Santa Claus will be popping up often in the coming weeks at The Maritime Aquarium at Norwalk, including scuba diving with the sharks and appearing on the giant IMAX® Theater screen in “The Polar Express,” as part of the Connecticut family attraction’s bonus holiday offerings. A visit to the Aquarium is always a gift to yourself, your family and your friends, thanks to the sharks, seals, river otters, jellyfish, sea turtles and other marine animals, as well as the amazing daily IMAX documentaries playing on the six-story screen (Connecticut’s largest). But this holiday season offers a few extra special presents for kids and families to enjoy: • SHARK-DIVING SANTA Saturday and Sunday, Nov. 28 and 29, and most Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays in December. (No dives Dec. 24.) Santa Claus will join The Maritime Aquarium’s dive team in December to help demonstrate that sharks aren’t the blood-thirsty killers of myth. Several times each week through the holiday season (workload permitting), Santa will strap on his custom scuba outfit and enter the Aquarium’s 110,000-gallon “Ocean Beyond the Sound” exhibit, which is home to 7-foot sharks. He’ll swim up to the exhibit window and pose with children, so bring your camera for a unique photo opp. “Shark-Diving Santa” is all part of a regular program at the Aquarium where guests can see and talk with volunteer divers swimming in the exhibit. Purpose of the dives is to correct common misperceptions about sharks, as the divers demonstrate how sharks do not see humans as prey. Santa is expected to participate in each dive beginning Nov. 28 and 29, and then in December on Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays. Times are 12:15 and 2:15 p.m. Check the Aquarium’s website – www.maritimeaquarium.org (under “Fun & Learning,” then “Special Events”) – to confirm the dates when Santa can pull himself away from the North Pole and exchange his snow boots for swim fins. All the dives are free with Aquarium admission. • IMAX MOVIE “THE POLAR EXPRESS” Nov. 27 - Jan. 3. See www.maritimeaquarium.org for show times. Bring the kids on a giant-screen thrill ride to the North Pole – and believe again – beginning Nov. 27 when the holiday film “The Polar Express” returns for a limited engagement to The Maritime Aquarium’s IMAX Theater. The animated film, featuring Tom Hanks as the voice of five characters, plays on the Aquarium’s six-story screen Nov. 27 through Dec. 20 at 4 & 7:30 p.m. Fridays & Saturdays and at 4 p.m. Sundays. (No 7:30 p.m. show on Fri., Dec. 4.) From Dec. 26-Jan. 3, “The Polar Express” will show at 4 & 7:30 p.m. daily. “Seeing ‘The Polar Express’ in our IMAX Theater is a tradition for a lot of families, because the film’s spirit and message connects with everyone; whether you’re 5 or 85,” said Chris Loynd, the Aquarium’s marketing director. 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. Because “The Polar Express” is an hour and 40 minutes long, tickets for all afternoon and evening shows are specially priced at: $11.50 for adults; $10.50 for youths (ages 13-17) & seniors (65+); and $9.50 for children 3-12. Maritime Aquarium members save $1. Special weekday shows at 9 or 10 a.m. are available for preschools and elementary schools. • “ ‘POLAR EXPRESS’ PAJAMA PARTIES” Saturdays, Dec. 19 and Sun., Dec. 20, each from 9 a.m. to noon The weekend before Christmas, make a special family holiday-season memory with tasty treats and a giant-screen thrill ride to the North Pole during The Maritime Aquarium’s “‘Polar Express’ Pajama Parties.” “No fussing; just relaxed family fun,” said Loynd. “Come in your jammies, have some delicious morning treats, explore some special activities, and then sit back and enjoy ‘The Polar Express.’” The “‘Polar Express’ Pajama Parties” on Saturday, Dec. 19 and Sunday, Dec. 20 begin at 9 a.m. with a gourmet hot chocolate bar courtesy of South Norwalk’s renowned Chocopologie Cafe & Bistro. Guests can top their hot chocolate with whipped cream and a selection of exotic toppings provided by The Village Market in Wilton. Plus, choose from a delicious spread of holiday cookies by J&L Bakery in Norwalk. “Pajama Party” partiers also can pose for photos with the Aquarium’s train conductor and visit with Aquarium educators whose hands-on displays will explore strategies that animals use to keep warm in winter – all before the feature-length movie starts at 10 a.m. Tickets for a “‘Polar Express’ Pajama Party” are $17 for adults and $15 for kids 3-12 ($15 and $13 for Aquarium members). Each show is limited to 310 seats, so advance purchase is strongly recommended. Buy online at www.maritimeaquarium.org or call (203) 852-0700, ext. 2206. • 14th ANNUAL “FESTIVAL OF LIGHTHOUSES CONTEST” Daily Nov. 21 through Jan. 18. Enjoy this bonus display of imaginative handcrafted lighthouses – and then vote for your favorite – in the Aquarium’s 14th annual “Festival of Lighthouses Contest.” Your votes will determine the winners of this fun holiday display, which has 22 large model lighthouses competing for the top prize of $1,500. This year’s lighthouses were built by local artists looking for a challenge, by hobbyists with a vision and by students fulfilling a school assignment. Some lighthouses are modeled after actual lighthouses; others are wildly whimsical. “The quality of the lighthouses goes up each year, as the contestants are forced to up their game each year,” said Thomas Frankie, the Aquarium’s exhibits director. “This in turn makes the contest better, but it also becomes harder and harder to vote for one favorite.” Contestants this year are from both near (Norwalk, Darien, Stamford and Bridgeport) and far (Monroe, West Haven and Shelton in Connecticut, and Cortlandt Manor, Katonah, White Plains, Yonkers, New Rochelle and Hartsdale in New York). The lighthouse exhibit is free with Aquarium admission. • CLOSER TO OUR COMMUNITY: “FULL TUMMIES, HAPPY TUMMIES” Food drive Saturday, Dec. 5 and Sunday, Dec. 6 Help those in need in our local community Dec. 5 and 6 during a special weekend of discounted admission to The Maritime Aquarium at Norwalk. During the Aquarium’s “Full Tummies, Happy Tummies Weekend,” anyone bringing a non-perishable food item will receive discounted Aquarium admission. Adults receive $5 off admission of $19.95. Children save $3 off the regular price of $12.95. You can bring more than one food item per person, but the discount does not multiply. The discounts are part of the Aquarium’s Closer to Our Community initiative, which engages the Aquarium (and its visitors) in ways that benefit the local community. All of the food donated during “Full Tummies, Happy Tummies Weekend” will go to Person-to-Person of Norwalk, a community-supported agency that provides emergency assistance for basic needs, and support for individuals and families as they move towards stability. Person-to-Person’s vision is communities of financially stable hunger-free homes, with educational opportunities for all. Get more details about the organization at www.p2phelps.org/norwalk. • “SEA” SANTA Sunday, Dec. 6; Saturday, Dec. 12 and Sunday, Dec. 13. The Maritime Aquarium is pleased to offer three opportunities for children to meet with Santa Claus in December. Santa will welcome youngsters and accept wish lists from a Neptune-themed throne between 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Dec. 6, 12 and 13. Please note that, each day, Santa will take breaks from the meet-and-greets to become “Shark-Diving Santa,” joining the Aquarium scuba team in the “Ocean Beyond the Sound” exhibit at 12:15 & 2:15 p.m. Bring your camera to snap a keepsake memory. The Santa visits are free with Maritime Aquarium admission. • “ELF” SHOWING ON THE GIANT MOVIE SCREEN Friday, Dec. 4 from 7 to 10 p.m. The biggest elf at the North Pole gets the biggest laughs on Friday, Dec. 4 when The Maritime Aquarium at Norwalk presents the Will Farrell holiday comedy “Elf” in a special one-night-only screening. This fun evening geared especially for high-school students begins at 7 p.m. in the movie-theater lobby with a variety of fun activities, including contests and a special photo opp. (Ugly holiday sweaters are encouraged.) “Elf” will play at 8 p.m. (Please note that the film is being shown in the Aquarium’s IMAX® Theater but not in the trade-marked IMAX format.) Growing into a holiday cult classic, the 2003 film stars Will Farrell as Buddy, a human raised among elves at Santa’s North Pole headquarters. Slapstick and chaos ensues when naive Buddy travels to New York City to find his birth father. “Elf” is presented by students participating in TeMPEST, an after-school program at The Maritime Aquarium for high school students from Norwalk that provides unique supplemental STEM education while also preparing the teens for college and careers. TeMPEST stands for Teen Maritime Program Emphasizing Science & Technology. “Elf” is 97 minutes long and is rated PG for mild rude humor and language. Tickets for “Elf” at The Maritime Aquarium are $12. • HOLIDAY CONCERTS Saturday, Dec. 5 and Sunday, Dec. 13 Joyous holiday sounds meet Long Island Sound in special live performances in December at The Maritime Aquarium at Norwalk. Saturday, Dec. 5 at 3 p.m. – Students of the Talent Education Suzuki School (TESS) in Norwalk. Founded in 2005 to create a unique music school that is true to the Suzuki philosophy, TESS offers a comprehensive year-round curriculum in a nurturing setting unlike any other instruction in Fairfield County. TESS bills itself as the premier center in Fairﬁeld County for exceptional musical instruction. Learn more at www.musicattess.com. Sunday, Dec. 13 at 2:30 p.m. – The Westport Community Band. Founded in 1977, the Band is a non-profit voluntary organization, affiliated with Westport Continuing Education and composed of adult musicians from Fairfield and Westchester counties who share an interest in exploring challenging concert band literature, improving individual technique, and creating music as an ensemble. Learn more at www.westportcommunityband.com. The performances are free with Aquarium admission. • DROP & SHOP for ages 5-7 and 8-10 Saturday, Dec. 12, from 9 a.m.-noon Give your kids a fun morning exploring the cool world of turtles, sharks and more while giving yourself solo time for holiday shopping on Saturday, Dec. 12, through new “Drop & Shop” programs at The Maritime Aquarium at Norwalk. The Aquarium has a whole morning of hands-on activities and explorations planned for ages 5 to 7 and 8 to 10, both beginning at 9 a.m. Ages 5 to 7 get a special pre-opening tour of the Aquarium, and then explore in-depth the world of turtles – of both land and sea. Ages 8 to 10 also explore the Aquarium prior to opening to the public, and then take part in activities and experiences focusing on sharks and these ocean predators’ special adaptations. Both age groups top off their visit with a screening of the IMAX movie “Humpback Whales” on the Aquarium’s six-story screen. (The film won Best Film of the Year at the recent Giant Screen Cinema Association 2015 Achievement Awards.) Cost for “Drop & Shop” programs is $50 per child ($45 for Aquarium members). Capacity is limited. Advance reservations are required. Call (203) 852-0700, ext. 2206, or go online to www.maritimeaquarium.org. • SEAL-SPOTTING & BIRDING CRUISES Saturday, Dec. 19 and Sunday, Dec. 20 Cruise out aboard The Maritime Aquarium at Norwalk’s unique new research vessel Dec. 19 and 20 to seek out some of the seals that spend the winter in Long Island Sound. The Maritime Aquarium’s Seal-Spotting & Birding Cruises seek out the harbor seals and gray seals near the Norwalk islands as the seals “haul out” to rest on rocks exposed at low tide. Aquarium educators will point out these federally protected marine mammals and talk about their natural histories. And they’ll also discuss what happens with the Sound’s marine population during the winter: who stays, who migrates out, and who migrates in (besides the seals). These cruises also give birders unique “on-the-water” access to see and photograph visiting winter waterfowl, such as buffleheads, mergansers and long-tailed ducks. Cruises occur aboard the Aquarium’s new R/V Spirit of the Sound™, the country’s only research vessel with hybrid-electric propulsion. The $2.7 million, 64-foot catamaran runs quietly on the water, and has a climate-controlled cabin. Each 2.5-hour cruise departs at 11 a.m. Tickets for a Seal-Spotting & Birding Cruise are $24.95, or $19.95 for Aquarium members. The cruises offer memorable family fun but please note that all passengers must be at least 42 inches tall. Binoculars will be provided. Dress warmly for time outside on deck. Capacity is limited to 22, so advance reservations are strongly recommended. Walk-up tickets will be sold, space permitting. The cruises depart from the dock outside the Aquarium’s IMAX movie theater. For reservations or more details, go to www.maritimeaquarium.org or call (203) 852-0700, ext. 2206. And remember that a Maritime Aquarium membership makes a great gift idea, for individuals and families. Members receive: free general admission for a year; the members’ newsletter; discounts to IMAX movies, Gift Shop purchases and special events; and lots more. Family memberships start at $150. Here are Maritime Aquarium admission prices: Aquarium: $19.95 for adults; $17.95 for both youths (13-17) and seniors (65+); and $12.95 for children 3-12. Members and kids 2 & under, free. Discount Combo tickets (Aquarium + 40-minute IMAX documentary): $24.95 for adults; $22.95 for both youths (13-17) and seniors (65+); and $17.95 children for 3-12. IMAX documentary only: $9.50 for adults; $8.50 for youths & seniors; and $7 for kids 3-12. Members save $2. “The Polar Express” on IMAX: $11.50 for adults; $10.50 for seniors; and $9.50 for kids 3-12. Members save $1. For more information about Maritime Aquarium offerings in December, or to reserve tickets or to purchase a membership for yourself or as a gift, call 203-852-0700 or go online to www.maritimeaquarium.org.