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Fortnight in New England with a toddler

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Hi Everyone

We have had some fantastic advice from this forum in the past so here's hoping that somone out there can help us again!

We are a famliy of 3 - two adults and a 2.5 year old - from the UK and are planning our first trip to New England in August this year. We know it will be peak season, and very booked up, but we haven't had the opportunity to plan this one as far ahead as usual, and have just got the flights on airmiles so we are just going to go for it. But we need to decide an intinerary and get accommodation booked urgently!

We are flying into Boston on 30 July and out of NYC on Saturday 16th, so we have 17 nights. Flights all booked and no choice as availability was very limited.

Originally we thought we wanted to do the classic loop - couple of days in Boston, drive up to Maine, probably around Kennebunkport, then over to New Hampshire, see the White Mountains, then over to Vermont for the Green mountains, down to the Berkshires, over to Rhode Island (probably Newport), and then Cape Cod for a few days before driving back to Boston, leaving the car, and getting the train down to New York, ideally for a day or two (we have friends in NYC we can stay with) before flying out.

Having put this all in an itinerary it looks very time pressurised, and a lot of driving, especially with a 2.5 year old in tow. She is generally very adaptable, and a good traveller, but this is the first long haul trip we've done with her and we don't know how she will cope with the jetlag. We don't want to be stuck in a car every day with no time to relax, so we have concluded that this itinerary is too ambitious, but the question is - which bit to cut out?

We have both been to NYC before pre-Children so an obvious option is to cut down time there, but we are in two minds about this as we think it could be fun with a family (even in the heat!). Either way, even if we drastically cut down time in both Boston and NYC (and Boston sounds great for kids, so it seems like we would enjoy this a lot) then we still need to cut out at least one or two other destinations on our trip to make this work.

Any suggestions for what to miss from the following list: Vermont/Green Mountains; New Hampshire/White Mountains; Berkshires? What we've enjoyed in previous trips has been a mix of the great outdoors, culture, history - generally visiting new places and seeing a lot of variety. Although we did quite a lot of road trips, moving on each day or two, before children (in Canada, Australia and NZ, none in the US), this is our first trip of this nature with a family. We like hiking and kayaking but neither seem practical with a toddler, so we're thinking more of staying places with some nice scenary, visiting some child friendly attractions, time on the beach which she will love. We quite like the idea of visiting MASS MoCA, wondered about Tanglewood (if we can get an outdoor performance that is compatible with our toddler), science centre etc. Wondered about the Ben and Jerry's factory but as it is quite far north it seems too far just for an ice cream factory!

We wondered if it were possible to do a loop involving mid coast Maine (Kennebunkport etc), New Hampshire (Perhaps lake area rather than mountains) then straight to Berkshires, missing Vermont? Is that still too much time in the car? Alternatively should we miss out the inland scenary and just concentrate on the coast - maybe going up as far north in Maine as the Arcadia National Park. But that seems a lot of driving too, and maybe the coast will be busier than inland, so it might be nice to escape the crowds for a couple of days. People have suggested just driving from Boston to NY, via Cape Cod, Rhode Island, Long Island etc, but I thought it might be a shame to completely miss Maine and some of the more classic New England scenary (New Hampshire etc),

Any help or suggestions would be extremely gratefully appreciated! Thank you in advance to anyone who can help.

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    York Beach ME was our family destination for 4th of July for many years. It's a very family friendly beach area. If you can get a place within walking distance of the beach, it would be perfect. The other option would be a lake cottage with a decent beach (a lot of waterfront cottages have a dock and no beach) which would require staying in one place for a week. If you chose the Lake Winnipesaukee area in NH, day trips to the mountains are simple. Very close.

    Storyland in Glen NH is very popular with young children but 2.5 is still pretty young. That age would be very bored on a Ben and Jerry's tour. You would do better to look for ice cream places like Beech Hill Farm in NH which has a small farm animal petting area and big sand pile with trucks for children (also hand sanitizing stations).
    http://beechhillfarm.com/
    You can get wine, cheese and ice cream trail maps from the different New England states which might help you plan a trip.

    There are different towns throughout New England that have free summer concerts in a smaller venue than Tanglewood. Some are timed so you are encouraged to bring a picnic supper. We have been to the one in Tilton NH. In fact, I think picnics are great for that age since you don't have to worry about waiting for food. Prime picnic place is top of Mt Battie in Camden NH (take the auto road) also a shady spot at Pemaquid Lighthouse park in ME. This would be about as far north as I would go. Although Acadia is wonderful, it requires a much longer drive that is sort of boring.

    You might look for events. Popular with our 2 yo grandson yesterday was Strolling of the Heifers in Brattleboro VT. It was very crowded but he loved seeing cows and tractors. There is a very nice family event in NH where antique tractors are on display but unfortunately it is late August. Owners generally enjoy letting the children sit on the tractors. You might try looking a Yankee Magazine's website for events in New England to see if there is something that would appeal to your family. I have a visit to Squam Lakes Science Center for our gcs. I think the 2 yo will like a pontoon boat ride on the lake and seeing the animals. It is in Holderness NH.

    You should find school playgrounds throughout your trip where your child can enjoy running around, going on the slides, etc. Sometimes PYO fruit places (blueberries in August) will have a small play area and/or offer hayrides. You can google each state for a list of PYO places. Also there are some great farmers markets where you can pick up a healthy snack of local yogurt and fresh berries, pastries, etc. Bring basic picnic supplies with you. Again, each state has a list of markets. Some are quite busy with a lot of vendors. We liked the Friday one in Brunswick ME held on the common, Bath ME (I think it was Saturday), Brattleboro VT (Sat) and Montpelier VT (Sat).

    Yes, August is popular so I would avoid the popular tourist areas like Kennebunk unless you can find the perfect lodging with beach access within walking distance. We liked the Dunes of Ogunquit ME where you could have a small cottage (microwave and frig) or larger one with kitchen. The property has a wonderful amount of grassy area. Our small cottage/single bedroom had lawn chairs where you could enjoy sitting outside. This type of lodging would be great for a toddler and relaxing. (you can sit outside bedroom door during nap time) When traveling with a young child, we decided having take-out at supper time was a lot easier than trying to go to a busy restaurant.

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    Good advice above by dfrost.
    As for driving and places to visit, I would recommend scaling back a bit. Every place you mention has its charms and attractions, but visiting all of them seems impractical.

    Let's say you visit coastal Maine and NH. You could also take in the White Mtns area, skipping Vt. (I like Vt, but I'm just trying to be practical.) Then you have a decision to make. You could go to Boston, spend some time there, then head to the Berkshires, then to NYC. Or try to fit Newport, RI, into the itinerary, too.

    Ben and Jerry's? You can live without it.
    Long Island? Not this trip.

    Some tips about driving in that part of the US in summer:
    Try to avoid traveling on Fridays, Sundays and Mondays, when other travelers are headed to/back from vacation areas.
    Avoid the city routes during rush hours. For instance, you want to avoid route 84 through Hartford, a medium-size city with lots of rush-hour traffic.
    You might want to pay extra to make sure your rental vehicle has an EZ Pass transponder, which will allow you to cruise through toll booths without stopping. The time saved is well worth it.

    Have a great trip.

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    Thanks so much dfrostnh and vincenzo - some fantastic advice here! Great ideas on the farmers markets, and the farm you recommended in New Hampshire looks lovely and something our little girl is sure to enjoy. Really useful to know about trying to avoid cities at rush hour and timing our travel to avoid weekend peaks as well. And we'll definitely look into the EZ Pass transponder.

    We have been mulling this over further and based on your advice have decided to try and reduce the number of locations we stay. We are still keen to see as much as we can on the trip, however, as we are not sure when we would next have the opportunity to come back! We (and our daughter) are also used to very busy holidays where we see a lot and she is generally really good with restaurants, art galleries and so on so hopefully she will enjoy herself too. But we don't want to absolutely exhaust ourselves.

    So we have boiled it down to two alternative itineraries - any views on these or any improvements you can suggest?

    OPTION 1 (loop of New England, taking in both New Hampshire and the Berkshires, then train from Boston to NYC)

    arrive Boston 8pm ish
    3 nights Boston (is this sufficient? we will probably be jet lagged and we like cities, galleries, museums etc)

    3 nights New Hampshire (either lakes or mountains base, probably drive up there via the coast stopping either Portsmouth or Kennebunkport for lunch, visiting the beach etc)

    3 nights Berkshires/southern Vermont/southern Green mountains (we know this will be a long drive from NH to Berkshires - googlemaps says around 4 hours from e.g. Wolfeboro to Lenox - is this likely to be accurate? An alternative would be to stop for a night mid way, but we thought it might be easier to get it all done in a day building in lots of stops and planning these around farms and so on that our daughter might enjoy, rather than keeping on unpacking and packing up. Any thoughts on where might be good stops en route or good places to stay for a night if we decide to break the journey?)

    Either long drive straight over to Cape Cod, or 1 night probably Mystic

    4 nights Cape Cod (or 5 nights if we drive straight)

    Back to Boston via Pilmouth Plantation, then get train to NYC, arriving early evening

    3 nights NYC (last night in an airport hotel, as we fly back early the following morning)

    OPTION 2 (New Hampshire but otherwise stick to the coast, driving to New York)

    3 nights boston as before (again, if not a enough, this itinerary which is a bit more leisurely gives us more time to extend this part)

    1 night coast maine (around Kennebunkport or similar)

    3 nights New Hampshire (lakes or white mountains base)

    5 nights Cape Cod (we could potentially do a night on either Nantucket or Martha's Vineyard?)

    1 night Mystic
    Ferry from New London to Orient Point, Long Island

    1 night Long Island (unsure of what to see on Long Island or where to stay - we could obviously cut this and head straight to New York but from the little I know of it Long Island looks really nice)

    3 nights NYC (last night airport hotel, as before).

    So my questions are:
    - which of these do you prefer?
    - are google maps driving times generally accurate?
    - is it worth the extra driving time to visit the Berkshires(the driving time for both is similar, but with the first we also need 3 hours 40 on the train on top)?
    - do you have any suggestions for good pit stops between New Hampshire lakes/mountains region and the Berkshires? Where do you recommend we base ourselves in the Berkshires if we go for this?

    Thanks again for everything!

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    >>- which of these do you prefer?<<
    You could do either, but I like the first one better. LI is nice, but realize you'll be about 2.5 hours from NYC by car. I'm not sure it's worth doing for one night.

    >>- are google maps driving times generally accurate?<<
    I use mapquest, and its times are pretty reliable. Don't know about google.

    >>- is it worth the extra driving time to visit the Berkshires(the driving time for both is similar, but with the first we also need 3 hours 40 on the train on top)?<<
    Not sure what "both" refers to.

    >> Where do you recommend we base ourselves in the Berkshires if we go for this?<<
    Maybe Northampton. Nice town and situated near major highways for easy access. Lenox, if you want to go a little farther west and into the mountains.

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    Surprisingly, the best route from Wolfeboro to Northampton takes you very close to Beech Hill Farm for ice cream, farm animals and big sand pile.

    We have passed the Friendly Farm but never visited (on way to Keene NH).

    Concord NH or Keene NH would be your best bests for lunch. You should know that the League of NH Craftsmen annual fair in Sunapee is early August and a very big event with lots of demonstrations and high quality crafts. It would take almost a day to see maybe less with a toddler and it depends on crowds. Crowds can be too much for a small child. There is a League store in Concord NH should you wish to visit. Also Gibson's bookstore in Concord is in a brand new store with some fun children's play areas. Check their schedule for story times. This is an independent book store.

    Brattleboro VT has a wonderful farmers market on Saturday with ethnic prepared foods. There is music and festive atmosphere.

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    Brattleboro is a good stop off of Rte. 91 on the way to Northampton. Plus, 91 is an interstate and an easy ride south -- very little traffic in my experience of driving it several times.

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    Some thoughts:

    1) Personally, I feel that you can largely lump Vermont, New Hampshire, and the Berkshires into one "rural New England" bucket. Pick whichever you want in ascending order of ruggedness of landscape you'd like (Berkshires, Vermont, New Hampshire), and then find an area to base yourself in. Otherwise, there will be all manner of farmers' markets and craft-type things, particularly in the more twee towns, and no reason to seek out one over the other. If I had to choose, I think Vermont is the best of the three and the most quintessentially New England, but New Hampshire fits most logically into the itinerary. Inland Maine is also an option.

    2) I personally consider the Maine Coast to be much more rewarding than Cape Cod, which is kind of one long beach. If I had to choose between them (and I think it wise to given your time and the area you want to cover), I would seriously consider skipping the Cape entirely. Heck, I'd seriously consider skipping New Hampshire and adding time enough in Maine to go to Bar Harbor and Acadia. If you stick with one night, I'd consider Ogunquit as it is closer to Boston and still quite nice.

    3) If you skip the Cape, I would consider a night in Newport to see the mansions and more beach time if you wanted. Alternatively, you could consider Block Island for an MV/Nantucket alternative.

    4) If you are flying out of JFK, do not stay at an airport hotel the night before. They are uniformly depressing and that area is absolutely devoid of any interest. Heck, I'm kind of guessing that you are coming from the UK, so I would think your flight leaves at night, making an airport hotel even less practical.

    5) I agree with others that Long Island is not worthwhile. The place to go for the summer would be the Hamptons, which will be absurd in terms of cost and logistics for one night and once you get further in on the island, it is little more than bedroom communities for NYC.

    6) In Boston, hotels are actually pretty reasonable. Lots of options, but the Colonnade at $263 per night stands out as a pretty good deal and a pretty good location. The Westin at $285 is decent too. The Taj at $315 is also a good deal and might have the best location in the city.

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    I think the coast of Maine the most beautiful in the East, so I'd agree with tg that you might find it more rewarding. However, if you would like to swim you might be disappointed. The water is frigid north of the Cape.

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    It is very true that the water north of the Cape is quite cold but if you do go to Kennebunkport, Goose Rock Beach is perfect for a 2 year old. Usually it is a very shallow beach with gentle waves and soft white sand. Sometimes it kicks up a bit but mostly it is very calm. It's a bit difficult to find - take Rt 9 to Dyke Rd to Kings Highway. Stop at the convenience store to get a daily parking pass.

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    Hi everyone
    thanks so much for all this helpful info and advice! We are very grateful

    So - it sounds like the Itinerary via Long Island is out. We were only going to go that route to save travel time, as we didn't want to have to loop back to Boston, and then get the train to NYC, but it sounds like for the time we have, it's not really worth the detour and definitely not worth staying one night only.

    A few further questions:
    - it sounds like the landscape of the Berkshires isn't sufficiently different or stand out to make it particularly distinctive from New Hampshire - is that right? But are the Berkshires worth visiting for the culture etc? We had read that part of the draw was museums, restaurants, festivals etc, but as we are visiting both Boston and NYC, and this is definitely the part of the itinerary that adds greatest driving time i'm not sure if it is worth it or not?
    - in terms of Coast, we really like quiet/deserted beaches, with beautiful scenery and are not so keen on town beaches (even though we know that they are perfect for a lot of young families who like the amenities and convenience). Which stretch of coast would you most recommend?
    - We are really keen on Cape Cod (partly because it has such a reputation from the UK, so we'd like to at least see it!) - any thoughts on where the best base on cape cod?
    - The only problem with Acadia and Bar Harbor which sounds great, is the driving up there seems to be around 4 hrs each way from Boston - is that right? Is it doable to fit this on if we lose the Berkshires, and how would you recommend we incorporate it into the itinerary? Boston - Maine Coast - Bar Harbor - then inland Maine? and down to NH White Mountains?
    - What are people's thoughts on Newport and Mystic? Which do you prefer? HOw essential is it to see these places, if we were already going to Maine Coast, Berkshires, Cape Cod etc?

    Thanks a lot for any help anyone can offer!

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    - in terms of Coast, we really like quiet/deserted beaches, with beautiful scenery and are not so keen on town beaches (even though we know that they are perfect for a lot of young families who like the amenities and convenience). Which stretch of coast would you most recommend?

    Well, the Cape won't be deserted.

    Honestly, something north into Maine would probably be the best bet. Or Block Island. In general, though, it is New England and the beaches will be busy if it is nice out.

    - What are people's thoughts on Newport and Mystic? Which do you prefer? HOw essential is it to see these places, if we were already going to Maine Coast, Berkshires, Cape Cod etc?

    Newport has the mansions. Mystic has the Mystic Seaport. Neither of these will be replicated elsewhere. In terms of beaches and scenery, they aren't particularly special and you can get better elsewhere.

    - it sounds like the landscape of the Berkshires isn't sufficiently different or stand out to make it particularly distinctive from New Hampshire - is that right?

    That is my opinion, yes.

    But are the Berkshires worth visiting for the culture etc? We had read that part of the draw was museums, restaurants, festivals etc, but as we are visiting both Boston and NYC, and this is definitely the part of the itinerary that adds greatest driving time i'm not sure if it is worth it or not?

    I struggle to think of what cultural activities, museums, restaurants, etc in the Berkshires that will better what you can get in NYC and Boston. Personally, I would skip it.

    partly because it has such a reputation from the UK, so we'd like to at least see it!

    I'm genuinely curious what this reputation is.

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    None of these beaches, including Cape Cod, will be quiet at that time of year. Traveling to the Cape from Boston can be one long traffic jam, particularly on weekends, so if you are keen on it, try to go midweek. I would pick one beach area.. the Cape, or NH coast such as Hampton Beach which is not that far from Boston, or southern Maine.

    from parts of the cape you can take a day trip to Nantucket or Martha's Vineyard but there is really no need to do both..the ferry is shorter from Hyannis to the Vineyard than to Nantucket.

    As for the Berkshires, There is the clark institute in Williamstown, the Williamstown Theater Festival ...Mass Moca in north adams .the Edith Wharton House in Lenox, the Boston Symphony at Tanglewood in Lennox,,you can bring a blanket and get lawn tickets in or sit under the roof in the shed .. great music at great prices..the Shaker museum and farm in Hancock, the Norman Rockwell museum in Lenox.. more theater etc at affordable prices in Lenox and Pittsfield.. so yes you can stay in the Berkshires and relax too and see lots of things.. its about a 3 hour drive or less to boston


    while taking a car ferry to long island may save some time you will have a fee for dropping a car off in another state, and then you have lots of traffic on the way to NYC.. not worthwhile MO

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    The closest you'll come to "quiet" at CC would be some of the 4-wheel-drive-only beaches near Provincetown. They only allow said vehicles with deflated tires, and the water is cold. (So you can understand why those beaches are quiet.) Otherwise, most are municipal beaches that are crowded and charge fees for access.

    Hard to recommend a base at CC, since it so depends on individual tastes. A lot of people like Chatham. Some like Falmouth, which has a convenient, quick ferry to MV.

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