Written by travel  |  17. December 2007

Holiday lighting extravaganzas have become a major draw during the Christmas season, the popular one held annually at the Bronx Zoo being a case in point. One that brings an unusual touch to the tradition is the "Festival of Lighthouses" that is on display at the Maritime Aquarium at Norwalk, Connecticut. The sixth annual exhibit of 22 handmade working lighthouses, each from three to five feet tall, guides holiday visitors through the Maritime Aquarium's galleries through January 21. The creative lighthouses, made out of everything from shingles and clay to papier-mch and even holiday greeting cards, have been built by volunteers ranging from high school students to professional toy designers. "It's been a long tradition in New England to decorate lighthouses for the holidays, says Marcia Bittner, marketing director of the Maritime Aquarium, "but we're decorating our facility with lighthouses, and visitors love to see them and choose the best." All manner of media are used in the construction. Deborah Raugh of Wesport, for example, used objects found in nature for her "Bird's Nest Light." Brett Almsted of Norwalk crafted a lighthouse that looks like a child's pop-up picture book, while Wendy Loring of Cross River, New York, decorated hers with gift cards. Traditional lighthouses are represented as well, such as the depiction of the Assateague Island, Virginia, Lighthouse by Steven Wright of Yorktown Heights, New York. Visitors get to vote for their favorite and the winner will receive $1,000 at an awards ceremony January 24. At last year's display, some 8,000 votes were cast. Of course the Maritime Aquarium is a treasure that is worth visiting in any season, both for the permanent exhibits, like the Shark Tank, the delightful River Otter Habitat, the SpoingeBob SquarePants 4-D Ride, and a perennial favorite, the Harbor Seal Pool. The Maritime Aquarium's newest exhibit, "Frogs!" is also sure to delight young and old alike. Described as a 'ribbiting" and "un-frog-ettable" experience, the exhibit brings visitors nose-to-nose with a wide range of local and exotic amphibians. Visitors can also meet some real undersea animals (like sponges, crabs, and sea stars) that inspired the SpongeBob cartoon characters at the Adventure Under the Sea Exhibit, and learn about their amazing adaptations. Some of them, like the yellow boring sponge, live right here in Long Island Sound. You'll also see color-changing cuttlefish, crabs that can survive out of the water, and giant King Crabs. Special programs for the holidays include a 4-D ride film, "Santa's Late Adventure," and a limited holiday engagement of "The Polar Express" with Tom Hanks at the Maritime Aquarium's six-story IMAX Theatre. A value pass that includes Aquarium admission, IMAX admission and a 4-D ride is $21.50 for adults, $17.50 for children 2 - 12, and $20 for seniors. Admission to the Aquarium only is $11, $9, and $10, respectively. Norwalk is a little over an hour's drive from Nassau County via the Throgs Neck Bridge and New England Thruway. For directions and additional information, call (203) 852-0700 or go to their website, www.maritimeaquarium.org.

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