The Maritime Aquarium Events

13th Annual “Festival of Lighthouses Contest” Opens at The Maritime Aquarium

Through Jan. 19, visitors can let the 24 creative lighthouses guide them through the Aquarium galleries, and then vote for their favorite. The top six lighthouses win cash prizes

Twenty-four large model lighthouses will vie for the $1,500 grand prize as they compete for visitor votes in the 13th annual “Festival of Lighthouses Contest” beginning Nov. 22 in The Maritime Aquarium at Norwalk.

The holiday display, open through Jan. 19 at the popular Connecticut family attraction, works like a juried art show except that thousands of Maritime Aquarium visitors are the jury. Visitors can follow the homemade beacons through the galleries and cast a vote for their favorite. The lighthouse that gets the most votes wins $1,500. There are cash awards for five runners-up too.

The 24 lighthouses were built by local artists looking for a challenge, by families who wanted to work together on a fun project, and by students fulfilling a school assignment.

Seeing the lighthouses – and casting your vote – is free with Aquarium admission.

“Each year we are amazed by the time and effort that our contestants put into their lighthouses,” said Judith Bacal, the Aquarium’s exhibits director. “The bar gets raised every year on design and craftsmanship. In turn, having all these smart and creative pieces of art on display only makes the experience of visiting The Maritime Aquarium during the holiday season even more engaging, enjoyable and memorable.”

Rules of the “Festival of Lighthouses Contest” are kept to a minimum to allow for maximum creativity. Lighthouses must be 3 to 6 feet tall and have a working light, and may not include animal remains, such as shells. Beyond that, it’s up to the creators’ imaginations.

Lighthouses in the 2014 contest are made out of everything from wood, paper and stone to frosting, gingerbread, crocheted yarn, gumballs and homemade candies. Some are modeled after real lighthouses, such as the Penfield Reef Lighthouse in Fairfield. Others are wildly imaginative, with dragons, zombies and the cast of Disney’s “Frozen” all represented. (But thankfully all not on the same lighthouse.)

“Because each visitor gets a lighthouse ballot, the contest adds another element of family fun to an Aquarium visit, as kids and parents debate and compare their votes,” said Chris Loynd, the Aquarium’s marketing director. “Their opinions usually are quite different.”

Entering the annual contest seems to be an addiction for some. Fifteen of this year’s 24 entrants are return competitors; many of them are “regulars.”

Entries this year come from several residents of cities close to the Aquarium – Norwalk, Darien, Stamford and Bridgeport. But lighthouses also are coming from Monroe, Newtown and Shelton in Connecticut, and Yonkers, Katonah, Mamaroneck, New Rochelle, White Plains and Hartsdale in New York.

Three lighthouses are entered as assigned classroom projects – two from the J.M. Wright Technical High School in Stamford and another from The Ursuline School in New Rochelle.

Besides the contest’s $1,500 top award, other prizes are: $750 for second place, $375 for third; $300 for fourth; $225 for fifth; and $150 for sixth. Winners will be announced at an evening reception on Jan. 22.

The 2014 “Festival of Lighthouses Contest” is free with Maritime Aquarium general admission, which is $19.95 for adults, $17.95 for youths (13-17) & seniors (65+), and $12.95 for children ages 3-12.


For more details about Maritime Aquarium exhibits, IMAX® movies and programs, call (203) 852-0700 or go online to