LEGOS AND LIGHTHOUSES BRIGHTEN THE SEASON IN CONNECTICUT

There’s no merrier place to be this season than Fairfield County in Western Connecticut where two of the most original exhibits in New England brighten the season at local museums.

A lavish moving landscape made of a billion LEGO® bricks delights visitors to the Stamford Museum and Nature Center while the 13th annual Festival of Lighthouses contest at the Maritime Aquarium in Norwalk shows off dozens of fabulous new miniature creations.

WIDE WORLD OF LEGOS®

Trains and planes. Cars, tractors and trucks. Ships, shuttles and monorails. Helicopters and spaceships

Just about anything that moves on land, sea, air and space will be seen as colorful LEGO® sculptures, moving through a three-dimensional imaginary landscape at the Billion Bricks 2 exhibit at the Stamford Museum & Nature Center. Everything in the amazing exhibit is made of LEGO blocks.
Master builder Bill Probert & I LUG (LEGO® Users Group) NY return to the Museum Galleries for a sixth season of their popular displays, promising a LEGO world that is even bigger and better this year. The exhibit runs from November 22 to January 25.

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Starting in January, families are invited to make their own LEGO® creations in weekend workshops. Participants on Saturday, January 3 will build and race a LEGO® car while the group on Sunday January 4 will build and fly a Lego helicopter or space ship.

Lights! Camera! Action! Animation Workshops on Saturday and Sunday January 17 and 18 for ages 10 and up will be led by Alex Kobbs, of KooberzStudios. Kobbs will teach techniques for film stop action animation using LEGO® creations and mini figures.

Workshops are limited in size and advance reservations are required. Phone 203-977-6521 to register and see www.stamfordmuseum.org for more information.

LIGHTHOUSES LIGHT UP THE SEASON

Some are funny. Some are clever. Some are beautiful.

For the 13th year, artists and would-be-artists will compete for the most original entry in the Festival of Lighthouses at the Maritime Aquarium at Norwalk from November 22 through January. 19.

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The rules are simple. Entries must be three to six feet tall and have a working light. They may not include animal remains such as shells. Beyond that, it’s up to the creators’ imaginations and the results are guaranteed to amaze. Past entries have been made of stained glass, stone, yarn, clay, candy and tiny coffee cups. One entry was made of holiday greeting cards, another included computer animation. One memorable entry featured all the makings of the 12 days of Christmas.

This year’s exhibit will showcase 24 lighthouses and there is no telling what the creative results will be. Aquarium visitors will follow these one-of-a-kind beacons through the galleries and then cast a vote for their favorite. The winner takes home the $1,500 first prize. Runner-ups divide the rest of the $3300 in prize money. To learn more, see www.maritimeaquarium.org.

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For more information about holiday events and a free copy of Unwind, a full-color, 152-page booklet detailing what to do and see, and where to stay, shop and dine in Fairfield County as well as in the Litchfield Hills, contact the Western Connecticut Visitors Bureau, PO Box 968, Litchfield, CT 06759, (860) 567-4506, or visit their web site at www.visitwesternct.com.

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Lorikeets will be eating out of your hand!

There is still time to visit the Lorikeets and step into a lush aviary to share a laugh and a squawk with beautiful tropical birds that will sip food right out of your hands. The “Lorikeets” returns is the special summer exhibit at The Maritime Aquarium at Norwalk through September 1.

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The exhibit will feature more than 50 free-flying lorikeets, which are colorful medium-sized parrots native to the south Pacific (SE Asia, eastern Australia, Polynesia). The birds come in a dazzling rainbow of colors – with feathers that almost radiate an iridescent glow when seen in full sunlight. Lorikeets are naturally found in rainforests and woodlands, but also in wooded urban areas, where they primarily feed on the nectars of various blossoms and fruits.

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Visitors are invited to purchase a cup of nectar for $3 that will attract lorikeets to land on you while drinking creating an unforgettable experience and photo opportunity.

Lorikeets are specially adapted to their sweet nectar diet through their specialized tongue. Tiny hair-like appendages called papillae form a U shape on the end of the tongue. When the tongue is extended, these papillae stand up like bristles on a brush, expanding the tongue’s surface area and allowing the birds to easily soak up nectar. Unique to lorikeets, these papillae have earned the birds the nickname “brush-tongued parrots.”

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Some other important items to note about “Lorikeets”: • It will be handicapped-accessible but no strollers, please. • Guests will be asked to sanitize their hands before entering. • To encourage the birds to rest, the exhibit will close for a half-hour at 1:30 p.m. daily. • The exhibit will close 30 minutes before the rest of the Aquarium: at 5:30 p.m. in July and August.

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Get more details about “Lorikeets” and other summer offerings at The Maritime Aquarium, including the new IMAX movie “Journey to the South Pacific” by calling (203) 852-0700 or logging onto www.maritimeaquarium.org.

Jiggle a Jelly at the Maritime Aquarium Norwalk

Apparently it’s a lot of fun to touch jellyfish when you know you won’t be stung. “Jiggle A Jelly” has become a permanent offering at The Maritime Aquarium at Norwalk. The display, will now will be open on weekends, holidays and school-vacation days through June 30, and then daily in July and August. It’s free with Aquarium admission.

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Visitors will be able to experience the unusual sensation of touching jellies making Jiggle A Jelly’ one of the Aquarium regular hands-on features, along with their Intertidal Touch Tank and our Shark & Ray Touch Pool.

Visitors can safely touch live moon jellyfish, one of the most common species in Long Island Sound. Maritime Aquarium volunteers staff the exhibit, encouraging visitors to use two fingers to gently touch the top of the jellyfishes’ gelatinous body or “bell.”

Moon jellies (Aurelia aurita) do have tentacles but their stings are generally benign to people. A common species in Long Island Sound, they grow to dinner-plate size during the warmth of summer. Short tentacles rim their bell, and four “oral arms” extend underneath. Moon jellies are colorless and translucent, except for four central horseshoe-shaped reproductive organs.

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Letting visitors get close to jellyfish is nothing new for The Maritime Aquarium. A mesmerizing gallery featuring moon jellies, sea nettles, lion’s mane and other live species of jellyfish is now in its 19th year at the Aquarium and remains among the most popular and memorable exhibits.

Plus, displays of jellies in their various life stages in the Jellyfish Culture Lab let visitors see how the Aquarium keeps a year-round supply of the seasonal creatures on exhibit. But “Jiggle A Jelly” is the first time visitors have been able to touch them.

Learn more about the Aquarium’s exhibits, IMAX® movies and programs at www.maritimeaquarium.org or by calling (203) 852-0700. For information about Fairfield County www.visitfairfieldcountyct.com

Holiday Treats at the Maritime Aquarium at Norwalk

Santa Claus will be popping up at The Maritime Aquarium at Norwalk, including a few scuba dives in with the sharks, as part of the Connecticut attraction’s schedule of bonus holiday offerings in December.

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Back by popular demand, “The Polar Express” steams back onto The Maritime Aquarium’s giant IMAX screen for a limited holiday engagement. Based on the 1986 Caldecott Award-winning book by Chris Van Allsburg, “The Polar Express” follows a young boy who doubts the existence of Santa Claus but gets taken on a magical Christmas Eve trip to the North Pole.

Digitally re-mastered into the immersive IMAX format, the animated film has Tom Hanks lending his voice and likeness to several main roles, including the train conductor, a mysterious hobo and Santa Claus.
“The Polar Express” will play through Dec. 22 at 4 & 7:30 p.m. Fridays & Saturdays and at 4 p.m. Sundays. From Dec. 26-Jan. 1, “The Polar Express” will play at 4 & 7:30 p.m. daily (except just at 4 p.m. on Dec. 31). Confirm show times at www.maritimeaquarium.org.

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On select dates in December, Santa Claus will join The Maritime Aquarium’s dive team to demonstrate that sharks aren’t the blood-thirsty killers of myth. Santa will strap on scuba gear and enter the Aquarium’s 110,000-gallon “Ocean Beyond the Sound” exhibit, which is home to 7-foot sand tiger and lemon sharks. It’s all part of the regular dive-team program, in which Aquarium visitors can see – and talk with – divers swimming in the exhibit on Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays at 12:15 & 2:15 p.m.

Check the Aquarium’s website – http://www.maritimeaquarium.org – for specific dates when Santa can pull himself away from the North Pole and exchange his snow boots for swim fins. Viewing the Santa shark dives is free with Aquarium admission.

While visiting the Aquarium, don’t forget to cast your vote for your favorite lighthouse. Once again the Aquarium displays an imaginative array of handcrafted lighthouses at the 12th annual Lighthouse Holiday Exhibit.

For area information www.visitfairfieldcountyct.com

SEA ADVENTURES CELEBRATE SUMMER IN CONNECTICUT’S FAIRFIELD COUNTY

Hoist the sails on a tall ship. Explore an island. Trawl for lobsters and sea stars. Watch the sunset at sea.

Refreshing summer adventures at sea are a great way to celebrate summer along the Long Island shore in Western Connecticut’s Fairfield County. There’s something for maritime explorers of all ages.

Tall Ship Tactics

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Soundwaters, an environmental education organization in Stamford dedicated to protecting the waters of Long Island Sound, invites the public to set sail aboard their 80-foot, three-masted schooner Soundwaters most weekends through September. Afternoon sails from 3p.m. to 5 p.m. are ideal for families, with passengers invited to help raise the sails and to examine first hand the aquatic life that lives beneath the waves. Educators teach participants about the quality of the water, and how to test it.

Relaxing and romantic two-hour early evening sunset cruises are better suited to adults, who are invited to bring their own picnic dinners and beverages on board. Afternoon sails are $30 for adults, $20 for children; sunset cruises are $30 for all ages.

The Soundwaters is located on 333 Ludlow Street in the Stamford Harbor Park Marina just off of I-95. Information, schedules and reservations are available at www.soundwaters.org or by phoning 203-406-3335.

Deep Sea Secrets

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Educators at the Maritime Aquarium in Norwalk show and tell what goes on from the water’s surface to the bottom of the sea for passengers on the aquarium’s 29-passenger research vessel. Oceanic. Crewmembers drop the nets and passengers haul them laden with treasures for close-up views. The haul may include plankton from the surface and a variety of creatures from the muddy bottom, perhaps fish, crabs, lobsters, sea stars and other little-seen creatures. The catch is important since the observations are recorded as part of the on-going Long Island Sound Biodiversity Data Project. Cruises lasting two-and-a-half hours go out every day at 1 p.m. in July and August and on Saturdays at 1 p.m. in September and October. Cruises are $20.50 per person. Children must measure 42 inches to sail. For reservations, phone 203-852-0700, ext. 2206, during regular business hours; or email reservations@maritimeaquarium.org.

Island Adventures

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Board the Norwalk Seaport Association’s 49-foot catamaran C.J. Toth for a salty 45-minute escape to Sheffield Island. Passengers enjoy a special day of picnicking, tours of a historic lighthouse, shell hunting, and walks to view the colorful sea birds sheltered in the marshes and sandy shores of the Stewart B. McKinney Wildlife Refuge.

Vistas of Long Island Sound from the 44-foot lighthouse tower are among the island’s highlights. On a clear day, the views reach to the distant skyline of New York City.

Trips to Sheffield Island will run weekends through September 29 with boats leaving at 11 a.m., 2 p.m., and 3:30pm. Return trips are at 1:15 p.m., 4:15 p.m. and 5:45 p.m. Weekday trips at 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. are also available through Labor Day, and the fare is $22 for adults, $12 under age12,

Clambake cruises depart at 6 p.m. every Thursday evening to September 26, returning at 10 p.m. They are a true New England dining experience in a festive tented pavilion on the lighthouse lawn. The menu includes clams, mussels, corn on the cob, and a choice of lobster, fish, steak, or chicken. Roundtrip cruise and dinner is $65 to $79 per person, depending on entrée. Tours of the lighthouse are included with dinners.

Special theme weekends include Pirates Weekend July 13, 14 and July 20,21 and Haunted Lighthouse August 10, 11. Early bird watchers can board special bird-watching cruises at 8 a.m. on July 6 and August 3. For details and tickets www.seaport.org or phone 203-838-9444.

For information about nearby events and a free copy of UNWIND, a full-color,
152-page booklet detailing what to do and see, and where to stay, shop and dine in
Western Connecticut, contact the Western Connecticut Visitors Bureau, PO Box 968,
Litchfield, CT 06759, (860) 567-4506, or visit their web site at www.visitfairfieldcountyct.com.

Maritime Aquarium’s Cruises Go Daily in July

Study Cruise aboard the Oceanic

Share a memorable boat ride with crabs, fish, lobsters and other creatures brought up right out of Long Island Sound right before your eyes during daily study cruises this summer with The Maritime Aquarium at Norwalk.

The Aquarium’s exciting Marine Life Study Cruises will begin their daily schedule on July 1, departing at 1 p.m. each day through Labor Day. (In June, they push off at 1 p.m. on Saturdays.)

During each 21/2-hour Marine Life Study Cruise aboard the research vessel Oceanic, animals are collected from different water levels and bottom habitats of the Sound. A video microscope provides a magnified look at wriggly plankton gathered at the sunlit surface. Tiny crabs and worms emerge from a sampling of the anaerobic muddy bottom. A biodredge reveals a hidden world of sponges, snails and mollusks. And everyone inspects the trawl net’s bounty – varieties of fish and crabs, lobsters, sea stars, squid and always a few surprises.

The outings are much more than a boat ride. Maritime Aquarium educators involve participants in the processes, from sorting through samples to helping to pull in the trawl net and returning animals to the water. These animal encounters have immediate and incredible value in showing participants that the Sound is very much alive and worthy of our protection.

Besides being fun and eye-opening, Marine Life Study Cruises also contribute to local scientific research. Water-chemistry and weather readings are taken. And details about the animals brought onboard are entered into the Aquarium’s Long Island Sound Biodiversity Project, a database on the physical and biological features of the Sound. The database, available online for teachers and researchers, will reveal any changes in the Sound over time.

Also during the study cruises, as part of a Horseshoe Crab Census conducted by Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, The Maritime Aquarium tags and records data about all horseshoe crabs collected.

Cost of a Marine Life Study Cruise is $20.50 per person ($18.50 for Maritime Aquarium members). All passengers must be at least 42 inches tall. Reservations are strongly recommended; walk-up tickets will be sold space permitting. The Oceanic can accommodate 29 passengers. Marine Life Study Cruises also are available for private 9 a.m. charters for summer camps, Scouts and other groups. Cruises depart from the dock near the Aquarium’s IMAX Theater entrance. To reserve your spot on a Maritime Aquarium Marine Life Study Cruise, or for more details, call (203) 852-0700, ext. 2206. For more information visit www.MaritimeAquarium.org. For regional information visit www.visitfairfieldcountyct.com.