Wednesday, October 20, 2010

North Conway, NH and Storyland

WOW, WOW and WOW!! This vacation was, by far, the best family vacation we have taken to date. Our son saw a commercial on PBS for Storyland and had been asking to go for the better part of a year. We decided that Columbus Day weekend was the right time for us so off we went! I can sum up the "awesomeness" of this vacation with 3 B's: budget, bang (for your buck) and beautiful.

We stayed at the Golden Gables Inn and payed around $130/night (compared to $250+ for chain hotels next door). The accommodations are not fancy AT ALL, but it's a room with a shower and it's extremely clean. The best part about GGI is the yard and playground in the back. Our son saw the open space to run and refused to go anywhere else!! There's also an outdoor pool for warmer months AND the Conway Scenic Railroad runs just behind the playground area. For our little train enthusiast this was the highlight of our stay! Breakfast is not included but each room had a dorm fridge and there is a McDonald's next door. We also opted to stay on the back side of the building, which proved to be a smart move. The main street in North Conway is very busy and thus gets a lot of road noise. The back side of the building is church mouse quiet...which for two city mice was a nice break from noise.

Since Patrick refused to leave the playground in time to do any amusement park stuff we decided to go shopping instead. North Conway is home to Settler's Green, which is an outlet mall worth your visit. (This is coming from a woman who grew up next to the outlet overload of Pigeon Forge and Sevierville, TN). The layout is a bit confusing so find a map and plan where you want to go ahead of time. It was VERY busy so we spent quite a bit of time waiting in traffic while looking for the correct place to park.

Our second day was the day dedicated to Storyland. To start our day we found a local place for breakfast. Priscilla's was on the way and had great reviews on TripAdvisor. It took about 45 minutes to get seated, but it was worth the wait. The food is wonderful, the service great and it's not crowded. (We liked it so much that we tried to go back the second morning but the wait was again too long). So with a full tummy we set off for our adventure at Storyland. It proved to be worth every penny. While planning the trip I was frustrated at the lack of coupons and discounts. Well, after going I feel we got the deal of the century. Park admission is $28 (if I remember correctly) for adults, and our son is two so he was free. (Children 3 and older must pay admission). I could go on for hours about all the rides and attractions, but it's best you see the website for yourself at We also found prices for food inside the park were extremely reasonable. An adult could easily eat for less than $10 and as most of us know for amusement park food ten dollars is a steal. They also allow you to bring in your own food which is brilliant for a park dedicated to the age group containing mostly picky eaters!

My absolute favorite feature of the park were the restrooms. Each restroom facility has a separate room for diaper changes and nursing/feeding. There are three changing spots and rocking chairs in each room. Another good option to stretch your dollar is Storyland's "after three, next day free" deal. We had planned on going at 3pm when we arrived in North Conway, but after seeing the playground at our motel our son changed that plan. :) We got to the park around 10:30am and stayed until 4:30....and not once were we trying to find things to keep our attention!!

On our second day we chose to take the 55 minute ride on the Conway Scenic Railway. With a two year old we felt this was a safe bet. It's pretty, but you don't really get to see much scenery. For the three of us it was $28, opposed to the $124 it would have taken to get up the Cog Railway at Mt. Washington. There is a 5 hour scenic option that runs through the mountains which might be a better fit for us when our son is a bit older. The real fun of this experience was the look on Patrick's face while he was on a "real live train" (as he says). There is also a very nice public playground next to the railway station. After an hour of being seated this was a great place to work out Patrick's wiggles!

After we de-wiggled our son we stopped at the Hartmann Model Railroad & Toy Museum. It was $14 for all of us to get in. The collection is impressive but not so much for a two year old. There are several displays controlled by pushing a button. That was a thrill for about 15 minutes, then it was time to go. If you happen to be a model railroad builder and car collector this is really a neat collection. If you're looking for a place to amuse your child, not so much. They do have a small train that runs in a circle outside, but you have to pay extra. (Really, to get around a town ordinance banning attractions in town you have to buy a toy in the collectors shop and you get a "free ride with purchase").

North Conway also happens to be amazingly beautiful. Mount Washington can be seen in the distance and you are surrounded with postcard beautiful scenery. We chose not to drive up to Mt. Washington this trip but are planning on doing so (or taking the Cog Railway to the top) on our next visit. Our GPS sent us up I-95 on the way there, which sent us through many small towns and lots of road construction. To avoid the traffic, we chose to drive back through the White Mountain National Forest to hit I-93. WOW!! I felt like I was back home in my Smoky Mountains! The rock faces visible on the road will stop you with their presence. We found several places to pull over, walk around and take pictures. On our next visit we will be arriving via I-93 just to take in the views.

So, my reviews for this trip are as follows:
Budget Rating: 9/10 Area accommodations are a bit high, but worth it. Other than that, we could not have asked for a better value for our vacation dollars.
Child Rating: 10/10
Time Spent: Three days, two nights

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Memorial Day Adventures in Maine 2008-2010

I'm going to start out my updates with a review of our Memorial Day trips Maine. We have made Maine our Memorial Day destination for the past three years, staying in Ogunquit, Portland and Kennebunkport respectively. I will rate all three, seeing as we have experienced them all with a child.

1) Ogunquit, ME (2008): We chose this destination based on a trip a cousin took a few years prior. She and her husband came up from TN to have a kids-free get away. I think they had the right idea as this is not the most kid-friendly area on the Maine coast. We stayed in the Meadowmere Resort, which is a wonderful hotel. We had a private balcony, free breakfast, restaurant downstairs and both an indoor and outdoor pool. The location is just south of downtown, but easily walkable within 5 minutes (does have a small sidewalk to town). Ogunquit is better suited for adults, but they do have a few attractions for the kiddos. Of course there is the beach, but additionally there is a Ben & Jerry's, a toy store and a neat general store just downtown. Other than that you will find mostly upscale restaurants, antique stores and bars. We found we were out of place and spent most of our time driving around to other towns to find things to do.

It was on this trip that we first stumbled across Kennebunkport. A local suggested we check out their Memorial Day parade since George H.W. Bush sometimes shows up to give a speech. We thought it would be a neat experience to see a president so off we went! We ate a very early breakfast at The Maine Diner, (just off Rt. 1 and very VERY good), and then drove into town. We were able to find parking with no problem and set up shop downtown. The parade was great...marching bands, army tanks, scout troops...just what any small town parade should be. Bush didn't show that year, but it was still worth our time.

Budget Rating: 7/10 (Hotel was reasonable, did have to eat lunch and dinner out which cost a bit)
Child Rating: 2/10 (Not at all suited for parents with small children)
Time Spent: Three Days, two nights

2) Portland, ME (2009): This was the trip in search of the perfect lobster roll. Brandon literally ate one for lunch and dinner EVERY day. Good thing we were in Maine and lobster is plentiful, (and not too expensive!) We stayed at the Embassy Suites in Portland and found the accommodations well suited to our needs. Patrick was 15 months old, so we needed to find somewhere with a large room, indoor pool and a free breakfast. (Breakfast was varied enough to satisfy a picky toddler's appetite). The location was next to the airport, so we had to drive anywhere we wanted to go, but for the price it was worth it.

The first day we explored downtown Portland. It's a beautiful old town, but signs of the recent recession were everywhere. We noticed many empty store fronts that appeared to be freshly vacant. We walked around downtown and felt very safe in the areas we chose to explore. Our first stop was the Portland Children's Museum. It is nice, but small. Patrick was just the right age to really enjoy it. They had an area full of padded benches and ramps for the little ones to climb all over. This is where we spent most of our time. I wouldn't go back now, given Patrick's current age. That said, if you find yourself in Portland with one under 2 it's worth your time and money. We chose to eat downtown the first evening, and found our options limited. Again we were faced with establishments better suited for adults. We found a casual pub, (Dry Dock Restaurant and Tavern), but found ourselves eyed with disdain as soon as we walked in. Patrick was not the best behaved, but for a 15 month old he was OK. We chose to eat early, around 4:30pm but were still hit with a crowd ready to be kids-free.

The second day we chose to drive around Portland and take it easy. On a whim we decided to drive up to Boothbay and check it out. Friends of ours visit often and we wanted to see what all the fuss was about. We visited the Botanical Gardens and it was amazing! It did rain on us so we had to cut our visit short. I recommend a visit if you happen to be up that way. Plenty of space for the kiddos to run around and gorgeous exhibits. Most of Bootbay is closed at this time of year, but we enjoyed our time there anyway. We walked around on the waterfront and found ourselves at a seafood restaurant for dinner.

We decided not to try the parade in Kennebunkport that year because Patrick was going through a super wiggly phase. We knew it would be impossible for him to sit still through a parade. We chose to drive to Cape Elizabeth, again in search of the perfect lobster roll. I had visited the Two Lights Lobster Pound two years prior to this trip with a friend and her husband who were up in New England for a visit. I remembered how good it was, so off we went! Brandon was not disappointed. The Two Lights Lobster Pound is on the edge of Two Lights State Park. There is an area inside to eat, but I don't recommend it because the scenery outside is breathtaking. They have several picnic tables set up outside with views looking out over the Atlantic. Talk about picturesque! The coast is rocky, so I suggest you avoid it with small children. That said, there is enough room for little ones to wiggle outside.

Budget Rating: 8/10
Child Rating: 6/10
Time Spent: Three days, two nights

3) Kennebunkport, ME (2010): This year decided to actually stay in Kennebunkport. We chose to stay at the Kings Port Inn because of the price and location. DO NOT STAY HERE!! The beds were so hard it was like sleeping on concrete, I kid you not! We again found we had chosen an area better suited for adults. We spent most of our time driving around trying to find playgrounds. We did find one which we visited twice...but it's in the middle of a residential area and we felt a bit out of place. One night we tried to eat at the Arundel Wharf which was another dinnertime disaster. It took about 20 minutes to be seated, (it was not busy), and by that time Patrick was ready to go. We sat down ordered appetizers immediately but after waiting 20 more minutes we had to leave. We cancelled our orders and walked over to the Clam Shack. The Clam Shack is a walk-up and take-out place which specializes in fried seafood. We were surprised how good the seafood was, given the appearance of the place. That said, sadly our first theory was supported later that evening. We both got a stomach bug and spent the second night miserably tired (from the rock bed) and cranky (from being sick). We did attend the parade on Memorial Day and the whole trip was saved. George and Barbara showed up!! We happened to be right across from the speaking podium, so we were able to see them up close. Mission accomplished. We also found that the Kennebunk beach has a small playground right on the sand. It's old so you MUST watch your children at all times as there are gaps in the equipment which little ones could slip through.

Now that we have experienced all we set out to in Maine we are looking for other Memorial Day spots for 2011. It seems there's just not a good spot suited for our vacation needs.

Budget Rating: 6/10
Child Rating: 4/10
Time Spent: Three days, two nights

Saturday, October 2, 2010

WOW...has it really been a year?!!

OK, to all you (three) fans. I just realized that it has been over a YEAR since my last post. That is insanely crazy. One, because I forgot about updating and two, it seems like it has only been a month or so!! I will get back to it soon. We seem to be in the car quite a bit lately...and most days wind up with something new to add to our "got a T-Shirt" list.

Here are a few family fun adventures I will be rambling about (in no particular order):
1) Honey Pot Hill, Stow MA
2) Franklin Park Zoo, Providence RI
3) Our Maine Labor Day Extravaganza of 2010
4) Kennebunkport, ME
5) Newport, RI
6) The Berkshires, MA
7) Old Sturbridge Village, Sturbridge, MA
8) Museum of Science, Cambridge MA
9) Children's Museum, Boston MA
10) Totplex, Canton MA
11) The Butterfly Place
12) Food and Music Festival, Patriots Stadium
13) Ward's Berry Farm, Sharon MA
14) Berlin Orchards, Berlin MA
15) Mack's Apples, NH
16) Robert Frost Farm, NH

I'm sure I will think of more as I start reminiscing over the last year. I promise I won't forget again!!

(And coming up next weekend...STORYLAND in North Conway, NH.)

Friday, September 4, 2009

Day Trip, Edaville USA

OK, so my son is into ALL things Thomas the Train. When my husband heard there was to be a "real life" Thomas within driving distance all systems were go to make it happen. Turns out, Patrick didn't get as excited about seeing an actual Thomas the Train as we thought he would. However the day was wonderful and I discovered a new place for family fun.

Edaville, USA is a small amusement park in Carver, MA. When I say small, I mean no rides for anyone over the age of 10. There is a carousel, Ferris wheel, scrambler and a host of fun stuff for the tiny tykes to enjoy. My personal favorite is the area at the end of the park JUST for toddlers/preschoolers. They have old train engines and tractors that have been child proofed so the kiddies can play all over them. There's also a playground set under pine trees that provides plenty of shade so all can enjoy. Patrick, who is now 17.5 months was actually able to ride a flying turtle ride all by himself!!

The only negative I have is the park website states no outside food is allowed past a certain point. I decided to take our chances and pack a good lunch. I am used to dealing with a picky eater and didn't want to press my luck. Turns out, there were a lot of families there with similar aged children who also had the same idea. I kept my eyes open and the park employees seemed to be understanding and let the food thing slide. If you don't pack a healthy lunch be warned, you will be forced into the typical amusement park choices: Hot dogs, pretzels, fried know, the stuff that will come back to haunt you on you fifth train ride.

The Thomas the Train event is an annual event, so we will be going back again next year (if not sooner!)

Here's the webside for more information:

Budget Rating: 9/10 Children under two are free for the Thomas Event. We paid $18 for admission and because of packed lunch did not need to spend any more.
Child Rating: 10/10 This is a park designed with parents in mind. There is convenient stroller parking everywhere. It's flat and paved so I HIGHLY suggest you bring your stroller, just in case you are forced to deal with amusement park meltdowns.
Time: 5 hours, including two hours travel

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Coming Up....Springfield, MA

Home to Dr. Seuss sculptural gardens, Basketball Hall of Fame, and Six Flags.....

Daycation in South Eastern Maine

We are parents to a VERY active 17 month old son, Patrick. We have found that traveling with him brings its own slew of challenges. We plan, research, and anticipate activities appropriate for his age but often find that our preparation falls short. For instance, taking a stroller to certain places is not always easy. It would be nice to know that in advance! A friend suggested I begin blogging about our family's budget friendly travels in New England. I have often wished for a non-biased opinion on where to go for toddler-friendly fun, so why not "be the change you want to see in the world"?

We live in eastern Massachusetts and often get smothered by the dense population. This leads to spontaneous trips into the country in search of open space. Today we decided to drive up to Kittery, Maine. For those in the New England area, Kittery is nothing new. For those outside New England, you will be happy to learn Kittery is an outlet shopping extravaganza!! It's a quick 90 mintue drive up I-95N to ME exit 3, (Kittery), and then BAM...there are literally miles of discount shopping waiting for you. Here's a list of retailors: I feel I must have been a hunter in a former life because the smell of a sale can send me into a frenzy not equaled since Jaws.

Now, the limitation to Kittery is that the stores are spread out in mini-clusters, which means you are constantly moving your child from car seat to stroller when you drive to the next cluster. There really isn't a great sidewalk linking all the stores, so parking and walking the entire length of the developement is a no-go. That said, if you know where you want to go you can limit your car/stroller actvity by strategic planning. (There are cross-walks and most buildings are close together). So today our frenzy resulted in 5 pairs of shorts from Hartstrings for $55. I tend to dress Patrick in the basics, so when I find a steal like this I try and get all the sizes I can. (Did I mention I like a sale?)

If you keep driving north on Rt 1 you will find a treasure trove of family fun. There are miles of beaches, each bringing its own unique adventure to the trip. We went to Ogunquit when Patrick was 3 months old and LOVED it!! That said, it is a place better suited for older children or for a child free vacation. We have not had a chance to explore other beaches, but are tackling them bit by bit as we can.

Today we went up to Wells to our favorite place to eat, the Maine Diner. From the looks of it you would think it's nothing special. When you go inside, you will also think the same. However, when you see the menu and taste the food you will be a quick convert. Today I had a lobster roll, my husband a crab cake melt and Patrick a hot dog. Yuuummmmm......The wait staff was as accomodating as ever to our toddlers needs and the food was prompt and perfect. We topped off our dinner with homemade blueberry pie and ice cream. A yummy treat for all. (There is also a small grassy area with picnic tables to let the little ones run off the sugar from the pie before getting back in the car)!! My only heads up about the Maine Diner is that it's a popular place. It's best to go on off-meal hours during tourist season, (May-September).

We loaded up the car after dinner and got home just in time for Patrick to get to sleep.

Budget Rating: 9/10 (Spent just over $100 on clothing and dinner. Used about $40 in gas for our 17 mpg SUV)
Child Rating: 8/10 (Could have used a little more outdoor space for getting the wiggles out)
Time Spent: 10 Hours