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Saturday at the New England Aquarium

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What happens when you bring a quizzical two-year-old to a museum stocked full of exotic marine life? Simple but direct demands like, “Open it.” As in, open the tank and let’s all start playing with the fish and sea lions.

On a recent Saturday, as Boston was absorbing a full on crush of holiday shoppers, my wife and I took our son, Calvin, to Boston for a visit to the New England Aquarium. Crowds greeted us there, too, of course, but the throngs of families seemed much more manageable than say what awaited us at Faneuil Hall.

Funky colored fish, something the New England Aquarium has featured since first opening its doors in 1969, helped. We, meaning the parents, issued a lot of “oohs” and “ahhhs” at the sight of say, the Little Blue Penguins, the exotic Lion Fish, and the rather elegant Moon Jelly fish.

All this despite the fact that the New England Aquarium is undergoing some extensive renovations. Gone was the multistory and iconic Giant Ocean Tank, which is undergoing a $17 million overhaul.  Absent, too, was the lineup of African penguins that have become a hallmark at the aquarium.

A disappointment? Perhaps. But there’s still plenty to see (more than 800 creatures, in fact) and the aquarium has adjusted ticket prices during the construction work. Renovations are scheduled to be completed by early summer. But, really, if you have the time, there’s no need to wait until then to spend a Saturday at the New England Aquarium.

A pre-visit drink. With all the excitement around his first visit to the aquarium, Calvin knew it was going to be important to stay hydrated.

Entrance to the New England Aquarium. Saturdays often finds the place packed with families and this day was no exception.

The fun begins even before you actually enter the aquarium. Just beyond the ticket offices sits the first exhibit: a roving, curious group of sea lions. Calvin loved them.

With the Giant Ocean Tank under wraps, the centerpiece that greets visitors is the penguin pool, which currently serves as the home to some 800 different creatures, including green and loggerhead sea turtles, moray eels and dozens of species of small tropical fish.

No doubt the most talkative residents at the Aquarium, we finally had to say goodbye this pair of seals after Calvin insisted on joining them in the water and started pressing his lips against the heavily handled glass in front of him.

Is he king of the sea? Hardly, but this Lionfish certainly captivated our attention, as did many other of the New England Aquarium’s exotic creatures.

Lemonpeel Angelfish

Longfin Bannerfish

Pacific Sea Nettle

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