Maine - Bar Harbor & Acadia National Park

Trip Details
Where: Bar Harbor & Acadia National Park
# of Days: 5
Who: Me and my almost 4 year-old daughter
Travel Booking: Internet

After leaving Camden we drove up the coast to Bar Harbor and checked into the Acadia Hotel, which is located right downtown. This is a modest hotel but location and price were more important to me than luxury accommodations. There is a natural food store right next door and Cafe This Way is a great breakfast/lunch place just down the alley. When you're traveling with a 4 year-old, being able to find food fast is important.

Bar Harbor
In Bar Harbor itself, there is a Town Square which offers live music every Wednesday night during the summer. Down by the water's edge there's a park with a nice large lawn and huge cannons which the kids love to climb on.

As for tours, Kei and I both enjoyed the boat tour which included an on board touch tank, a demonstration of lobstering and crabbing. A marine biologist spoke about the Maine waters, the history of the area and explained lobster fishing in detail. As the boat went out towards an abandoned light house we saw seals both in the water and on the rocks. Then the boat's captain pulled up lobster cages and the kids were encouraged to come see what was inside. Near the end of the trip the captain threw a fish out over the side and a bald eagle came down from on the the offshore islands and lifted it out of the water. Very exciting.

Ice Cream. Okay, I just can't write about Bar Harbor and not mention the ice cream. I don't know what they make their ice cream with up in Maine, but it's the most creamy mass of frozen heaven on earth. We tried almost all the ice cream parlors around the downtown and all were great.

Acadia National Park

The first day in Acadia National Park we took the 2. 5 hour carriage ride. Kei was fascinated by the huge horses. All-in-all, she did well, but at some points she was bored. I thought it was a good way to see the inside of the park. There are miles of carriage trail cris-crossing the park that are only open to hikers and bicycles making this a great place to go with a family who loves to ride bicycles.

On two very warm days we visited Sand Beach within the park. Tip: If you want to get good parking space get there early (9:30 AM or so), otherwise you and your child will be walking a long way. By the way the beautiful blue water just looks warm, but it's not; my feet couldn't stay in more than 10 minutes. Tip: Buy a weekly park pass for $20.00, rather than paying each time you enter the park. Or, if you're planning to visit more than one National Park in one year, it pays to buy a National Parks Pass for $50 As of January 2007 the annual pass is good at all USDA Forest Service and BLM parks, which is a big bonus for those who like to go camping.

Another good outing is a hike (walk?) around Jordan Pond. It's a flat trail winding its way around a large and beautiful pond. Since Kei isn't the most enthusiastic hiker, I promised her lunch at the Jordan Pond House restaurant if she walked for two hours. We got less than half way around, however, she was stopping to play in the water a lot. The Jordan Pond House serves the most fantastic popovers with strawberry jam. For lunch Kei had the lobster bisque which was good, but my lobster roll was just okay. People love have tea or lunch out on the patio, however, the day we were there it was threatening rain and we opted for an inside table. Tip: In the future I'd just do tea and/or desert as the food was nothing to rave about.

One day I hired a babysitter for 4 hours so that I could hike. I chose the Gorham Mountain trail, which wound through pine forests that opened to great views of the coast and surrounding mountains. The trail was surprisingly rocky and steep in some locations. I think the top elevation is only 6oo ft. or so. The views were incredible.

Bottom Line: I think Acadia and Bar Harbor is perhaps better for older children, especially those who active. Families who love to hike, kayak, ride bikes would have a great vacation here. I still had a great time and will go back when Kei is older.

Windjammer Schooner, Maine

Trip Details
Where: The Timberwind Schooner, Rockport, Maine
#of Days: 5
When: August, 2006
Who: Me and my almost 4 year-old daughter
Booked Through: Me and Captain Tassi

Many of my friends here in California are either from Maine, or love to vacation there. Each year, they kept saying, "You'd LOVE Maine." Finally, I decided to go. I also love to sail, and had heard about the Maine Windjammer sailing ships. The trick though was to find one who would take me and my almost 4 year-old daughter. So I sent a message out to the association and Captain Robert Tassi of the Timberwind got back to me almost immediately. He and his wife Dawn, have raised two children on their ship (although they do have a house for between sailings and the winters of course). He thought Kei would do fine being that she has some experience sailing here in the San Francisco Bay.

I flew from Oakland to Portland, Maine and spent the night in Portland. Then the next day we drove up to Rockport Harbor, taking our time on our way. Before I left, I purchased a Garmin Nuvi GPS system and I'm glad that I did. It was really helpful in finding the highways, but also restaurants and other services.

Once we arrived, we we greeted by the Captain's wife, Dawn Tassi, who is nicest, most accomplished woman I've ever met. (She's a nurse in the off-season and also cooks all the meals on a wood burning stove in a tiny galley. Amazing!) She showed us to our quarters. These are not luxury accommodations, think tent camping but on a boat. Tip: Don't bring a lot of luggage - it won't fit. Duffel bags work best. The next morning we set sail with a crew of 4 young, burly men who did all the really hard work. We passengers helped when we could, like raising and lowering the sails, and washing our dishes, but overall we didn't do too much. There were other kids on the trip, ages ranging from 4 to 9. Plus, the Tassi kids, Emily (6) and Will (9). All the kids played together really well and seemed to enjoy themselves completely. Even though the waters in Maine are freezing cold, the kids went swimming anyway. Tip: If your kids have the wet-suit type bathing suits, bring them. They will be able to stay in the water longer.

One evening we were ferried to a small island, where the crew set-up a lobster feed. The kids circumnavigated the island several times, collecting flowers while the food was cooking. The lobster was great, in fact the whole meal was incredible. Everyone had fun and it was definitely the highlight of the whole sail.

We sailed around Penobscot Bay and each night anchored in a different harbor or inlet. One very foggy day, the Captain ferried us to Stonington, a quaint, little Maine town. It was nice to get off the ship and walk around, especially since I felt my shorts getting tighter and tighter after eating all of Dawn's wonderful food.

Showers...well, they have a tall canvas bag they set up on the deck if you ask. You zip it up and use hot water that is piped up from the galley. I did not try it, and preferred to just wash my hair on deck.

After the trip, we stayed one night in Camden at the Black Berry Inn. It was lovely and wished I had booked two nights. We then continued on the Bar Harbor for the rest of our Maine vacation.

What to Bring: Waterproof jacket (Gortex etc...), fleece jacket, hat, jeans, shorts, tee-shirts, a book, mosquito repellent, Teva or other water-proof sandals, and a life jacket for younger children. (For women, cropped pants work well because the deck is often wet.) I brought my sailing jacket and I'm glad I did. Bring small toys, books and small games for the kids. Tip: Vaseline is used to grease the sail rings that go up the mast. If you get this gooey stuff on your clothes it stains. So don't bring any "designer" clothes if you're crawling around the ship chasing kids...

Bottom Line: I'd definitely sail on the Timberwind again, but only if there were other kids on the ship too. I'd consider the Fall Colors trip; Maine in the fall must be gorgeous.


Trip Details:
Where: Cancun, Mexico
# of Nights: 5
When: January 2007
Who: Me and my 4.5 year-old daughter
Booked through: AAA Travel/Pleasant Holidays

Our latest trip was to Cancun for 5 days. We arrived at the Moon Palace Resort on New Year's Eve. Since I'd been up since 3:30 AM PST, I'll admit to falling asleep long before the New Year was rung in. This was a completely spontaneous trip. Three days earlier, I called AAA Travel and asked where I could go that was warm and sandy. Hawaii was completely sold out, so the agent suggested Mexico. We have our passports so that was not a problem. Tip: Get your children passports. It has been very useful to me when navigating through airport security, even domestic security. I also carry my husband's death certificate so that I can prove I have sole custody. Starting January 23rd, 2007 passports will be required for non-domestic travel. See the State Department's site for more info.

When we got to the airport in Mexico I wasn't able to find my itinerary. Opps...I think it fell out of the backpack on the plane. The man with the Pleasant Holiday's sign said he'd charge $20.00 per person to take us to the Moon Palace. Hmmmm...I smell "rip-off" but at that point I was so tired and Kei was so hungry, I said okay. Tip: Always carry another copy of your itinerary. Once we got to the resort they had my reservation so there were no problems. The first room I was assigned to was on the 2nd floor. I could just imagine hearing every footstep above me, so I asked for a 3rd floor room. There was one available and since it was on the end, there was no one to the side or above us. Tip: Always ask if there's a better room available. There usually is. All the rooms at the Moon Palace have jacuzzi tubs in them. We had a wonderful view of the ocean from floor to ceiling windows. Each room has a large flat panel TV, which we hardly watched. The pools at the resorts are amazing and Kei had a blast. Though, the beach is not really that nice. There is tons of sea grass that washes up on the beach and rather ruins the experience. I brought Kei's swimming life jacket so she was able to float all around the pool. She discovered the "swim-up" bars and took to ordering a "Miami Vice" which is a drink of half strawberry/half coconut smoothies.

The resort was wonderful. The last time I stayed in an "all inclusive" was my my honeymoon 17 years ago. I'll admit it was really nice not to have to figure out where to eat breakfast or lunch. Dinner took a bit more planning even there because the "nicer" speciality restaurants fill-up very quickly. Tip: Eat on the earlier side 6:00 to 7:00 PM, otherwise you'll be waiting a long time for a table.

I did several spa treatments while Kei spent time in the Kids Club. I'll admit though, she didn't like all of the kid's club activities and apparently spent some time crying. It seemed that they should have split some of the activities to be more age appropriate. Two evening during the week they offered a puppet show in the lobby and Kei loved it!

We did a one day trip to Xcaret which is a Mexican, outdoor water park. It is hard to describe. There are recreations of Mexican villages, plus real Mayan ruins, a lagoon where they provide inter-tubes to float on, beaches, swimming with dolphins and snorkeling trips. However, this place is still expensive and I didn't bring enough money for all the things Kei wanted to do. For example: the towel rentals (2) and one locker was $18.00 (in U.S.) and you get about $8.00 back in only pesos. (Even though they've go a ton of American dollars in their cash drawer.) Tip: Bring your own towel, water and snacks. The food on the beach was $6.00 for hotdogs and hamburgers and $2.00 for water. At night there's a musical/dance show covering the history of Mexico. The reenactment of the Mayan fire ball hockey game was definitely cool. Xcaret is an all day trip; we left at 9:00 am and didn't get back until after 10:00 PM.

More Travel Tips
Instead of a purse, I carry a CatalinaTravel backpack I purchased from E-Bags. For my wallet I use a metal one because it's tough and easy to find in my bag. Kyle Design

Bottom Line: I'd go again to an all inclusive when I'm ready for a true "vacation" but I'd research which resort has the best Kid's Club so Kei has a good time too.