Day 1 at Mystic Seaport ice festival: No ice? No worries!

In terms of fun, let the record show that, meteorologically speaking, it's not strictly necessary to have ice at an ice festival.

A case in point: On Saturday at Mystic Seaport Museum in Mystic, on the first day of its inaugural Ice Festival, it was a sunny mid-winter day with temperatures in the mid-40s and a sky so blue, you could almost taste it. Families, groups and couples of all ages wandered the grounds, enjoying many of the facility's usual exhibits, boats and installations, as well as special activities and features specially conceived for the event.

"This has been pretty amazing," Heather Warriner of Rocky Hill said. The trip to the festival was part of a surprise birthday outing for her husband, Dan. Along with their son, Owen, Heather created a bibliophile theme in which a spinach omelet ("Green Eggs and Ham") was followed by a trip to the Ice Festival (the kids' book "Winter of the Ice Wizard").

As Owen had his picture taken behind a facade that makes it appear he's been buried in ice, Dan said, "I had no idea that we were coming here, and I couldn't be more impressed. It's great for children and adults. So far we've seen the planetarium and a great shanty band, Sharks Come Cruisin', and it's a beautiful day outside."

Owen agreed, adding he was happy with the fake ice and didn't require the real thing.

Inside Greenmanville Church, Sharks Come Cruisin', a modern shanty band from Providence, was preparing for its second show of the afternoon.

"Once we decided to play shanty music, years ago, Mystic Seaport became an incredible resource for us," band leader Mark Lambert said, standing next to the stage as the hall filled up. "This is a pretty good deal for us because it's our first time to play here. Between sets, we've explored the grounds and I had my picture taken on the (whaling ship Charles W.) Morgan. Awesome."

As for a lack of the festival's titular ice, Lambert said, "You know, for us, sometimes some bad weather works out. If it's really cold or raining, people come inside and we get a captive audience." He laughed. "But we're doing OK. The first set was to capacity and people were singing and knew all the words. Then they get to go back outside into the sunshine. Not bad."

Other attractions included an indoor sock skating rink; the planetarium and its thematic "Aurora Borealis: The Northern Lights"; a winter survival skills workshop; and working dog demonstrations featuring a happy gathering of Saint Bernards.

The dogs and their people, all representatives of the New England St. Bernards Club, were indeed pulling carts and doing various displays — but it's also true they were immensely popular just because people like them.

"Hey, that's fine. A meet and greet with these animals is excellent," said Michael Williams, who traveled from Torrington with his Saint Bernard, Arlo. "We're happy to show what they can do — they're scent dogs and working dogs; heroic animals that have rescued victims buried under 10 feet of snow." He smiled. "They're also really good at hanging around as many people as possible."

On the village green, wood-burning outdoor fire pits provided a lovely warm-up area, and a conveniently located food kiosk proffered a variety of hot drinks and snacks. In particular, a Smore Kit proved popular: Inside a neat envelope, one found a marshmallow, chocolate, a cracker and a skewer — perfect for assemblage and toasting over the makeshift bonfires.

Amanda Muller of Norwich was buying kits for her daughters, who were racing around the green and presumably building an appetite. "These kits are pretty clever," she smiled. "And, of course, I've got some coffee for myself."

Muller said her family occasionally has visited and enjoys the Seaport. "This festival is a smart idea. It's the dead of winter and we're outside on a beautiful day. We're out in the fresh air and not sitting on a couch. This is fun and, you know, we can learn a little something while we're here. There isn't any ice, but that's OK. The whole idea got me here, right?"

The Ice Festival continues today and Monday at Mystic Seaport, 75 Greenmanville Ave., Mystic.

r.koster@theday.com

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