You don’t have to travel abroad or even any great distance from Greater Boston to have an exciting and interesting vacation experience. Here are seven special experiences, all within a few hours travel of Boston. Try as many as you can get to for a full summer of exciting fun.
Santa’s Village, Jefferson New Hampshire. Christmas can be fun at all times of the year and Santa’s Village is proof of that. Acres of rides of all kinds for kids of all ages are nestled into beautifully landscaped and cared for grounds. The twenty rides at the park are chosen to ensure that all ages get a chance for thrills. Take a monorail ride around the park for a view from above and then ride the Ferris wheel for views of the surrounding mountains. Tiny tots have their own rides while bigger kids can enjoy a bumper cars, driving antique cars or screaming on the roller coaster. An overall favorite of everyone is the Yule Log Flume, a ride that makes a real splash. A total of eleven food outlets, each different, range from burgers to donuts, pizza to gingerbread men and fudge to ice cream, truly a place for grandparents to spoil grandchildren.
Franconia Notch, New Hampshire. I like to think of Franconia Notch as a sort of mimi-Yosemite in the heart of New England. During the last ice age, some 10-14,000 years ago, glaciers towered more than a mile high over New Hampshire, chewing up mountains and carving valleys and chasms. What it left behind in this valley were natural features that boggle any kids mind. Take the Flume Gorge, where nature has carved a chasm 800 feet long, seventy to ninety feet deep and 12 to 20 feet wide. Visitors walk through this wonder on boardwalks and stairs suspended over the rushing waters. Nearby, visit the Basin, an immense basin of water worn into solid granite by rushing water. At the top of the pass stop to see Profile Lake and the place where the Old Man of the Mountain hung for centuries and visit the museum. The take a ride on the Aerial Tramway to the top of Cannon Mountain for spectacular views of the Presidential Range. Be sure to walk the Ridge Trail which clings to the edge of the peak. Bring a picnic and your bathing suit and enjoy Echo Lake State Park, right at the head of the Notch.
Old Orchard Beach, Maine. For a weekend or for a week-long vacation, Old Orchard Beach is a family vacation getaway that will create life-long memories. Old Orchard has a beautiful and broad seven mile long beach that assures sun lovers of plenty of space. It is also one of the warmest of the northeast’s Atlantic Coast beaches, making it a favorite destination for Canadians from the province of Quebec. Add to the beach two amusement parks and adjacent nature areas to explore and the potential explodes. The Palace Playground is the only remaining beachfront amusement park in New England. Its carousel is famed and from the top of the gondola Ferris wheel the view extends for miles up and down the coast. A short walk away is the dual amusement park Funtown/Splashtown with one section devoted to rides suited to all ages and the adjacent area with water features and slides. Old Orchard is also close to the Scarborough Marsh Audubon Center on a 3,100 acre saltwater marsh which provides fine kayaking opportunities with rentals available.
Maine Windjammer Association cruises, Rockland, Rockport and Camden Maine. Kids love pirates and sailing ships with tall masts and billowing canvas. It’s a fantasyland of romance filled with exciting new experiences like helping to hoist sails, row a boat to shore, enjoy a lobster cookout on an isolated beach and explore islands in the sea. The experience of cruising the coast of Maine on a craft holding only twenty to thirty passengers is a thrill for individuals, couples, families and grandparents with grandchildren. The ability of each ship to accept children varies from one to the other, so check to make sure any given ship is acceptable. The beautiful Issac H. Evans, for example will accept kids from age six and up, the beautiful Angelique, whose red sails conjure visions of pirate ships among the young, accepts kids from age 12. The Windjammer Association is made up of the owners of 10 independently owned and operated ships who work together to ensure that passengers have an enjoyable and exciting experience. They sail from these three ports in mid-coast Maine on voyages from three days to cruises of six days and longer.
Plimoth Plantation, Plymouth Massachusetts. For reality and intensity of historical experience there are few places that can compare with Plimoth Plantation where Pilgrim settlers established the first successful settlement in North America. The experience here is dual, both from the settler perspective and that of the native Wampanoag. Plimoth is not a prettified version of the story but rather shows the roughness of the settlers experience during their first few years. See how they built their primitive houses, raised their crops and established their governance. See too how the natives who met them prepared their crops, built their houses (and they were not tepees!), created their canoes and raised their families. In the harbor the replica Mayflower II makes the crowded and disease ridden passage from Europe a reality that can be understood.
Old Sturbridge Village, Sturbridge Massachusetts. Like Plimoth Plantation, Old Sturbridge Village is a realistic trip into American history, but this one falls two hundred years later in the period of the 1790 to 1840, those formative years after the Revolution and before the disruption of the Civil War. Sturbridge has more than 40 original buildings rescued from around New England and brought here to tell the story of their times. These include not only a church, meeting house, stores and factory buildings but include houses of the wealthy, the poor and farmers. Visitors can experience craftsmen plying their trades including blacksmiths, tinsmiths, wool carders and farmers working the land with tools used at the time. At the Freeman farm farmers work the soil with ox teams, sheep, chickens and other farmyard animals, especially back-bred to be like those of the time period, wander the farmyard. In the house watch lunch being prepared for the farmhands in front of an open fire. Another outstanding feature here are the extensive herb gardens, all tools used for food, medicine and clothing.
Boston Duck Tours, Boston Massachusetts. If someone told you to go jump in the river it would be an insult but on a hot summer day a ride in a river is a totally different experience. The solution is Boston Duck Tours where you get to see the sights of the historic city from seats high above the street and from the middle of the Charles River as well. Plan to meet the Duck at the Museum of Science, Boston. The Ducks are actual amphibious vehicles designed and built during World War II to bring troops and supplies ashore from transport ships. Refitted with comfortable seats, today they provide a cool (in the real sense) way to see the highlights of historic Boston. Take the Duck to find out where all the good stuff is, then visit it on foot.