moment came during an after-hours wine tasting and tapas event we bought tickets to. We were basically lead into one of the main buildings to wander for 3 hours. There would be 4 different kinds of wine paired with 4 different kinds of food. Sounds awesome, right? Well, mostly it was. Minus the crowds of kids, the husband and I were able to enjoy all the exhibits we hadn’t seen before. And spend lots of time mesmerized by the sea turtles and sharks.
The downside? (Or maybe not.) With no direction, we decided to just pour our own wine into 2 of the many glasses waiting around. We found out later that we weren’t supposed to do that and a wine connoisseur was supposed to explain the wines one at a time so they were enjoyed with the correct food. Oops. It would have been helpful if someone at the aquarium had made that announcement at first but absolutely no one took the reigns and we figured out the process of the event by stalking. Don’t get me wrong — I’m glad that we went. It was really fun and intimate but all I kept thinking was that Disney would never let something get that confusing and misguided.
Despite its lack of themed restaurants and costumed characters, Mystic Aquarium is the perfect “half-day” park (if you can deal with all the kids crammed in the exhibits on the weekends). If it’s a nice day, it’s a great way to enjoy the sunshine and watch the penguins swim and play. There’s a stingray touch pool and some adorable Beluga whales. (A bonus? You can pay admission once and get in all day and the next day as well.)
One idea I think Disney should implement?