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Best Family Experiences on the Maine Coast

by Barbara Rogers

Jul 15, 2018

© Stillman Rogers

Listicles

Family vacations are what the Maine coast does best. Here are some of our family’s favorite things to do there.

Make Sand Castles at Old Orchard Beach

Seven miles of white sand are just the beginning of this old-fashioned beach resort’s appeal. Along with a pier that will bring waves of nostalgia to parents and grandparents, there’s an amusement park right in the center of everything, its giant Ferris wheel overlooking the beach. A calliope turns out cheery tunes on the merry-go-round and there are thrill rides for teens as well as simpler ones for tots at Palace Playland, New England’s only remaining beachside amusement park. Stroll the boardwalk and beach-side streets for soft ice cream, famous fries and salt-water taffy. The entire seven miles of beach is free, and there’s enough sand space for everyone even at high tide. The gently sloping beach means even small kids can have fun in the water.

Kick Back at Nonantum Resort

Also nostalgia producing is the laid-back summertime charm of the Nonantum Resort in nearby Kennebunkport. Right on the Kennebec River, with its own dock and kayaks to explore the tidal estuary, Nonantum combines grand hotel grace and charm with all the modern comforts. Families love the swimming pool, lawn games and evening campfires, as well as Kennebunkport’s beautiful beaches. Hop onto the trolley to reach Mother’s Beach, in a wide cove enclosed by low rocks. Small enough so it’s easy to keep an eye on kids as they play in the sand and gentle surf, it is backed by a fenced playground. Take the family for a two-hour sail on the Pineapple, a ketch that cruises from the resort’s dock.

Explore Acadia National Park

Outdoor activities and spectacular coastal scenery bring families to northern Maine’s favorite summer playground, Acadia National Park. Handy Island Explorer buses mean everyone can enjoy the scenery as you travel along the coast to visit the highlights. Hop on and off to hike the trails, swim at Sand Beach or marvel at the power of the waves as they shoot as high as 40 feet into the air at Thunder Hole. In the towns outside the park you can rent kayaks, canoes, sailboats, and motorboats or take fishing, whale-watching and nature cruises. Bar Harbor is filled with family-friendly resorts or two campgrounds, Seawall and Blackwoods offer wooded tent and RV campsites only a 10-minute walk from the shore. Drive (or climb) to the summit of Cadillac Mountain for views of the bay and islands, and don’t miss afternoon popovers on the lawn of Jordan Pond House.

Take a Lobster Cruise from Portland

Portland Harbor, lobstering, lobsters, measuring, Lucky Catch Boat Tours, lobster, measuring,

Portland Harbor, lobstering, Lucky Catch Boat Tours © Stillman Rogers

Maine and lobster go together like birthday cake and ice cream, and even kids who haven’t developed a taste for this delicacy will love learning how they are caught — and how they are protected from overfishing. Lucky Catch Cruises, in Portland, are all about sustainable fishing practices, as they introduce guests to the lobsterman’s world. Kids and adults don rubber aprons and gloves to haul traps and measure the catch. Learn how to tell male from female lobsters, and how fishermen mark breeding females to protect them from landing in the cooking pot. Along with hauling traps and learning about lobsters, you’ll get a scenic cruise of Portland Harbor and sea views of Portland’s famous lighthouse.

Sail on a Windjammer

Leave the cellphone ashore: There’s no WiFi on a Windjammer and that’s just the way everybody — even the teenagers — like it. Don’t expect a traditional cruise with entertainment, daily activities and shore excursions, although there are plenty of all three. The activities include helping furl the sails (our teenager’s favorite part, along with helping the cook with meal prep), entertainment is watching islands and rocky shoreline float by and birds circle overhead. There are few frills on a Windjammer — every meal is a captain’s dinner as you recap the day’s adventures over a hearty meal below deck. You’ll stop at tiny villages and maybe a town like Stonington, where you can browse in the few galleries. Bring a favorite game or play those on board, read a book, help furl the sails or just sit and watch the islands slide past. Lunch is on deck and there’s sure to be a lobster bake on a beach one night. The Victory Chimes welcomes families with children aged 10 and over and the Windjammer Angelique, Schooner Heritage and Schooner American Eagle all welcome teens.

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