New England On A Budget - Intro

First a little about me... I love to travel with my family that consists of my husband, 10 year old son, and myself.  I am a teacher therefore I have a lot of time for travel.  However, because I am a teacher I do not have a lot of money for travel... I created this blog for others like me who want to travel but do not want to break the bank while discovering new adventures! 

Our family vacation in June 2014 was to New England - Massachusetts, Maine, & New Hampshire.  Being as budget conscience as ever, I set out planning our trip months in advance.  I researched everything from hotels to restaurants to Cryptozoology museums for this trip.  You will benefit from my hours of research by reading this post. 

We spent 11 days in June 2014 in beautiful New England.  During our vacation we traveled by planes, trains, automobiles, and boats. We visited cities bustling with people.  We visited lobster villages whose population decreases to double digits during the harsh winter season. We ate lobster fresh off the boat at a Lobster Pound and the best blueberry pie you will ever taste! We toured historic grounds where our founding fathers once proudly served our nation. We toured Ivy League colleges where tomorrow's inventions are being dreamed today. 

All of this... on a budget!

New England On A Budget - Getting There

I live in Texas. The driving distance from Dallas, Texas to Boston, Massachusetts is 1,768 miles.  Needless to say, we did not drive to New England. The eastern coast of the United States is the most densely populated part of the country. Driving in that kind of traffic does not sound like much fun! We flew from Dallas to Boston.

I started watching airline prices to Boston 8 months prior to purchasing my tickets so I would know prices and what was a good deal. A good site to keep up with fares is Google Flights. Another site I use when searching for airfare deals is Fare Compare . Everything I read said the best time to buy an airline ticket is 6 weeks before departure. The cheapest days of the week to fly are Tuesday, Wednesday, & Saturday. The first flight out for the day is typically the least expensive.  If you are early birds then this could save you hundreds of dollars.

I looked at several airports in New England including Logan (Boston), MHT (Manchester, NH), & PWM (Portland, Maine).  Manchester, NH is about one hour from Boston.  Portland, ME is about two hours from Boston. I checked several airline prices and reviews including: American, United, & Jet Blue. At the time I was planning my trip United & Jet Blue had the least expensive fares (around $190/person round trip).  I had not flown either airline prior to this trip. 

After reading reviews for each carrier I selected Jet Blue departing from DFW Airport and flying into Logan International Airport in Boston, Massachusetts. That was a GREAT decision on my part! Jet Blue has direct flights from Dallas to Boston. I takes about 3 1/2 - 4 hours to fly to Boston. They have plenty of leg room for a coach seat which helps with that long of a flight. There is a choice of 10+ TV stations and Sirius XM radio in every seat. Oh and did I mention that your first bag flies FREE? Finally, I was most pleased with the on-time service both going and coming back home. I highly recommend flying Jet Blue! 

Note: Jet Blue is known to offer great sales.  A sale in mid July 2014 had a great sale for the first week in August 2014 with non-stop round trip fares from Dallas to Boston for $120 per person.  Yes I meant to type ROUND TRIP.  It was an incredible sale that I would have jumped on but I had just gotten back from my trip and did not see a point in going back that soon...

New England On A Budget - Lodging

On our recent trip to New England, lodging was by far the most expensive aspect of the trip. While I am very budget conscious I am even more a germ-o-fob. I will not stay in hotels that are below my standard of cleanliness which is a pretty high standard.  That being said, I scoured the Internet and Trip Advisor to read reviews of hotels all over New England.  I chose hotels based on the knowledge I gained from these sources.

Note about booking hotels: I always book my hotels with easy cancellation policies instead of the somewhat lower priced no cancellation booking. I usually book 3-6 months before my arrival date.  USUALLY if you keep checking back to the hotel's website it will run a sale and you can cancel one reservation and make a new one at the better rate. Join every hotel club you can - it is FREE.  You are going to spend money on hotel rooms when you travel, you might as well earn something in return. Every trip I have gone on in the past decade at least one night has been FREE because of the points I have accumulated.  

  • Night 1 Dallas, Texas - Since we do not live close enough to Dallas to drive ourselves to the airport we had to rely on my husband's family to take us to the airport.  The only problem with that is our check-in time at DFW Airport was 4:45 A.M.  We did not want to impose on family to take us to the airport that early in the morning.  Therefore we used some of our Club Carlson points we had acquired from previous travels and stayed near the airport at a hotel with free shuttle service. We stayed at the Country Inn & Suites DFW Airport South Irving.  The rooms were clean and quiet.  Since we did not have a car after family dropped us off at the hotel we had to walk to eating establishments.  We ate at a Jack in the Box next to the hotel. Hotel Cost: Free (with points) Recommend This Hotel: Yes

  • Night 2 Boston, Massachusetts - In 2014 Boston was ranked the most expensive city for lodging in the entire United States. Needless to say I struggled finding even somewhat affordable accommodations that met my standards of cleanliness.  Since our plane landed before lunch, we decided we would do the Freedom Trail and see some of the sites of Boston the day our plane landed and then finish touring Boston at the end of our trip.  With that plan, we could drive north out of the city toward Maine and find a cheaper hotel for the first night.  The plan worked well! In Boston a Fairfield Inn & Suites would cost $299 per night plus parking for our rental car ($25-35 per night).  I found a very nice Fairfield Inn & Suites in Amesbury, Massachusetts for $144 per night.  Amesbury is 1 hour north of Boston on I-95.The hotel was quite nice and clean.  The lady at the front desk was super nice.  The breakfast was good and FREE.  It was located off the main highway making for a quiet night sleep. Hotel Cost: $144/night Recommend This Hotel: Yes

  • Night 3 Rockport, Maine - We meandered up the coast of Massachusetts, New Hampshire, & Maine from Amesbury, Massachusetts. We needed lodging near our ferry departure in Rockland the next day. Lodging in Rockland was more expensive than Rockport so being budget conscious I chose Rockport, ME. We discovered a true gem of an inn! The inn was family owned and operated and you could tell they knew a thing or two about hospitality. The name of the inn was Ledges By The Bay - Rockport, Maine - we stayed in room 34 & this inn was prime real estate.  We had an awesome view of the bay from our 2nd story private balcony. The grounds were impeccably kept. The rooms were exceptionally clean. We slept with our sliding door open that night.  The sun rose at 4 A.M.  At 4:15 A.M. a flock of seagulls awoke me - that was a first! The breakfast was good & even had homemade blueberry muffins.The cost for the room was $122 per night. Book this place early as they fill up during travel season. I wish we had stayed 2 nights in this location.Hotel Cost: $122/night Recommend This Hotel: Yes.

  • Night 4 Bar Harbor, Maine - Bar Harbor is a tourist town due to cruise ships docking there as well as Acadia National Park being footsteps from the town. When you have a tourist town, you can expect prices to be high. There are very few chain hotels. Most of the hotels are locally owned establishments that were built in the motor lodge era. After researching Trip Advisor (who never let me down before) I opted to stay 3 nights at the Edenbrook Motel so that we could spend the day in Acadia National Park and come back to the motel to sleep. I was not looking for accommodations that offered spa services or room service. I wanted a clean affordable motel where I could rest after a day of hiking. The Edenbrook Motel was by far the WORST place I have ever stayed in my life. The 50 reviews I read on Trip Advisor who ranked it decently must not have stayed in the room I stayed in. The room was not clean and wreaked of mildew. Don't even get me started on how uncomfortable the beds were. Thankfully the motel had free WiFi. I was able to use my tablet to research another hotel for the remainder of our stay in Bar Harbor. That hotel is listed below. Hotel Cost: $70/night Recommend This Hotel: NO WAY!! I would sleep in my car before I would stay here.
  • Nights 4-6 Ellsworth, Maine - It is MUCH less expensive to stay in Ellsworth than Bar Harbor. Ellsworth is a short drive to Acadia National Park in Bar Harbor.  We were there 1-2 weeks before tourist season started. We found the drive to Acadia from Ellsworth to be a pleasant 20 minutes.  However, from reviews I have read it sounds as though during peak tourist season (July & August) the highway is much more congested. Based on my experience I would choose to stay in Ellsworth when I return again. During my awful night at the previous hotel, Edenbrook Motel, I used the WiFi to research other lodging options for my family.  We were truly blessed to find the Hampton Inn & Suites in Ellsworth, Maine. The hotel was extremely clean, had free WiFi, an indoor pool and hot tub, and a FREE breakfast was included in the nightly rate.  After hiking in Acadia each day we were thankful to have the hot tub to relax our tired muscles. The Hampton Inn was near several dining locations. The staff was above par. After the nightmare from the previous night we thought we had landed in Heaven when we got this one! Hotel Cost: $150/night Recommend This Hotel: Yes!!

  • Nights 7-8 North Conway, New Hampshire - After spending 4 days at Acadia National Park, Maine we traveled to the White Mountain National Forest in New Hampshire.  In North Conway there are many hotel options to choose from.  This town is a tourist town so there is much to do and see. My son loves water parks! A couple of hotels in North Conway offer indoor water parks. I opted to stay at the Hampton Inn North Conway, NH. The water park was small but at that time was not very crowded. My son and I had a blast playing at the hotel water park after a day of touring the White Mountain National Forest. The hotel was clean and quiet considering the number of kids staying there. I really like staying at Hampton Inn because I have found this chain to be reliably clean with comfortable beds. FREE breakfast is an added bonus as well. I will say the breakfast at this Hampton Inn was not as good as other Hampton Inn's I have stayed. Hotel Cost: $163/night Recommend This Hotel: Yes.
  • Nights 9-10 Boston, Massachusetts - Our trip was almost over and we had to return the rental car. We knew we would not need the car in Boston, so when I booked my car rental reservations I planned to return it 2 days before we were scheduled to fly out of Boston.  Remember I am budget conscious and that is hard to be when trying to book a room in Boston!  I searched for months to find an affordable (by Boston standards) & clean hotel. The problem was I needed a hotel that was near the T train (subway). You pay a premium for those accommodations. Another problem was my plane was departing Boston early in the morning so I needed a hotel near the airport. Otherwise I was going to have to pay taxi or Uber fares to get me and my luggage to the airport in time. The mid-priced hotels I was accustomed to staying in on other trips for $120-$150 per night cost $300-$500 per night in Boston. A Courtyard by Marriott was $450 per night. The hotels were so expensive that I even entertained the idea of sleeping in the Logan Airport the night before I was scheduled to fly out. BTW there are websites that tell you the best places to sleep in an airport. Since I would be dragging my then 10 year old son into this, I chose the Embassy Suites Logan Airport instead of sleeping in the airport. I think I made the right choice. The Embassy Suites Logan Airport was my choice because it is owned by Hilton and I had already racked up a bunch of points on this trip. Another reason I chose this hotel is they offered FREE breakfast and FREE evening social with sodas and appetizers and the other hotels I was considering did not. (Hilton Airport & Courtyard Airport) Note: In Boston hotels are not permitted to offer free alcoholic beverages.  I say this because most Embassy Suites offer wine and beer at their evening social.The hotel was clean, quiet, and nicely appointed. There was even an indoor pool. All of the rooms were suites which gave us more room than any previous hotel on our trip. I originally booked a King room with a sleeper sofa at a rate of $299 per night.  But because I booked it with easy cancellation I was able to save some money.  Two weeks before my check-in I was able to cancel my original reservation and book a room with 2 queen beds for a total of $569 saving me $31 and my son did not have to sleep on the sleeper sofa. We got a better room for less money! Another benefit of the Embassy Suites was the proximity to the T station (subway). We were able to walk across a public park and catch the subway into Boston.  The walk was safe during the day but I don't think I would want to do it at night.  The Embassy Suites Airport is near Logan Airport which is not known to be the best neighborhood in Boston. However, it was not a terrible neighborhood either.  If you are looking to stay in the best area in Boston, get ready to shell out plenty of money to do so.  I guess if you were that person, you probably would not be reading my blog... Hotel Cost: $285/night Recommend This Hotel: Yes.

New England On A Budget - Eating Out

Eating out was our second most expensive part of our trip. The price of food in New England is overpriced.  I don't know how the average person affords to eat out in this region of the United States. 

Note about saving money at restaurants: 

  1. Get a junk email account and join every restaurant club you can.  Go on the Internet and find your favorite restaurant's website and sign up for their club. If you travel the same time each year, make that time of year your "birthday" in the club.  I did this and get all kinds of FREE food from my favorite restaurants for my "birthday".  This really helps cut the cost on our trip.
  2. Eat breakfast at your hotel. Try to stay at a hotel that offers FREE breakfast. At the FREE breakfast grab a banana or apple to take with you for a snack during the day. If they do not offer breakfast then buy Nutri-Grain bars and pop tarts and keep them in your room.  Grab a milk from a convenience store and you have a cheap breakfast.

As I had done for hotels, rental cars, and airplanes I researched the best restaurants for each area we visited.  I read reviews and looked at menus and was still concerned about being able to stay in budget on this trip. I even tried to find church benefit suppers we could attend thinking the price of the benefit would not be as expensive as the restaurants. Sadly I was unable to successfully find a church supper during the time we were visiting.  It's worth looking into that for future travels though.  Think about it, have you ever been to a church benefit with bad food?  The answer is no because the church ladies are going to bring their best dish for everyone to eat.

So where did we eat?  I must preface the rest of my blog with giving you a bit of knowledge about me - I don't really like seafood.  There I said it... I know it is hard to believe but it is true! I will eat it but it is not my favorite.  However, if you do like seafood then you will love New England.  I, on the other hand, really wanted a good steak by the end of our trip.  They must get their beef shipped from Texas up there based on the prices they charged for beef!

Regina Pizzaria North Boston, Massachusetts

Boston: We spent a total of 2.5 days in Boston.  It was the most expensive place we ate with mediocre food.  Maybe it was because we did not shell out $50+ per plate for food. Remember I am budget conscious and $50+ times 3 is NOT in my budget!  The restaurants we ate at in Boston included:
  • Regina Pizzaria North End: One of the top rated restaurants in Boston - for a reason. We ordered a large pizza that was WONDERFUL. The cost was "reasonable" considering where we were.  The pizza and 3 drinks cost $30.  There were no free refills. I found this to be true all over New England. You get a souvenir Regina Pizzaria cup to take home.  I still have mine.. makes me want some more of that pizza even today! Cost: $30 Recommend it? Yes!
  • North End Mike's Pastry:  According to Trip Advisor, Mike's Pastry's claim to fame is the "best cannolis in all of Boston".  I ordered a cannoli, my husband ordered the Boston Cream Pie (when in Boston you must  try it right?) and my son ordered gelato. The staff was incredibly rude. I tried asking questions about which item I should select and the woman seemed less than happy to answer my questions. The Boston Cream Pie was pretty good.  The gelato was mediocre.  The cannoli was not very tasty. Cost: $12 for only the pastries, no drinks. Recommend it? I don't think so...
  • Mccormick and Schmick's: This is a chain restaurant that specializes in Irish cuisine.  The food was average and prices were too high. Cost: $48 for 2 adult meals, 1 kids meal, and 3 waters. Recommend it? I don't think so...
  • Flour Bakery Cambridge, Massachusetts
  • Flour Bakery Cambridge: Flour is one of the top rated restaurants in all of Boston - not sure why... The reviews were spectacular and there was a line out the door at 11:30 A.M. when we arrived.  This SHOULD have been a sign I had made the right choice for lunch. It was not... My son ordered the kids meal pizza (the strangest pizza we have ever experienced), my husband ordered the honey mustard roast beef sandwich, and I ordered the horseradish roast beef sandwich. None was tasty in the least. My sandwich had so much horseradish on it that it burnt my nose when I was eating it.  I can still taste it today, nearly a year later... Cost:$30 for 2 sandwiches, a kids meal, and 3 waters (very small cups of water) Recommend it? Nope.

Maine: We spent 6 days in Maine and tried some food we had never tried before. The restaurants we visited included:
    Libby's Market Brunswick, Maine
  • Libby's Market Brunswick, Maine: After reading the rave reviews on Trip Advisor, we decided we would have our first ever lobster roll at Libby's. Don't let the exterior looking like a gas station or having to leave the main highway to find it stop you from going. Some of the nicest people you will ever meet own Libby's Market.  We spent time visiting with the owner who gets the lobsters each day from the lobster traps and brings it fresh to the store. She took the time to show my son how the lobsters are cleaned. While we waited on our sandwiches we waited outside at the picnic table on a lovely summer day.  The owner brought us a game to play and even took the time to explain how to play it. If you happen to be near Brunswick, Maine you must stop in at Libby's Market! Cost: $30 for 3 lobster rolls, we brought our own drinks. Recommend it? Yes!

  • Denny's Rockland, Maine: There are not a lot of restaurant choices in Rockland, so we chose Denny's.  I would not normally bother to review it but it was the best Denny's we have ever visited.  The food AND service was good.  In Texas I don't think I have ever been to a Denny's where the food AND service was good.  To top it off it was well within our budget. Cost: $30 for 2 meals and 1 kids meal and drinks. Recommend it? Yes - good food and decent prices.
  • Harbor Gawker Vinalhaven, Maine
  • Harbor Gawker Vinalhaven, Maine: Vinalhaven is a small lobster village located on one of Maine's thousands of islands. You get there by ferry service that only runs twice per day.  There are less than 5 restaurants or lobster pounds to choose from In Vinalhaven. We chose the Harbor Gawker. I had the BEST clam chowder ever at this restaurant.  The rest of the food was fried seafood and was pretty good.  If you find yourself in Vinalhaven you will not be disappointed eating at the Harbor Gawker. Cost: $30 for 3 meals with drinks. Recommend it? Yes - especially the clam chowder.

  • Thirsty Whale Bar Habor, Maine: Bar Harbor is a tourist town.  There are plenty of restaurants from which to choose. The price of these restaurants rival Boston.  After looking at several menus the Thirsty Whale was one that fit within my budget. It is a tavern that serves typical tavern food.  I had the clam chowder and thought it was okay.  My husband had the haddock sandwich and my son had fried shrimp. The portions were not overly large and the quality of food was good but not great. I would not eat here again because I found a better restaurant in Bar Harbor, West Street Cafe.Cost: $35 for our meals. Recommend it? Probably not.
  • Trenton Bridge Lobster Pound Trenton, Maine: Prior to visiting this lobster pound I researched online and decided this lobster pound would be the one we would try. It had the best reviews so I thought it would be worth a visit. I was WRONG. We got to the pound around 4 PM to avoid the rush. When we arrived there were a couple of people ahead of us. We had never visited a lobster pound and were curious about the offerings and how to order. I found the staff to be rude and not very helpful. They seemed annoyed that we did not know what we were doing. The Trenton Bridge Lobster Pound is located on the outskirts of Acadia National Park, I am quite sure there have been other tourists who were just as confused as we were so this could not be the first time they encountered this... When we were about to order I stated to my husband that we should share a lobster since we did not know if we liked it or not. The next thing I know the guy grabs a BIG lobster and says it will take about 25 minutes for it to cook. So we pay $38.65 for this lobster before I know what happened. Get this... BUTTER costs 80 cents. REALLY?? Butter does not come WITH the lobster. We had a HUGE lobster and literally 2 tablespoons of melted butter to dip it in. Had the people been nicer to us we would have paid (begrudgingly) for more butter, but did not because of the staff. I also ordered clam chowder. It was literally milk, melted butter, and WHOLE clams. I felt like I was eating grub worms and the flavor was awful! The HUGE lobster finally came and guess what? It was tough. I have a feeling that lobster was probably dying of old age when he landed in the lobster trap. Had we had more time when we were ordering we would have thought of that possibility and ordered 2 small lobsters instead of 1 HUGE one. Overall this was the WORST place we ate during our 11 day vacation.Cost: $55 for the tough lobster and a bowl of clam? chowder. Recommend it? Never..
  • Take your own lunch: We spent 4 days in Acadia National Park.  Each day for lunch we would have lunchables and summer sausage with crackers that we had purchased at Walmart in Ellsworth, ME that morning. I also purchased an inexpensive lunch kit at Walmart and used ice (from the hotel vending machine) in a Ziploc baggie to keep the food cold while we were in the park.  We did this for lunch in New Hampshire when we hiked the White Mountain National Forest. This a great way to save money and works well when you are not near a restaurant.
  • West Street Cafe Bar Harbor, Maine: The food was wonderful! The service was top notch. Do not miss out on the blueberry pie ala mode. I had the tarragon chicken and my husband had the crab cakes, both were excellent. My son had the kid's shrimp basket. We were very surprised at the quantity of shrimp on the kids meal! This was the BEST meal we had during our travels throughout New England. Cost: $45 for all our meals and drinks. Recommend it? Yes!!! I wish I had some of the blueberry pie today - yum.
West St. Cafe Bar Harbor, Maine

West St. Cafe's Yummy Blueberry Pie!
New Hampshire: We spent 3 days in New Hampshire and ate at the following restaurants:
  • Dairy Queen Grill & Chill: We chose to eat at Dairy Queen because it is one of our favorites in Texas. In New Hampshire the menu is slightly different but the food was just as good.  The prices were somewhat higher than in Texas but not terribly high.Cost: $20 for three meals, blizzards, and drinks. Recommend it? Yes.
  • May Kelly's Irish Pub
    North Conway, New Hampshire
  • May Kelly's North Conway, New Hampshire:  North Conway has lots of choices of restaurants because it is a tourist town. There are many fast food restaurants.  The sit down restaurants tend to be pricey.  After reading reviews I chose May Kelly's, an Irish pub. I had Gaelic Chicken, my husband had the Ploughman's Dinner, and my son had the kids meal fish 'n chips.  The food and service was really good. We especially liked the Irish potato cake.  Can't get that in Texas! Cost: $55 for our meals and drinks (my husband had a Guinness - you have to at an Irish pub right?) Recommend it? Yes!!

New England On A Budget - Things To Do In Maine

On our 11 day trip to New England we saw many sites both historical and 21st century.  We visited one of the most populated areas in the United States and some of the least populated areas. We visited Maine for 5 days during our trip. Listed below are some of the sites we saw on our trip.

We rented a car in Boston and drove up the coast of Maine on Highway 1. We really expected to have more ocean views as we drove but there were trees that obstructed our view. The towns we drove through were quaint. The speed limit was 45 MPH on most of Highway 1 so be prepared to take it slow. One of our favorite towns was Kennebunkport..

Kennebunkport, Maine
Kennebunkport, ME - A short 1 1/2 hour drive from Boston will lead you to this quaint seaside village. We had limited time to spend, but found it to be very beautiful.  We stopped in at the library and purchased a book about coastal Maine from the Friends of the Library.  It was a real bargain and we had a great story associated with the book. You should find Saint Ann's Church for a beautiful, serene Maine setting. You can also view the Walker Compound where President George H.W. Bush vacations. After our brief time in Kennebunkport we headed north to Portland.

  • Portland is a beautiful city on the coast of Maine.  We visited the Portland Head Lighthouse.  Of all the light houses we saw while in Maine, this was by far the most beautiful.  The white tower glistens next to the blue ocean.  I would recommend getting a picnic and take it to the park on the grounds of Portland Head..
  • Portland Head Lighthouse, Maine
  • International Cryptozoology Museum - I must preface this post with a disclaimer.  I do not believe in big foot, yetis, the Loch Ness monster, or aliens.  However, my 10 year old son has spent the better part of 2 years in search of a big foot. He has watched every documentary and searched every wooded area we visited for the mythical creature.  When we discovered Portland, Maine is home to the world's ONLY cryptozoology museum we had to visit it. The museum is located in downtown Portland in what could be considered the "shady" side of town.  There were lots of homeless people and graffiti everywhere. I do not believe we would have stopped if it were not the middle of the day. The museum is located in a back alley for lack of a better description. You have to park on the street and pay a meter. Once we entered the museum there was lots to see.  My son had a blast taking photos of actual "big foot poo" and life sized replicas of the creature.  For the big foot enthusiast this is must see museum.  Would I go if my son did not have the interest in big foot? Probably not.  Cost: $7 adults $5 Children up to 12 years of age 
After spending a few hours in Portland we headed north. I read many reviews searching for the best lobster roll in all of Maine, I selected Libby's Market in Brunswick, Maine.  Libby's Market is located 30 minutes north of Portland.  You can find my review for Libby's on my blog titled New England on a Budget - Eating Out.  Libby's has some of the nicest people who own it and a very tasty lobster roll too. 

Freeport, ME LL Bean Flagship Store - As an avid fan of LL Bean products our trip to Maine would have been disappointing if we did not visit this iconic store. The store is massive in size.  While the prices are the same as online and the catalog, I liked being able to see the item and try it on.  This luxury is not available in Texas. The area around LL Bean is comprised of "outlet" stores.  Freeport, Maine seems to cater to those who want to shop.  We were not interested in shopping so after visiting the LL Bean store we headed out to our next destination where we would spend the night, Rockport, Maine.

Rockport, Maine - This seaside village is located between Rockland and Camden. We stayed in Rockport at the Ledges by the Bay. See my review at my blog New England on a Budget - Lodging.  . We only stayed one night in Rockport and wish we had spent at least 3 days. At the time of our visit the Owl's Head Lighthouse in Rockland allowed visitors to go inside the lighthouse and tour it on Wednesday afternoons. We tried to make it in time for the tour, but the tours closed before we could get there.  I am most disappointed I did not get to go up inside the lighthouse.. maybe on my next trip to Maine. In addition to Owl's Head Lighthouse Rockland also has the Rockland Breakwater Lighthouse.  This lighthouse is located at the end of a 1/2 mile granite breakwater. The reviews I read said the granite was slippery and unstable - we did not visit the lighthouse due to my husband's injured foot. Rockland also has ferry service that runs out to Matinicus, North Haven, & Vinalhaven. See my blog titled New England on a Budget - Getting Around Maine for information about the ferry service. We spent the night in Rockport because lodging was less expensive than Camden or Rockport.  The next day we headed to Vinalhaven via ferry service. 

Vinalhaven, Maine
Vinalhaven, Maine -  Do you seek to truly "get away from it all"? If so, Vinalhaven is for you! It is one of the many islands off the coast of Maine and is a true lobster village.  You will need to ride the ferry from Rockland for 1 1/2 hour to get to this small lobster village. From the ferry terminal you can easily walk to the town for a nice lunch.  After lunch you can spend time perusing the shops.  If shopping is not what you seek head down to the harbor and watch for sea life and lobster fishermen. Take in the sea air and appreciate the beauty you are surrounded by.  But don't get too lost in the moment because you will need to catch the ferry out or risk not having anywhere to sleep that night. Accommodations are limited in Vinalhaven and reservations need to be made in advance. We spent a memorable 4 hours in this quaint village.  If you have the time, get away from the tourist spots and head out to one of Maine's many islands.

Ellsworth, Maine - After a disastrous one night stay in Bar Harbor we switched hotels to one 20 minutes away in Ellsworth.  Ellsworth has several hotels/motels from which to choose.  See my blog New England on a Budget - Lodging for my stellar reviews of my hotel. Ellsworth also has many restaurants to choose from including chain restaurants as well as locally owned establishments.  Ellsworth has a movie theater and several stores, including Walmart.  We utilized Walmart daily to get our lunch for Acadia National Park each day.  Budget tip: Go to Walmart and purchase a lunch bag and Lunchables or summer sausage packs to carry a picnic lunch to Acadia.  Just throw some cold bottles of water in the lunch kit to keep your food cold during the day. This will save you time and money.

Bar Harbor, Maine - Bar Harbor is a tourist town. There are many shops and restaurants that line the streets of this picturesque seaside town. This small town is often overrun with tourists coming by land and sea - cruise ships dock in Bar Harbor several days a week bringing an influx of visitors.  Visit the Bar Harbor Maine website to see the scheduled dates for cruise ships to dock. This should help you plan accordingly.  Bar Harbor frequently has entertainment in the downtown area.  Check the town website for a calendar of events.  Our primary purpose in visiting Bar Harbor was to visit Acadia National Park.

Acadia National Park - In a word - beautiful. Acadia is one of the most visited national parks in the United States.The land was originally owned by the Rockefeller's but was given to the U.S. to preserve as a national park. The park is spread out over Mount Dessert Island.  The most popular portion of the park is nearest to Bar Harbor and Cadillac Mountain on the eastern side of the island. If you want to get away from the crowds, visit the west side of the island. During June it rains frequently, make sure to take a parka.  We visited the second week in June to avoid the crowds.  From what I have been told, the crowds start to get bad from the third week in June through the second week in August (more than 2 million visitors visit Acadia each year, most of them during the summer).  Cost: $20 per vehicle for 7 days OR $5 per person for bicycle for 7 days OR $5 for motorcycles for 7 days, Military personnel are admitted for FREE with valid documentation, Senior Citizens can get a lifetime pass for $10, & permanently disabled persons get a lifetime pass for FREE.

Things to do in Acadia include:

  • Visitor Center - at the visitor center you can get your pass for the week.  There is also a video about the history of the park that will make your visit more informative. This is also a great place to get information about trail closures etc. 
  • Island Explorer Shuttle Bus - Starting the third week in June running through Columbus Day you can ride the Island Explorer shuttle around Acadia.  The shuttle runs from several hotels and inns in Bar Harbor into Acadia.  There are 8 routes from which to choose. Cost: Free!
  • Family fun in Acadia National Park - As with most national parks, Acadia has many activities to keep the whole family having fun while visiting. Click the link to find out more. In April you can register your family for the Friends of Acadia Quest that is a scavenger hunt.  To participate in the scavenger hunt you create a team that is comprised of at least 1 person under the age of 18 and 1 person over the age of 18.  The team works together to complete activities to win prizes. The best part about the Friends of Acadia Quest is that it is FREE. They even mail you a map and a quest card prior to your arrival. This is a fun activity - make sure to sign up and play!

    View from Great Head hiking trail
  • Hiking/Biking - John D. Rockefeller Jr. created 57 miles of carriage roads that are utilized today for hiking and biking. If you decide to bike the carriage roads make sure to ask which are most suitable for biking safely.  The rocks can be very slippery when you are headed downhill. We did not bike but did see others doing so. You can also bike on the park roads. In addition to the carriage roads, there are over 120 miles of hiking trails in Acadia. To find out more about some of the trails at Acadia visit Everytrail Website for reviews by people who have hiked the trails.  I will say from our hikes that Mount Dessert is covered in granite rock making the hikes on rocky terrain VERY slippery.  (I almost slid off a cliff when we were hiking - be careful.)

  • Ranger-led programs - Depending on the time of year you visit, there are ranger led programs.  When we visited we took two ranger led hikes - Rockefeller's Bridges and Cadillac Mountain.  Both park rangers were very informative and we thoroughly enjoyed our hike. There is no additional fee for ranger led programs. 
  •  Cadillac Mountain - is the tallest mountain on the eastern seaboard. Another claim to fame of Cadillac Mountain is that it is the eastern most part of the United States.  If you get up early you can drive to the top of Cadillac Mountain and be the first in the U.S. to see the sun that day. The drive up Cadillac Mountain has several beautiful scenic overlooks - take it slow and enjoy the views. 
  • Sand Beach
  • Sand Beach - You don't find too many sandy beaches in New England.  You really don't want to miss this one. It is gorgeous!  We were lucky and got there before anyone the day we visited and had the whole beach to ourselves. The water temperature was around 50 degrees and there were kids swimming in it! It literally took my breath away when I got into the water up to mid calf. I highly recommend hiking the sand beach trail that gives great scenic overlooks of the beach below. 

    Jordan Pond Loop Trail
  • Jordan Pond - There is a restaurant located at Jordan Pond that is famous for popovers. We did not partake of the popovers, but many websites highly recommend them.  We did hike around Jordan Pond and it was quite the adventure. The hike started out as any other would.  Then we came to the wooden planks. This trail has about 1/4 -1/2 mile of the trail that requires you to walk on wooden planks that are about 14" wide.  You will find the planks at the soggy portion of the trail. We had never seen plank hiking trails before, making it an adventure! Jordan Pond is crystal clear making the hike all the more beautiful.


New England On A Budget - Things To Do in Boston

On our 11 day trip to New England we saw many sites both historical and 21st century.  We visited one of the most populated areas in the United States and some of the least populated areas. Listed below are some of the sites we saw on our trip.

Boston/Cambridge: We did not see a fraction of the sites that can be seen in the Boston area.  I would think if you were a history buff you could spend weeks and not see it all. We were limited on the number of days we had in Boston, mainly due to the cost of hotel rooms. 

    Faneuil Hall located on
    Freedom Trail Boston, MA
  • Freedom Trail: The Freedom Trail is a 2.5 mile path that is marked by a red-line. There are 16 historical sites along the path that are related to the Revolutionary War. You can follow the path and be your own tour guide or you can pay to have a guided tour.  Being budget conscious, we were our own tour guides using the maps available in Boston.  I found a Junior Ranger Scavenger Hunt on the National Parks Service web page and we completed it with my 10 year old son as we walked the trail.  We followed the path from the USS Constitution to Boston Common because parking was less expensive at the Nautica Parking garage than near Faneuil Hall. We liked the North End of the Freedom Trail best - with great restaurants and things to see. Once we finished touring the Freedom Trail, we then took the inner harbor ferry from the Aquarium back to the Charleston Naval Yard.  This was a lot of fun as you can ride up top and have great views of the harbor and Boston.  I just wished it had not been raining... One of the sites on the Freedom Trail was Bunker Hill monument.  When we visited it was required that all visitors go to the Bunker Hill visitor center at the bottom of the hill to get a pass to climb to the top of the monument. To save yourself a trip back down the hill and up again, you might want to check at the visitor center before you go up to the monument if you want to climb up the monument.  The Bunker Hill monument has 294 steps that are numbered.  The steps are STEEP.  If you have health problems you should probably skip climbing to the top, it is quite the workout.  At the very least you should stretch before climbing the steps. The monument is very narrow and in the June heat it feels as though oxygen is limited. My husband made it to the top of Bunker Hill Monument but then was sore for the next 3 days to the point where he could barely walk. Did I mention Bunker Hill Monument was the 2nd thing we saw upon arrival in Boston? You will need a minimum of 3 hours to tour the Freedom Trail. If you visit the USS Constitution you will need even more time.  We visited the USS Constitution and there were tours being offered by current Naval members.  The tours were very informative. The cost for the USS Constitution was donations with a suggested amount of $20-$25 for families. 

MIT Building 10 & The Great Dome

  • Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Cambridge, MA: The Boston area is home to some of the world's finest universities.  We decided we could not pass up an opportunity to "go to MIT".  I love to tell my students in Texas that I "went to MIT". Of course I have to follow that with, one day while I was on vacation... MIT gives FREE campus tours Monday - Friday at 11 AM & 3 PM. On the tour we were able to gain knowledge about the history of MIT while touring the campus.  The tour lasts 1 hour and 45 minutes.  It was an interesting tour, if you have a couple of hours to spare. One thing I noticed was how little MIT looks like a traditional college campus. If you prefer there are self-guide maps available in the information office at MIT. Cost: FREE!
  • MIT Museum 265 Massachusetts Ave.Cambridge, MA:  My 10 year old son loved this museum.  There are many hands-on exhibits developed by MIT students. We have been to several science museums and this one was the most unique. We spent several hours exploring the hands on exhibits. Cost: $10 for adults and $5 for kids. 

Statue of John Harvard? @ Harvard University

  • Harvard University Cambridge, MA: We felt as though we should visit Harvard since we were right there.  I mean when in Cambridge one must simply visit Harvard right? We did not take a formal campus tour but did meander through the courtyard.  We even wandered into one of the buildings and found the Dean of Students office.  I still wonder if we were supposed to be in that building... We took a picture with the John Harvard statue and rubbed his toe for good luck. (Kind of reminds me of the Sully Statue at Texas A&M)  I wonder who had the idea first? I thought Harvard looked more like a traditional college.  I guess now I can tell my students that I "went to Harvard".  Yes, I will still follow it with "one time on vacation". I recommend seeing Harvard just so you can say you have. Cost: FREE! The tour is the only thing at Harvard that fits that description. 

  • Boston Common: Boston Common is a 50 acre public park in downtown Boston.  It is the oldest public park in the United States. We ended our tour of the Freedom Trail at Boston Common.  However, most people start the trail in this location. I was not a fan of Boston Common.  There were too many homeless people and what appeared to be drug dealers for my taste. That's too bad because it could be a nice place to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city. I could not relax because I kept thinking I was about to be mugged, or worse...