Posts tagged ‘whale watching’

August 22, 2009

To Whale Watch or Not: That is the Question for Families with Kids Visiting Acadia National Park

Check out the posts on TripAdvisor about whale watching, and you’ll find a lot of negatives – no whales, long trips, cold weather, and sea sickness. Still want to take your kids on a boat ride when you visit Acadia National Park? The Dive-In Theater gets rave reviews.

This five-star cruise leaves from a pier at College of the Atlantic in Bar Harbor on the aptly christened Starfish Enterprise. Last week we embarked upon our two-hour trip into Frenchman Bay, a body of water so deep and cold that it provides a rich habitat for an array of sea life. The bay is spotted with small islands, which further enrich the Seals Frenchman Bayenvironment.

Suddenly the boat began to circle a small rock outcropping and there on the top sat a large bald eagle. Lying on rocks below and swimming in the area were about twenty harbor seals. Minutes of leaving this sighting, we spotted harbor porpoises gracefully creating arcs in the water.

But this was only the beginning of the show.

We moored at a dive site and Diver Ed suited up with considerable fanfare. Fanfare isn’t really the right word. It’s more shtick. (Clearly, only his love of Maine and kids has kept Ed from stand-up.)

Diver Ed

Diver Ed

Mini Ed #104

Mini Ed #104

With a little help from his friends, Diver Ed took the plunge with a collection bag, real-time video and sound equipment, and Mini Ed, his action figure alter ego, who would provide scale for the adventures on the ocean floor. We then learned that this was Mini Ed #104. (The prior 103 had been unsuccessful in their battles with lobsters and crabs from the deep.)

Sitting comfortably on our benches, we watched on a large projection screen as Mini Ed began to explore. I glanced away only occasionally to see such sights as the Margaret Todd sailing by.

Margaret Todd

Margaret Todd

What happened when Diver Ed returned with critters in tow? We touched them, of course.

Boy with Sea Cucumber

Boy with Sea Cucumber

Animated instruction from Diver Ed

Animated instruction from Diver Ed

Whether a beautiful sea star (starfish to the uninitiated), slimy sea cucumber, or angry lobster, these creatures of Frenchman Bay were taken into temporary (and protective) custody in touch tanks, as we learned more. Did you know that sea stars can not only regenerate lost arms, but themselves be regenerated from a single arm?

Does he know he has a crab on his head?

Does he know he has a crab on his head?

We gently probed their varied surfaces. (I will not say the same for the four-year-olds who thrilled to the chaos of the touch tanks and, inhibition abandoned, initiated some aggressive dive-bombing with the lobsters.)

Kids at Touch Tank on Starfish Enterprise

Kids at Touch Tank on Starfish Enterprise

Girl with Seastar

Girl with Seastar

Most of the families on the cruise seemed to have four-year-olds in tow, but the three eighteen-year-olds who came with me were pretty enthusiastic. But I surpassed them all.

If you’d like more information about things to do in Maine, visit OUR ACADIA. You’ll find itineraries for a vacation to Acadia National Park, tips for restaurants, and 22 ideas for activities 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.