Required to read “Moby-Dick’’ over a school holiday break, a memory that still haunts us, we weren’t keen to visit New Bedford. Herman Melville, of course, shipped out from here in 1841, and his experience inspired the classic. Seafaring life is still a major part of New Bedford’s identity, but this Southeastern Massachusetts city, with the strong influence of its Portuguese and Cape Verdean communities, has other tales to tell. It was an important stop on the Underground Railroad and home to abolitionist Frederick Douglass for five years. Artists such as Albert Bierstadt and William Bradford helped forge its commitment to the visual arts. New Bedford has a texture and vibrancy that might surprise. Young families are especially smitten, thanks to attractions like the Ocean Explorium and Buttonwood Zoo.