Merle Exit Has A Whale Of A Time In Mystic, Connecticut

    I have to admit that there may never be another close encounter with a wild animal as one that I had holding a three-month-old lion cub on my trip to South Africa. Swimming with dolphins would be great if only I could swim. So I settled for a close encounter with a beluga whale at the Mystic Aquarium & Institute for Exploration in Mystic, Connecticut.
    The beluga meeting was scheduled for 1 p.m. Having arrived during the morning hours there was time to explore much of the aquarium’s facilities beginning with a peek at the Arctic Coast exhibit featuring the three adult beluga whales. Kela, aka Kellukak, underwent the first-ever beluga whale artificial insemination in 2005. Inuk, completely white and the largest animal in this exhibit, weighs 2,300 lbs. It is Naku, born in 1981, 11 feet long and weighing 1,350 who is often found in the holding pool, where my encounter will take place. There is no “show” regarding the belugas, but scheduled times of feedings and trainings to view. 

    With 18 acres to explore I looked to explore my options. The Marine Theater is the site of the aquarium’s daily shows that feature three sea lions: Coco, Surfer and Boomerang, the juvenile sea lion. Pribilof Islands is home to Stellar sea lions, a harbor seal and Northern fur seal. Rory Tory Peterson Penguin exhibit took me back to my South African journey with more than 20 African penguins. Given a different day I would have set it up to visit with a penguin while learning about the animal’s physiology and behaviors, another encounter program offered.  

    The heat was beginning to take a toll on me even though I was equipped with a Gustbuster umbrella especially designed for the sun and doubling as a walking stick and seat to boot. I found two indoor venues to check out, one of which I turned down due not to an added cost, but “back talk”. Part one, Challenge of the Deep wasn’t my reluctance. It “engages guests in the technology used by deep ocean explorers to find ancient shipwrecks and features photos, video and artifacts from several of Dr. Robert Ballard’s expeditions”, which leads me to part two, Deep Sea 3D, an XD theater ride…where the seat moves and jerks.  

    Onto the main exhibit floor, a 12,500 square foot area housing all of the Aquarium’s fish and invertebrate that had the following: 30,000 gallon Coral Reef allowing both an above and below water viewing; Stingray Bay and Shark Lagoon; Mermaid’s Purse, where you can watch shark, skate and ray embryos develop and hatch; a discovery lab and more. I loved watching this particular turtle swimming along so much that I video taped it for my youtube site.
    With time not on my side to do it all, I missed the Birds of the Outback, a seasonal close up to gorgeous cockatiels, parakeets and rosellas native to Australia in an aviary setting. With the $2 extra fee for this you get a millet seed stick for feeding the birds right out of your hand. Me? I would have gone directly with my finger to their cute little feet.  

    So, now it’s time for my whale of a time. I had to put on this suit that was sort of like a jump suit. It was kind of rubbery and warm so as not to allow the water’s cold temperature to get in the way. The boot part of it was weird. It felt as if there was cement in the bottom as it made it difficult for me to walk on land. You had to see me lagging behind the other five younger folks as we approached the holding pool. We had to walk down some steps and in water up to our waist. Getting into the water, the boots felt like they were sucking up against my legs and especially my ankles.  

    Our expert leader and trainer had already given us instructions about where not to touch the whale: the blowhole, ears or eyes. We went through various training techniques and learned much about both the physiology and mental makeup of Naku. So what did I get to do? I slapped Naku’s tongue…something she loves. I massaged her back. I did a high five. I pet her head. I posed with her. 

    So, here’s an idea that you can do in between where the admission price gives you the opportunity to return another day, within 7 days. It’s the Mystic Seaport, the Museum of America and the Sea, an entire village of seaport history. The list is too long, so here are my recommendations of musts regarding exhibits: Frozen In, Captain Comer and the Hudson Bay Inuit; Mystic River Scale Model; Voyages, stories of America and the sea; Benjamin F. Packard Cabin; and Joseph Conrad, tall ship. 

    There are several buildings that are typical of these kinds of villages that include a nautical instrument shop, general store, bank, drug store, chapel, print shop and one special Shipsmith shop. Children will flock to the children’s museum, toy boat building…you build a toy boat…and performance stage. Opportunities on the water are extra as you can captain your own boat or take a sail on others. One freebie is a shuttle boat that goes from one end to the other.  

    It’s almost a waste to go to the Mystic, CT area for just a day as there is so much to see in the area that this trip lasted for three days…or as accommodations states it, “Four days and three nights”. Having already taken in the Mystic Aquarium and Mystic Seaport sleeping destinations were important. 

    I’m off to the Inn at Mystic, a resort on 15 landscaped acres that overlook Mystic Harbor and Fishers Island Sound. There are basically three buildings for accommodations: The Inn, which is the main building; The Motor Inn and East Wing; and the Gate House, located near the 1905 Colonial Revival mansion. As this inn is quite demanded, I was lucky enough to get a room in the Motor Inn, a large room with two queen beds (I was traveling with my long time college buddy, Nancy) and a bathroom that had an inner room with the toilet and shower. There was a full mirror on the inside door and every time I was using the vanity mirror I kept thinking that Nancy was standing behind me and was about to ask “what’s up?” She experienced the same thing, too. 

    We took a tour of the acreage to view the Manor, an uphill climb that would have felt much better if the temperature were not around 90 degrees. The scenery was gorgeous, with gardens and water falls. It is this site that is used for weddings (and “corporate events”).  

    I was more interested in who provided the food. There is a restaurant on the premises called Flood Tide with Executive Chef Bob Tripp at the helm. I had heard that the restaurant was highly recommended but didn’t realize how delicious the fare would fare. Thank goodness I had someone with me to do a dinner tasting. We began with the Flood Tide’s signature Lobster Madeira Crepe, chunks of cold water lobster and sautéed mushrooms in a crepe covered with a shallot Madeira cream sauce. Think of it as a lobster roll that is ten times beyond its taste and not “chewy”.  

    I haven’t had a Classic Caesar Salad prepared tableside in years. Chop that anchovies (four for two people) and fresh garlic in the wooden bowl. Add a pasteurized egg yolk, drizzle in the olive oil while whipping it up, squeeze a lemon in it and mix. Now sprinkle on the parmesan cheese, throw in the romaine lettuce and croutons and toss. Now, that’s a great tasting salad! 
    Next came the Maryland Crab Cake with Zerako aioli sauce with a side of corn, zucchini and red bell pepper relish followed by the absolutely most scrumptious Lobster Bisque that I have ever indulged in! Bob said that he roasts the lobsters before broiling and uses the roasted lobster shells for the base. I urged him to enter a lobster bisque contest. Thyme was on my side with his New England Clam Chowder. That hint of thyme simply added to a chowder filled with succulent clams and just enough potatoes to give the “chowder” title to it. Let’s continue with the Duck Breast pan seared with star anise, pomegranate glaze (slowly simmered pomegranate juice, star anise, fresh pepper and thyme) and this outrageous Scallops (local) Casserole. In fact, much of the menu relies on local foods from farms and sea sources. Tableside again for a Bananas Foster. Need I say more?

    For a site that was completely different we were off to Norwich to The Spa at Norwich Inn, a 42-acre intimate retreat with a Georgian style inn. There are 100 guest rooms here that include the rooms at the Inn and villas. We immediately took a tour of the spa facilities: Full service Spa and Fitness Center; Indoor and Outdoor pools; Whirlpool, Steam and Sauna; Meditation & Relaxation Room (aka the “quiet room”); Wellness classes featuring Meditation and Yoga; Spa boutique; juice bar. A one-night stay included the following: Guest room; breakfast and dinner at the Kensington; full use of the spa facilities; afternoon tea and scones; afternoon wine tasting; various activities; weekend live entertainment; weekend transportation to/from Foxwood’s Resort Casino (Foxwood’s owns the property).  

    I had a wonderfully relaxing facial by esthetician Rhonda Paltauf that was enhanced with a scalp, neck and shoulder massage as well a “hand/wrist skin softening”. Nancy indulged in a Swedish Massage and took advantage of the other spa facilities, especially the pool. Our room had this huge tub and was difficult for me to get into to take a shower. Nancy didn’t even bother to try as she took her showers at the spa, complete with everything you need for both your body and hair.
    Dress here was casual with most folks walking about in their robe and slippers to do just about everything except dinner at the Kensington. Executive Chef Daniel Chong-Jimenez has a diverse bill of fare that is healthy but not without lack of being savory. They do have a more casual restaurant, Ascot’s Pub. Both menus include the calorie count and all that info for each of the items.  

    With same-sex marriages being legal in Connecticut couples have flocked as far as California and as near as over the border of New York. A beluga whale can be your witness as none are actually required. Depending upon the location of the town hall that you obtain your license, it can take as long as 24 hours or as little as 15 minutes. It’s one mystique that beholds Connecticut.

    By Merle Exit

    Getting There:

    Admission includes both the Mystic Seaport and Mystic Aquarium, and to check current prices and discounts available visit their website.

    With so many restaurants in Mystic, it’s no wonder that Flood Tide is so popular!   

    If you want to visit The Spa at Norwich and take advantage of the facilities without staying for the night, it will cost you $20 plus applicable taxes, as long as you book either a class or spa treatment.  

    To explore, attractions, events, and plan your visit to Connecticut visit the Connecticut Tourism site online at or call 1-888-CTvisit.