Best Things to Do on a Family Vacation to Maine’s Mid-Coast

 Posted by on October 6, 2013  Comments Off
Oct 062013
Portland Head Light in Fort Williams Park is Maine's oldest lighthouse.

Portland Head Light in Fort Williams Park is Maine’s oldest lighthouse.

Maine is a beautiful state and the mid-coast section between Portland and Bar Harbor has some of the best scenery, lighthouses and things to do with on a family vacation.  Unfortunately, many families drive right through without stopping in their rush to get to Acadia National Park.  Acadia is great, but, there is much more to Maine’s coast.  Whether its a long weekend getaway from Boston, Montreal or New York, or a stop along the way on a longer New England family vacation, here is our list of the best things to do on a family vacation on Maine’s mid-coast:

  1. Visit  the lighthouses.  Each lighthouse has its own story to tell and offers unique insights into Maine’s nautical past.  We enjoyed the historic grounds around Portland Head Light in Fort Williams Park and the rocks and waves at Bristol’s Pemaquid Point.
  2. Go for a sail.  Based in Rockland, Camden and other nearby ports, the Maine windjammer fleet offers a rustic opportunity to enjoy the coast.  Other options to get on the water include lobster boat tours, fishing charters and ferries to outlying islands.  Kayak and canoe rentals are another option.  One way or another, a trip to Maine demands some kind of boat trip.
  3. Enjoy the sights and sounds of Rockland, Maine.  With a wide range of lodging options, restaurants, museums and shops downtown Rockland is a don’t miss destination.  The highlight of our visit was walking the almost mile-long breakwater out to Rockland Breakwater Lighthouse in the middle of Rockland Harbor.
  4. Take a day trip to the tiny town of Owls Head, Maine.  Sample the burgers at the General Store, visit Owls Head Light and don’t miss the cool historic car collection at the Owls Head Transportation Museum.
  5. Follow the side roads and enjoy the parks, lighthouses and inns you find at the end of the road.  The beaches and boardwalks at Reid State Park in Georgetown are great finds for adventurous families.

Maine is the kind of place where packing a picnic lunch and being flexible with where you end up and how long you stay can result is some wonderful family memories.  Please feel free to share some of your favorite moments in the comments section.

Jul 132013

Although we have made annual family visits to the Jersey Shore for the last 20 years, we still keep finding new things to do on our family vacations.  This year we discovered a Ground Round Sports Grille and Bowling Alley in Bradley Beach, the Silver Ball Pinball Museum in Asbury Park and the 9th Avenue Pier waterfront outdoor restaurant and mini-golf in Belmar.   Also discovered on the Asbury Park boardwalk, the Asbury Splash Park and Asbury Eighteen mini-golf which are perfect for families with younger kids.  All these activities offer a nice break from the beach.

The 9th Avenue Pier opened last year at the Belmar Marina and has been an instant hit offering a beautiful waterfront outdoor setting with bands and a menu that features Mexican, burgers, salads and seafood.  Food orders are made at the walk up window while waitstaff take drink orders and deliver the food when it is ready.

9th Avenue Pier restaurant in Belmar

Enjoy a relaxing family meal at the 9th Avenue Pier restaurant in Belmar

The water views of  from the 9th Avenue Pier are beautiful and relaxing.

View the Belmar Bridge from the 9th Avenue Pier restaurant

View the Belmar Bay and Bridge from the 9th Avenue Pier restaurant

The newly opened mini-golf course offers an opportunity to work off the calories after dinner.

Mini-golf is now open at the 9th Avenue Pier in Belmar, NJ

Mini-golf is now open at the 9th Avenue Pier in Belmar, NJ

In nearby Bradley Beach, we found another great family option at the Ground Round Sports Grille and Bowling Alley.  The Ground Round restaurant chain was very popular along the Shore before it went bankrupt several years ago.  Recently, former franchise owners have bought the rights to the name and begun to re-open restaurants using the Ground Round Sports Grille brand.  The food was fairly basic pub food, but the attached bowling alley made for a really fun night.  We couldn’t remember the last time we had gone bowling as a family. For our New England teens who are used to candlepin, the full size bowling pins at the Jersey Shore were a new twist.  This a a fun rainy day activity at the shore.

Bowling at the Bradley Beach, NJ Ground Round Sports Grille and Bowling Alley

A family bowling night at the Bradley Beach, NJ Ground Round Sports Grille and Bowling Alley

Another family favorite, particularly for the boys in our family, turned out to be the Silver Ball Museum in Asbury Park on the boardwalk.  The majority of the museum’s 100+ vintage pinball machines survived Superstorm Sandy and the museum was one of the first businesses to reopen on the Asbury Park boardwalk.  Our boys couldn’t get enough of those old time classics!

Pinball wizards at the Asbury Park, NJ Silver Ball Museum

Pinball wizards at the Asbury Park, NJ Silver Ball Museum

Also on the boardwalk in Asbury Park, the Asbury Splash Park and Asbury Eighteen mini-golf are open for business.  These are low tech attractions that are probably best for families with younger kids.  The $50 family fun pack is a great deal offering 4 passes to the Asbury Splash Park, 4 passes to Asbury Eighteen Mini-Golf, 4 beach badges and a daily parking pass for one car.

Asbury Splash Park on the boardwalk is open for business

Asbury Splash Park on the boardwalk is open for business

The Jersey Shore continues to be a great family friendly destination with the majority of classic attractions re-opening this year and new ones adding to the fun.  Looking for more ideas – check out our Top Ten list of family friendly Jersey Shore activities.

Jul 072013

Jersey Stirred Not ShakenHaving just returned from a week at the Jersey Shore visiting some of the beaches and boardwalks hardest hit by Superstorm  Sandy along the coast between Sea Bright and Point Pleasant, we can confirm that the Jersey Shore is very much back in business for the summer of 2013.  While the recovery effort is ongoing, everywhere we visited found businesses, beaches and boardwalks open and well stocked.

Here are some of our favorite images of the Restored Jersey Shore starting with a view of the beach in Belmar, NJ.  Post-Sandy, beach sand was found covering streets and lawns as much as 8 blocks away from the beach.  Businesses located across the street had more than two feet of sand covering their floors.  Throughout the winter the town plowed, shifted, cleaned and reclaimed as much sand as possible.  The restored beach is slightly narrower than before.  In the coming year, the town will be building a stronger set of engineered dunes to help limit the impact of future storms.

Belmar, NJ Beach open for business summer 2013

Belmar, NJ Beach open for business summer 2013

The 1.3 mile Belmar Boardwalk was totally destroyed by Sandy along with several blocks of beachside restaurants and businesses.  Belmar was one of the first towns to begin rebuilding its boardwalk, reopening the entire length in time for Memorial Day 2013 – at a cost of $8 million.  For summer 2013, food trucks and kiosks are standing in for beachside buildings that had to be demolished.  Businesses located on Ocean Avenue across the street from the Boardwalk are almost all repaired and reopened providing plenty of dining and shopping options as well.

The newly rebuilt Belmar, NJ Boardwalk reopened in time for Memorial Day 2013

The newly rebuilt Belmar, NJ Boardwalk reopened in time for Memorial Day 2013

In Point Pleasant, Jenkinson’s Boardwalk, rides, arcades and aquarium all also reopened for the season.

In Point Pleasant, NJ Jenkinson's Boardwalk, rides, arcades and aquarium all reopened in time for summer 2013

In Point Pleasant, NJ Jenkinson’s Boardwalk, rides, arcades and aquarium all reopened in time for summer 2013

Asbury Park, NJ also restored its beach and boardwalk in time for the summer season!

Asbury Park Boardwalk 2013

Asbury Park Boardwalk 2013

If you are still wondering if it is safe to go back to the Jersey Shore be assured the Shore is back in business and looking forward to seeing you and your family soon.

Mar 072013

If New York City is your destination for a family friendly spring break vacation with teens and tweens, make sure to bring your walking shoes and plan time to enjoy the many and varied free activities around New York City.  By the time you get done shopping, taking in a show, eating out and visiting the paid attractions you’ll be glad you added a few freebies to the mix.   Based on several visits by our teens, here’s their top five free things to do when visiting New York City:

1) Take a Walk in Central Park

On our visit we walked the east side of Central Park from the lower entrance of at 6th Avenue and Central Park Drive up to the Metropolitan Museum of Art on 5th Avenue at East 82nd Street.  On a sunny Spring Day the trees and flowers will be in bloom and the remote control sailboats will be out on Conservatory Lake.  The official Central Park site provides a wealth of information about things to see and do in the Park.

Central Park is lovely on a Spring Day

Central Park is lovely on a Spring Day

2)  Visit New York City Museums on the Cheap

Many of New York City’s museums offer specific times when admission is free or is on a pay what you want basis.  Check out those museums listed here by NYC-ARTS to find a deal.  The well known Metropolitan Museum of Art makes the list by offering a pay what you wish policy every day and children under age 12 are fee all the time.  Some New York City Museums have free admission at specific times.  For example, the Museum of Modern Art is free for everyone on Fridays from 4-8 pm and kids, tweens, and teens under age 16 get in free anytime.

The Temple of Dendur at the Met

The Temple of Dendur at the New York City Metropolitan Museum of Art

3) Take a Walk on the High Line

The High Line is a true urban oasis.  This linear park on the lower West Side is located on a former elevated rail spur that runs through the  Meatpacking District between 10th and 11th Avenues.  The first section opened in June 2009 and runs from from Gansevoort Street to West 20th Street. The second section, which runs between West 20th and West 30th Streets, opened June 8, 2011.  The High Line is maintained and operated by the Friends of the High Line non profit group.

Take a walk along New York City's High Line

Take a walk along New York City’s High Line

4) Visit Times Square and Broadway at Night

Nothing represents New York City more than the lights of Times Square and Broadway.  For better or worse, the neon and Times Square street scene should not be missed.  Although still a bit rough around the edges, Times Square becomes more family friendly every year hosting flagship stores for chains such as Toys R Us with an amazing lego zone and a 60-foot high  indoor ferris wheel (ticket required to ride).  In recent years traffic in Time Square has been diverted to create a pedestrian mall that includes tables and chairs and outdoor stages.  There is even a free mini-museum at the visitors center.

We're really in New York City!

The lights of Times Square in New York City!

 5) Take a Walk on The Brooklyn Bridge

Completed in 1883, the 1,595 foot main span of the Brooklyn Bridge  links lower Manhattan and Brooklyn.  It is the oldest suspension bridge in the country.  Today, the bridge carries 135,00 or more cars most days – as well as thousands of pedestrians.

The Brooklyn Bridge is a New York City icon

The Brooklyn Bridge is a New York City icon

Have more time?  Explore the wonderful art deco architecture of Rockerfeller Center and stop in at Saint Patrick’s Cathedral.  Also be sure to check out the frequently updated listing of free things to do in New York City hosted by the NYCGO visitors web site.

Finally, don’t forget to check out our list of budget family friendly hotels near Times Square.  Enjoy your visit to the Big Apple

Jan 172013
Main Street USA welcomes you to the Magic Kingdom

Main Street USA welcomes you to the Magic Kingdom

Although its only January, its already pretty late to book a family spring break vacation that requires airfare to high demand warm weather destinations like Disney, Florida’s beaches, cruises or the Caribbean.  We know, we waited too long last year and discovered that by January pretty much any affordable flight  is already spoken for … unless you are willing to be a little flexible.

If you are willing/able to drive or take a train or bus, there are  still hotels to be found in warm weather locations.  But, if you are willing to think about getting off the beaten track, there are still lots of deals to be had in alternative, less crowded places like Utah, Texas, Myrtle Beach, National Parks such as Death Valley that are too hot to visit in the summer, and many more.  Late season skiing is also a last minute possibility.  And of course,  if your teen is a sophomore or junior in high school, spring break is a great time to visit colleges while students are on campus.  Are they interested in colleges in major cities like Washington DC?  Make it a family trip – maybe you’ll catch the cherry blossoms.

The Capitol

Washington DC Makes a Great Spring Break Destination

In our case, last spring, with 60 days notice we found airfare to Las Vegas and rooms at the Lodge at Zion National Park were not only available but affordable.  Other years, New York City — a train ride away – proved to be a perfect Spring Break vacation for families with teens and tweens.

If you haven’t done so already, NOW is the time take a survey of family commitments and goals for that precious time off.  Then start researching — you’ll be glad you did when you are heading out of town for a Spring Break vacation with your teens and tweens.

Got any great ideas for fabulous spring break family vacations with teens that can be booked on less than 60 days notice?  Let us know and if it looks like our readers would have interest we’ll feature it in future posts.

Dec 262012
Escape to the trails on Mt Madonna and Mt Sterling at Smugglers' Notch

Escape to the trails on Mt Madonna and Mt Sterling at Smugglers’ Notch

Smugglers’ Notch, one of our favorite Vermont ski resorts, has added a new Winter Adventure program for teens ages 16-20.  The program mixes intermediate and advanced ski fun with the opportunity to explore a wide range of alternative winter sport options on and off the mountain. Thursday through Sunday, the morning starts at the teen friendly time of 10:00 am with an intermediate to advanced Snow Sense Session where the group skis and rides together focusing on exploring the mountain, reading terrain, and having fun — instead of focusing on formal technique. After lunch, the group heads back out with  instructors for specialty sessions such as ice climbing, backcountry snowshoeing, Ice Canyon Via Ferrata, and Winter survival skills.

Smuggs has always offered one of the most comprehensive on mountain ski and snowboard programs for tweens and teens including the Notch Squad all day camps for ages 11-15, private lessons, night time free style boarding lessons, and the Mountain Explorer half day group option for teens age 16 and 17 that want to work on ski and boarding skills.  The Winter Adventure program fills a real gap for families that want to take a winter holiday together but have older teens (including college students home on break) who might not want to ski all week but would welcome a break from non-stop family bonding as well as the chance to do something new and challenging.

The Notch Squad on the move

The Notch Squad on the move

Smuggs also offers full and half day Adaptive ski lessons and runs five-day Autism Snowman Camps  for children and adults with developmental disabilities. Campers  participate in a variety of winter activities including sleigh rides, alpine and cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, horseback riding, dog sledding, ice skating and swimming.

Combined with all the other off-mountain fun available for kids and adults of all abilities and ages – –  like cross country skiing, snowmobiles, zip-lines, tubing, outdoor ice skating, and a large indoor playspace — plus high quality day care and lessons for younger kids,  Smugglers’ Notch continues to be top of our list for resorts that can meet the needs for very diverse families and interests.

For the best deals, book the a Club Smugglers’ Classic or Summit Package that includes on-mountain lodging but always check to make sure the programs you want are included in the package you select since options vary.

Sep 272012

Vermont continues to be one of our favorite family ski destinations year after year.  Just a few hours from home we find easy access to big mountains,  expansive snowboard terrain parks, and  a wide range of great off slope activities, lodging and restaurants that appeal to our teens as well as mom and dad.  Families taking a ski vacation with teens and tweens need to be honest about each family member’s skiing abilities and interests.  Some teens may want to ski hard all day while others are pretty rusty and might benefit from a private lesson or all day camp.  Mom might want a spa and dad might want to ski a half day before taking a turn on a snowmobile tour.

Hockey Princess gets a snow boarding lesson

For teens and tweens with little ski or snowboard experience, a private lesson will get them on the slopes quickly

For a multi-day ski vacation, unless your family plans to ski together every day, the major options for making sure the teens and tweens have a buddy at the mountain are to bring a friend or seek out resorts with teen and tween-specific ski school and mountain camp offerings.

Three of our favorite Vermont ski resorts that have lots to offer  teens, tween and their parents, regardless of each individual’s level of skiing or snowboarding ability, are:

Smugglers’ Notch: Join the Notch Squad

With two mountains and Ski Schools options for younger and older teens, Smugglers’ Notch gets our vote for one of Vermont best destinations for families with skiers of all ages and abilities.   During our visit, the Notch Squad program for ages 11-15 really filled the bill offering small group snowboard lessons at several levels of expertise.  The instructors were friendly and upbeat and were able to quickly connect with our teen.   We understand that this winter Smuggs will be revamping some of its programs for older teens so be sure to ask what is available when you call to book a vacation.

The Notch Squad on the move

Smuggs is a destination resort where most visitors stay for a weekend or longer.  If you are looking for things to do off the mountain – either with or without the teens – snowmobile rides, ice skating and the Arbor Trek zip line tours are great fun.  Smuggs has a wide range of condo lodging options including some that are large enough for extended families or two families traveling together.

Stowe Mountain Resort: Explore Stoked Teen Camp

Stowe, Vermont is a classic alpine town with four seasons of dining and outdoor activities that are fun for mom, dad and the teens and tweens.  Multiple mountains mean that skiers of any level can find the perfect trail at the Stowe Mountain Resort.  Green trail skiers will enjoy the 2.5 mile Toll Road trail from the top of Mount Mansfield while more advance skiers and boarders will never run out of options.  Off the mountain there are many great restaurants, stores and activities such as Dog Sled rides.  The Mountain Road is lined with a wide range of hotels, motels, condos and bed and breakfasts.

The full day Stoked Teen Camp for blue/black skiers and riders, aged 13-17 years, is grouped by skill level.  It is offered during major vacation periods.  For families where 24×7 togetherness gets to be a little much on a ski vacation, the Stoked Teen Camp allows the teens the run of the mountain with built in supervision, lessons and the opportunity to hang with kids their own age.  More traditional ski school options are available for tweens and younger teens up to age 14.

Killington: Chill in the SnowZone 

With over 140 trails, Killington is synonomous with skiing in Vermont.  Trails include “Outer Limits” a double black diamond mogul trail that is the steepest mogul run in all of New England. It also has the longest trail in the east in  the 6.2-mile  “Juggernaut” and boasts  five snowboard and alpine parks.

For older teens, ages 13-18, the SnowZone program offers ski and snowboard lessons designed especially for teens of all ability levels, with a promise that there will be no more than 5 teens in a group.  The half day and full day lesson programs include a lesson-only, lift ticket and rental equipment including a snow sports helmet is additional.  A smiliar program for tweens and younger teens is available via the SuperStars program.

Killington is known for being one of the first Vermont mountains to open and one of the last to close.  Discounted single day tickets for non-peak times are on sale until October 11th and the mountain expects to be open by Thanksgiving, if not before.  Off slope the fun continues with sleigh rides, tubing, snowmobile rides and a great spa.

Our Top Tip

Our top tip for a successful family ski vacation with teens and tweens is to make some up front assessments about priorities and skill level, then look for a resort with a wide range of on and off slope options including teen-specific ski and snowboard schools if you are not bringing a friend of similar ability to keep yout teen company on the slopes.

Looking for more family ski and snowboard ideas?  Check out all the great family travel blog ski links on the Mother of All Trips Back to Ski page.