Posts tagged ‘travel with kids’

April 7, 2009

Put away your Blackberries and turn off the video games. It’s time for family nature camp in Maine.

Why do kids have all the fun?  Surely, in this economy parents need a real break, too.  Now College of the Atlantic in Bar Harbor, Maine, has the perfect solution – a sensibly priced vacation of nature programs, boat trips, hiking, and biking.  It all takes place on Mount Desert Island, one of the world’s most beautiful islands.

 

whale-watch4The first big difference about this camp is that all activities are intended for the whole family.   The program is best-suited for children who are at least 5, but there doesn’t seem to be an upper-age limit.  Even the most skeptical adolescents, who dread the experience will be “lame,” seem to leave bestowing accolades. 

 

In fact, so many people end up loving Family Nature Camp that COA has designed special field trips designated for returning families.

 

Experienced staff helps plan activities for each family.  Most days are spent participating in two or three programs, including field trips with naturalists and local experts.  Activities are conducted at the college, which occupies 35 oceanfront acres, and in adjacent Acadia National Park.  What kind of activities?  Well…

 

  • Go on a whale watch 25 miles off the coast; if you’re lucky, you’ll see not only whales, but also harbor seals, gray seals, pods of harbor porpoises and North Atlantic puffins. 
  • Learn about the business and politics of the Maine fishermen.  Check out farming pens where Atlantic salmon are raised and watch your captain haul lobster traps. 
  • Go on a boat trip where the divers bring back a bag of underwater creatures such as lobsters, sea stars, scallops, sea cucumbers and other surprises – which you get to hold. 
  • Visit “active” beaver sites and get a close look at beaver lodges. 
  • Discover incredible facts about bats (some eat fish; other make tents!) and hear their ultrasound echolocation with the aid of a bat detector. 

star-fish1In addition, there’s free time for self-guided hikes, walks, and other activities.  (Sea kayaking is available for an additional fee.) Transportation is provided for most field trips, but families can be pretty independent as well.  For example, you can walk or take the free bus to the village of Bar Harbor to enjoy the shops, restaurants, art shows, and evening concerts.

 

Everyone stays in the College of Atlantic student housing on a campus that’s one of the “greenest” in America and eats in the college cafeteria.  Although the rooms and shared bathrooms are Spartan, meals include bountiful New England fare such as homemade fish chowder, chicken pot pie, and blueberry cobbler.  (If your kids have had past vacations staying in plush hotels with room service, there might be a lesson in these accommodations, too.)

 

 

Family Nature Camp rates are: Full Week – $900 for participants 16-years-old and older; $450 for children 15-years-old and under; Half Week – $500 for participants 16-years-old and older; $250 for children 15-years-old and under. These fees include housing, all meals, activities, field trips, and three boat trips! 

 

Now that’s an “eco-tourist’s all-inclusive.”

Summer 2009 Sessions: July 5-11, July 19-25, July 26-August 1, August 2-8.  For more information, visit College of the Atlantic Family Nature Camp.

For more information about Mount Desert Island and Acadia National Park, visit OUR ACADIA.

 

 

 

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January 19, 2009

7 Money-Saving Tips for Family Trips to Acadia National Park in Maine

 

Discover family fun that's free in Acadia National Park

Discover family fun that's free in Acadia National Park

Unemployment numbers and 401K statements don’t put any of us in the mood for planning a great summer vacation. But before you give up and give into a staycation, consider Mount Desert Island in Maine.

With its well-known village of Bar Harbor, MDI is the third largest island on the East Coast and has such spectacular scenery that it is regularly ranked among the most beautiful islands in the world. Yet, for families on a budget, it offers affordable places to stay, lots of dining options, and great things to do with kids of all ages.

What To Do

A key reason to go to Mount Desert Island is Acadia National Park. Occupying half of the island, this national treasure has 130 miles of hiking trails, including those to the top of Cadillac Mountain. Cadillac is the highest peak on the eastern coast of the U.S. — which you can also summit by roadway. There are also 57 miles of car-free carriage roads, where walkers, cyclists and horse-drawn carriages wind around lakes, streams, and evergreen forests.

For parents who want to “get the kids outside,” this is the answer.

An entrance pass to the park costs $20 and admits one vehicle for seven days. But it’s also your pass for a lot of entertainment. Park rangers host daily walks, talks, amphitheatre programs, and cruises. Parents will be as eager as the kids to learn about birds of prey, insects in a stream, and the stars over Sand Beach. Or families may want to split up — while Dad takes the kids to look for frogs and tadpoles during “A Frog’s Life,” Mom can get a lesson on photographing wildflowers. Most programs are free, although some do require nominal fees; many are customized for different age groups.

Oh, did you say teenagers? Don’t worry. My experience with teens in Acadia is they enjoy the hiking, biking, and kayaking as long as you also schedule some beach time at Sand Beach. Another big benefit is the island offers a free Island Explorer bus on eight different routes, so that teens can head into town independently to explore the shops and visit the Internet café.

Apart from the many activities in Acadia National Park itself, there are museums, whaling trips, miniature golf courses, and lots of other great things to do with kids on Mount Desert Island, especially in its largest town, Bar Harbor.

Where To Stay

If you have camping equipment, you can cut your lodging expenses to $20 a night and enjoy the beautiful wooded campgrounds of Acadia. The two primary park campgrounds are Blackwoods Campground and Seawall Campground, both within a 10-minute walk of the ocean. The island’s towns, especially Bar Harbor, also offer a wide range of motels, cottages, and B&B’s.

A great way to save money is to rent a cottage so that you can avoid eating all of your meals in restaurants. Bring some basics from home and go to one of the local markets and farm stands on arrival. I just checked the listings at one of Mount Desert Island’s top realtors and found a new 3-bedroom log cabin-style house with a deck — five minutes from the national park and 10 minutes to downtown Bar Harbor – that is $1250/week. Some realtors have told me that there is actually a greater supply of rental properties on MDI than demand, so this may be a good year to try some bargaining.

Getting There

Mount Desert Island is a little over three hours north of Portland. For a family it can be a great drive with a lot of interesting places to stop. Another option is to fly to Portland on JetBlue, which has low-price fares from New York’s JFK, and rent a car there. Because there’s the free bus service on the island, you may even want to consider one of the eight car-free options of getting to Mount Desert Island.

More Money-Saving Tips

  1. Bring your own bikes to cut out those steep rental fees.
  2. If you’re renting a house or cottage, look for one that also offers a kayak.
  3. Take the Island Explorer bus around the island and save on gas.
  4. Research options to some of the more costly cruise tours. Some local museums research laboratories have touch tanks — even if there aren’t all the bells and whistles of the commercial operations.
  5. Do a little more research and find an outdoor concert, book sale, or national park program as an alternative to more expensive movies or shopping trips.
  6. Cook out ocean-side at one of Acadia’s great picnic areas, including Seawall and Pretty Marsh, with grills provided by the park service.
  7. When you finally splurge on lobster (as you should!), choose a lobster pound that offers options for your kids if they prefer grilled chicken or even PB&J.

For more information on how to explore, eat, and relax on your visit to Acadia National Park, visit OUR ACADIA. You’ll find tips on the best times to visit, what to pack, and great things to do on a rainy day.

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July 20, 2008

22 Great Things To Do with Your Kids in Maine’s Acadia National Park

Last year friends of mine from New York took their two boys, 8 and 11, out of school for a year to travel the world. Since their dad was formerly the publisher of National Geographic Kids, they had a pretty wonderful itinerary. Acadia National Park was their second stop, and after two days younger son Stefan asked if they could just stay there for the rest of the year.

 

Stefan may have a future himself in travel publishing. Even at his age, he concurs with the editors of Travel and Leisure and Conde Nast Traveler who consistently rank Mount Desert Island as one of the most beautiful islands in the world. Its rocky coastline, boreal forests, spectacular fiord, and multitude of mountains apparently hold appeal for every age.

 

My daughter started visiting Acadia National Park regularly at the age of 14. She liked kayaking and the hikes with rock scrambling a lot. But what she loved was the rock climbing. Having grown up on New York City’s rock climbing walls, she felt comfortable with a 60-foot cliff and loved the fact that at its base was the pounding surf. Booking in advance for a climb or two with Acadia Mountain Guides became a standard part of our vacation planning.

 

Here are 22 great things to do with your kids if you visit Acadia National Park this summer:

 

1. Attend a ranger-led program – Offered free by the National Park Service, these are fun, interactive programs on subjects ranging from the constellations to birds of prey. (Did you know that owls and peregrines eat their prey whole and then regurgitate what’s not digestible in pellets?) Ranger-led programs include hikes, cruises, and simple drop-ins at interesting places. Find out more www.nps.gov/acad.

2. Go hiking – Acadia National Park is unique in how its mountains rise out of the sea, so hiking should be high on your “must see” list. Considering that there are over 130 miles of trail, select a hike that’s right for your family by check out a guidebook, Web site (www.trails.com), or the Park Service’s hiking difficulty sheet. You might consider Wonderland and Ship Harbor because of their flatter terrain. The Bubbles (South Trail) and Bubble Rock are also very popular with kids.

3. Learn about lobsters – On the Lulu Lobster Boat tour, kids can learn about lobstering from Captain John and look for harbor seals in Frenchman Bay off of Bar Harbor. Or, for a rainy day activity, visit the lobster hatchery and museum at the Mount Desert Oceanarium.

4. Sail on a Friendship Sloop – These graceful sloops were actually the hard-working lobstering boats of the late 1800s. Today there is no lovelier way to experience Mount Desert Island and the many islands surrounding it than from the water on one of the charters offered by Downeast Friendship Sloop.

5. Go sea kayaking – For the more athletic, get out on the water in a kayak. Maine State Kayak offers breathtakingly beautiful tours, which are also educational, on “the quiet side” of Acadia National Park. There’s only one wrinkle: each child is required to paddle in tandem with an adult and must be at least 8-years-old (and 4 feet, 8 inches).

6. Take a horse-drawn carriage drive – Another unique feature of Acadia National Park is the carriage road system, conceived of and built by John D. Rockefeller, Jr. These picturesque car-free roads wind up mountains, along brooks, and through spruce forests. One great way to explore them is to take a horse-drawn carriage trip from Wildwood Stables in the park.  Try to book early enough to get spots on the sunset drive to Day Mountain, which is a favorite. Call 877-276-3622 for more information. 

7. Bike on a carriage road – Get some exercise and do some peddling! Eagle Lake is very popular and thus more crowded. I actually prefer exploring around Witch Hole Pond and Aunt Betty’s Pond, and the hills aren’t bad.

8. Go to a lumber jack show – This sounds tacky, but it gets great recommendations. The show is a demonstration of what a logging camp competition would have been in the Maine woods over 100 years ago…except the host of the show is Timber Tina (www.mainelumberjack.com).

9. Go miniature golfing – No family vacation would be complete without a couple of hours of mini-golfing. Bar Harbor’s “award-winning” adventure golf has a pirates theme (www.piratescove.net).

10. Pick blueberries – Next to lobster, this is Maine’s best edible. They grow everywhere. Pick some, have them over ice cream, and read Blueberries for Sal by Robert McCloskey, well-known for Make Way for Ducklings, who chose the Maine coast as the settings for many of his children’s books.

11. Go rock climbing – The competent team at Acadia Mountain Guides  can customize a special, affordable climb for your family. After meeting you and learning about everyone’s goals, your guide will select an area – from a lower angled climb to a cliff rising out of Frenchman’s Bay. For me this was an exhilarating experience, and my daughter loved it.

12. Visit a lighthouse – If you don’t want to do a technical climb, the kids will love rock scrambling on the huge granite boulders on the harbor side of the Bass Harbor Head Light. Constructed in 1876, the tower itself is off-limits, but the views here are wonderful – a perfect setting for the photo of this year’s holiday card.

13. Touch a starfish…and more. The Dive-In Theatre gets rave reviews (“educational,” “fantastic,” “extremely fun”). After a cruise in Frenchmen’s Bay, Diver Ed takes the plunge, explores the bay while on view on a topside LCD screen, and surfaces to provide a hands-on experience of what he has found. If the price is too steep for a larger family, Mount Desert Island Biological Laboratory provides free touch tank demonstrations.  

14. Explore the tidepools – Sea stars, barnacles, mussels, anemones, crabs, and young lobsters live in the intertidal zone and are exposed twice each day by the withdrawing tide. Focused, quiet observation will open up a whole new world for your kids and provide a special kind of experience that’s an interesting alternative to some of the more commercialized options. Acadia National Park provides more information at www.nps.gov/acad/planyourvisit/tidepooling.htm.

15. Have lemonade at Jordan Pond House – Ask for a table on the lawn and order popovers and strawberry ice cream, too. If there’s a wait (which is likely in July and August), go to the gift shop and buy blueberry jam to take home. Better still, skip rocks in Jordan Pond and explore the trail around its shoreline. (There’s more about Jordan Pond House at www.ouracadia.com.)

16. Swim in Echo Lake – After a hike on Beech Mountain or Acadia Mountain, take a refreshing plunge. You can relax in the sun on a beach at the lake’s southern end or on wide granite cliffs on the eastern shoreline.

17. Build sand castles at Sand Beach – You may find it a little too chilly to swim, but the kids probably won’t. The setting itself is stunning with cliffs arching around the beach and Beehive Mountain as a backdrop. Hey, after all of that hiking and biking, pull out a paperback and take a quick doze if someone else is supervising the castle construction.

18. Let teenagers explore the island alone – If your teenagers are itching for some independence, suggest they take the Island Explorer Bus and meet the rest of the family at a given destination. Eight routes link hotels, inns, and campgrounds with destinations in Acadia National Park and neighboring village centers (for details see www.exploreacadia.com). Since the buses are propane-powered, this is nice not only for parents’ nerves, but also for the environment.

19. Take in a show Acadia Repertory Theatre in picturesque Somesville offers a children’s program in the summertime. Every Wednesday and Saturday at 10:30am they are performing “Snow White and Rose Red,” a new adaptation of the children’s classic. Another option: see a movie at Reel Pizza in Bar Harbor where, in addition to theatre seats, there are couches and recliners and, in addition to popcorn and soda, there is delicious fresh-dough gourmet pizza.

20. Go to Seawall for an evening cookout – Seawall in Acadia National Park is a natural granite and rock seawall on the southwestern side of Mount Desert Island. Nearby on the ocean is a beautiful, spruce-studded picnic area where you can make a fire and grill. Check out the National Park program at the nearby campground that evening. Or just watch the night sky overtake the sea.

21. Enjoy Bar Harbor at night – It’s a great seaside resort town that attracts crowds for ice cream, fudge, T-shirts, and maybe even a quick reading by the local psychic. There are also excellent shops for guidebooks and outfitters if you forgot your fleece or want new hiking boots.

22. Reward the parents with a lobster dinner – Having arranged and managed such a wonderful family vacation, you deserve a special night out. How about lobster? For reviews of two of my favorite lobster pounds, Thurston’s and Abel’s, see www.ouracadia.com. (By the way, Thurston’s even has PB&J for fussier eaters.)

 

Writing this reminds me why I love Mount Desert Island so much. You don’t need kids to enjoy these New England summertime delights. Acadia National Park is also summer camp for adults.  When’s the best time to visit Acadia?  Should you rent a cottage or stay at a B&B?  What should you do if it rains?  Get answers to these questions and more at OUR ACADIA.

 

Copyright 2007-2010 www.ouracadia.com. All rights reserved.

 

RELATED STORIES:

 

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