NORWALK — The “soft opening” of the Maritime Aquarium’s 4D theater officially took place Friday, with the venue screening two short films and showing off its new cafe and aquarium entrance.
What helped the aquarium spead the word was a meme of U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders at President Joe Biden’s inauguration, edited to be seated outside the aquarium’s new theater, which received hundreds of reactions online on Thursday afternoon.
As a result, the new theater and aquarium were busier than normal for a Friday in January, aquarium spokesperson David Sigworth said.
“The awareness that went pretty far and wide awareness was greater than what we expected,” Sigworth said. “We expected to put it out with a Facebook post on our website and quietly open the theater, but the Bernie Sanders Facebook post did very well, and awareness went broader than expected.”
The theater is capable of seating 169 patrons, but the aquarium is operating below the state capacity requirements, hosting between 40 and 50 guests for each showing, he said.
The theater can show 2D, 3D and 4D films as well as holding conferences and presentations.
As 3D glasses are required for the full 4D film experience, the glasses are cleaned between uses. Additionally, every other row in the theater is not used, and empty seats are left in between each party to ensure social distancing. Guests are required to wear masks in the theater, Sigworth said.
The 4D experience includes a 3D film and other sensory special effects, such as bubbles, splashes of water and cool breezes in the theater corresponding with the film.
“The air used for effects in the theater is part of the filtered HVAC system of the aquarium,” Sigworth said. “The water used for bubbles and mist is water from our city water supply that you could drink. We require that guests wear masks in the theater.”
The theater was completed earlier this month as the aquarium’s IMAX theater is set to be demolished later this year.
The $40 million plans for the theater’s demolition to accommodate the Walk Bridge replacement project have been in the works for years. The new theater now sits where the aquarium staff parking lot was previously located.
As of the end of January, the IMAX theater, and the land on which it sits, will belong to the city of Norwalk.
“As of end of this month that building is not ours anymore,” he said. “We are working right now to return as many of the IMAX film prints as we can to the film company. The technician was here to take parts of the projector they wish to have back.”
In the IMAX theater’s final weekend earlier this month, about 400 people attended showings each day, Sigworth said.
Currently, the 4D theater is showing BBC Earth’s “Shark: A 4D Experience” and “Ice Age: No Time for Nuts 4D.” The short films are respectively about 12 and 10 minutes long.
Like the aquarium, the 4D theater is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. “Shark” is shown every hour on the 15-minute and “Ice Age” is shown every hour on the 45-minute, Sigworth said.
Tickets are $7 per person and $6 for aquarium members. Guests are asked to purchase tickets in advance online for safety and efficiency.