Titanic fans flood Mystic Aquarium during April vacation week

Mystic - A new Titanic exhibit has been a huge hit for Mystic Aquarium, with a record 70,000 people - 10 percent of its regular annual attendance - visiting the aquarium during a recent two-week period that coincided with school vacations.

Called "Titanic - 12,450 Feet Below," the $2 million exhibit designed by former Disney Imagineer Tim Delaney, opened April 12, three days before the 100th anniversary of the ship's sinking. It is the centerpiece of the new Ocean Exploration Center at the aquarium.

Robert Ballard, whose Institute for Exploration is headquartered at the aquarium, discovered the Titanic in 1985.

Peter Glankoff, the aquarium's executive vice president for marketing and public affairs, said Tuesday that the aquarium typically does additional advertising to lure visitors during April vacation, but this year's extensive publicity about the centennial anniversary greatly helped promotional efforts.

Ballard was mentioned or featured in media reports of the anniversary as well as in a National Geographic television special.

"We were able to get across the idea that this is an exhibit that only we could do because we can present it through the eyes of the man who found the Titanic," he said.

Glankoff said the aquarium expected there would be great interest in the exhibit, which he said tells a multi-layered story that has something for everyone, and added that he hopes interest continues through the summer.

Stephen Coan, president and CEO of the Sea Research Foundation, the aquarium's parent organization, said, "These are encouraging numbers for April, and appear to validate the significant investment Sea Research Foundation and its partners are making to bring visitors to Mystic.

"Clearly, when the numbers at Mystic Aquarium are strong, there is tangible economic benefit to local restaurants, hotels and shopping venues. Our expectation is that our institutional efforts will dovetail with the state of Connecticut's forthcoming tourism marketing campaign and grow visitation to the Mystic region and the state."

Additional parts of the Ocean Exploration Center, which houses the Titanic exhibit, are slated to open in the coming months.

j.wojtas@theday.com

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