Maine offers a boatload of family fun
By Stephen Johnson
Ever since our son David saw the movie Finding Nemo, he has been obsessed with all things aquatic. A trip to the seafood section of the supermarket would find David, mouth open in amazement, watching the lobsters in the lobster tank. That’s why we decided the next family vacation should be to the ocean. So off we went to visit the state of Maine.
With whale and lobster toys in hand, we made Portland, Maine, our home base for the holiday. Portland is located on the Atlantic Ocean and the first thing you notice is that its restaurants specialize in everything lobster. There are steamed lobster dinners, lobster sandwiches, lobster soup, lobster ice cream … (okay, I made that one up). For starters, we tried out the Portland Lobster Company along the waterfront, ordering two lobster rolls with a clam chowder. There was a live band playing laid-back tunes and the food, music and friendly atmosphere made for a great introduction to Portland.
The following day, David was excited to go whale watching. From a number of companies offering cruises, we chose one called Odyssey and set out on our adventure. I appreciated the fact that the crew provided commentary about the history of Portland and its local landmarks as we were leaving the harbour. Although I was concerned about the length of the ride, David happily filled the time thinking he saw a whale with each distant wave.
After about two hours, we spotted a shark! David was beyond excited. Its fin was sticking out of the water, Jawsstyle, and everyone rushed to the side of the boat to get a better look. It felt somewhat like the paparazzi had spotted Justin Bieber.
We spent the next hour searching for other sea creatures, also visiting the front of the “ship” to do our best Leonardo DiCaprio impressions. “I’m king of the world!” we shouted. Luckily, we saw three Minke whales as well.
I was happy David had the opportunity to see animals he had only read about in books or watched on YouTube videos. If you are going to do a whale watching cruise, I would recommend bringing an extra layer or two of clothing as it can be quite cool and wet on the ocean. It’s also important to note that while cruise guides do their best to facilitate the spotting of whales, there is never any guarantee.
The next day, we set out to find a sandy beach since Maine is known for having some of the best beaches in the United States. As I’m used to the small but pleasant beaches along the Ottawa River, I was dazzled by Old Orchard Beach. It stretched on for miles. Equipped with a sand bucket and shovel, David gleefully launched into some major sand castle building. He also spent a lot of time running into the tide and searching for small sea creatures. It was a perfect family day at the beach.
The great thing about Old Orchard is there is much more than just the beach. When you are tired of feeling sand between your toes, check out the Old Orchard Pier. There’s a wonderful collection of kitschy gift shops and restaurants, as well as a family amusement park beside the pier that will keep your kids busy for hours.
The following day, we visited the town of Ogunquit. It is much more serene than OId Orchard but offers many attractions. The highlight for David was a ride on a working lobster boat that revealed how traps are set and lobsters caught. He was thrilled to touch a live lobster. My wife and I enjoyed a beautiful walk on Marginal Way, a shoreline footpath with a panoramic view of the ocean. Of course in the afternoon we checked out the beach in Ogunquit. This one, too, stretched for miles and had soft white sand that was perfect for a siesta—slathered in sunscreen.
Maine offered a perfect combination of leisure opportunities and amenities to please our entire family. During our time in Portland, we had a comfortable stay at the Clarion Hotel. For details, see www.visitportland.com and www.visitmaine.com.