A New England Vacation for All Ages, Part 1: Making Family History from Boston to Provincetown
Reprinted with permission from Westside Today/Beverly Hills 90210 Magazine
Hailing from Virginia and taking many a family vacation to Williamsburg, I thought I had been there done that when it came to historical tours, but Boston proved me wrong. Not only does the city present a rich record of how our nascent country became the United States, it also offers a variety of attractions for adults and children along with a welcoming hospitality that makes visitors feel at home.
From the moment we checked in at the Omni Parker House Hotel (http://www.omnihotels.com/FindAHotel/BostonParkerHouse.aspx), we were greeted with a warmth and friendliness one would expect in a small town versus a cosmopolitan metropolis such as Boston.
My three-year-old son picked up right away that there was something different about the Bostonian vernacular, where “r” is replaced with an elongated “aahh.” My son was fascinated by our bellman’s accent as he escorted us to our room while giving us a quick lay of the land on the way. “You don’t need a caaahh to get around. You’re right neaahh everything heaahh.”
Our bellman was right. Our hotel was smack in the middle of all the attractions we wanted to see. Though the room was small, barely accommodating two queen beds, the hotel made up for its intimate sleeping quarters with its primo setting. Our location was not only a few steps from major historical sites, it was also convenient to a plethora of restaurants, many which we were happy to find were kid friendly.
Our first dining outing was to Skully Square, which was a short walk from our hotel. Outside on the patio, couples and groups enjoyed drinks and a sophisticated dining atmosphere, while inside families relaxed in a more casual yet hip dining area, with a vaulted ceiling and plush red velvet drapes framing a mirrored bar and booths with battered but shiny wood table tops. It felt like New York, without the attitude. And the beefy burgers, fries and gourmet mac-n-cheese were perfect fare for tired, travel-weary tourists.
Ready for a good night’s sleep, I was glad I brought along my Magnifex Comfort Pillow (www.Healthyback.com, $99). Though it’s not a travel pillow per se, because it’s lightweight and made of airy memory foam, it squishes up nicely into my suitcase. Also because it has a CoolMax cover, even in the heat of summer I sleep cool and comfy. Within minutes of lights out, we were all sound asleep.
The next day we headed out early for a day of adventures, beginning with an unplanned miles-long walk through Chinatown and the South End in search of the Boston Children’s Museum (http://www.bostonchildrensmuseum.org/). Despite precise directions from the Omni concierge, we missed a turn. As we consulted our tourist map, a kindly GenXr riding shirtless on his bike stopped to help us, using his iPhone satellite map to give guide us to our proper destination.
Back on course, we found the museum, which was chock full of activities, wonders and spectacles for kids of all ages. My son was particularly taken with the Science Playground, which included room of golf ball mazes and contraptions where he could marvel as balls winded around tracks and funnels, dropped through chutes and catapulted in amazing formations in experiments of physics.
He made quick friends with other kids equally rapt by an air cannon that launched a tennis ball high in the sky with the force of a weighted plunger, which took the combined efforts of at least four little kids to hoist.
It was hard to choose where to go next at the museum, with the draw of dozens of exhibits, including a room to blow bubbles of all shapes and sizes, a room of pipes to make music, a hanging climbing sculpture or the KidStage with ongoing theatrical performances.
Before we knew it, it was nap time. So back at our home base at the Omni, my son and spouse napped while I got some quality workout time at the hotel gym where I watched a full episode of House on the monitor above my elliptical trainer. As any parent of a preschooler knows, this was as good as rest and relaxation gets.
On another recommendation of the concierge, we followed the Freedom Trail, a red line painted and paved in bricks down the sidewalks and streets of Boston leading to historical sites, including Faneul Hall, a marketplace of shops and restaurants surrounding the famed building which hosted many gatherings of our nation’s founding fathers.
Along the way we ran into two costumed minutemen, who my son excitedly pointed out as “pirates.” Clearly enthralled by their jobs, the two docents gave us a brief historical overview of the Old South Meeting House, where we were standing, huddled around our tourist map. As we found all around Boston, locals folk, from cabbies to shop clerks, were more than glad to talk to tourists about their pride land.
Once at the marketplace, we enjoyed a satisfying dinner at Durgin Park, a bustling restaurant with a multitude of upstairs and downstairs dining rooms serving New England comfort food, such as homemade Boston baked beans, fish and chips and Yankee pot roast.
After dinner we browsed the souvenir stands on the way to reach my son’s Mecca at the entrance of the marketplace — a giant golden cheese macaroni sculpture sponsored by Kraft, which despite its appeal to kids warded them off with a large sign in front, “No climbing.” I wondered how this was good PR for Kraft.
The next day, after a quick bagel breakfast at the friendly Black Seed Café, one of the many great bagel noshes around our hotel, we did what tourists do; we went on a Boston Duck Tour (http://www.bostonducktours.com/). A phenomenon of Boston, these tours utilize vehicles that convert from bus to boat, taking loads of tourists from the streets to the waterways of Boston.
Our tour, to the theme of “firsts,” took us from the golden-domed State House to Bunker Hill and the TD Banknorth Garden, Boston Common and Copley Square to the Big Dig, Government Center to fashionable Newbury Street, Quincy Market to the Prudential Tower, as our guide revealed to us little known facts and insights about Beantown, including the fact that they city hosts more Dunkin Donuts per capita than any other US city.
The climax of the tour is the “splashdown” when the duck boat heads right into the Charles River, and then starts up its engines for a floating tour with breathtaking views of the Boston and Cambridge skylines.
While the guide’s narrative was an informative and educational, as you’d expect from a duck tour, it was not all serious, with plenty of gags along the way. This includes a secret duck call that you hear across Boston when a duck boat passes, as veterans of the tour call out to fellow duck boaters, but you will have to take a tour to find out what it is.
Getting around town to see attractions was easy using the subway system, the T. For just a few dollars we were able to load up subway debit cards and get around town from place to place with easy-to-follow maps to major city centers.
As a family on a travel budget, we appreciated the inexpensive public transportation, and in the land where freedom was born, we learned first hand that indeed “the best things in life are free,” by way of the public park in the middle of town at Boston Common.
The park features an amazingly clean and well kempt public playground where my son romped, climbed, swung and played with other friendly kids an entire afternoon. We finished off our day at the park at the Frog Pond, an enormous wading pond that is free and open to the public in the center of the park. My son delighted in splashing and jumping in the water with hundreds of other gleeful children refreshing themselves in the cool water on a hot summer day.
A plunge in the Frog Pond was the perfect way to end our last day in Boston, before we went on in our New England travels. We truly felt hosted in the town, from the friendly hotel staff to the shopkeepers and restaurant servers to the friends my son made on the monkey bars at the park.
We didn’t want to leave yet, but we knew there was even more to see, just across the Boston Harbor. As we watched Boston fade out of sight as we headed south toward Provincetown by ferry, we didn’t waste anytime missing the city, not only because an exciting adventure was ahead of us, but because we knew for sure we’d be back soon.