Your friends are already posting photos on Instagram of their upcoming trips to the Caribbean during spring break: the new bathing suit, the booked airline reservation, the half-packed suitcase. Really?
We’ve got a better plan: stay home! Well, stay in New England, where you and your family can have loads of fun, save money, and avoid the airport hassle. It’s the cheapest time of year for popular New England destinations, and the least crowded.
“In the last few years, we’ve quadrupled our spring bookings,” says W. Courtney Lowe, director of sales and marketing at the Woodstock Inn & Resort in Vermont. “I think everyone is anxious to get outside after the long winter.”
We hear ’ya.
MAJOR FUN, MINOR LEAGUE PRICES
You probably already know that Portland, Maine, is a popular getaway destination — for good reason. It has a cool, old-meets-new vibe, a seaside setting, historic brick buildings, and a host of fine restaurants, craft breweries, and boutique shops. During the summer, tourists cram the streets of Old Port, but what locals know is that spring is the best time to be in town. www.visitportland.com
Stay: Families enjoy the convenient downtown location and amenities at the Holiday Inn Portland by the Bay (88 Spring St., 207-775-2311, www.ihg.com/holidayinn, starting at $85). Rooms are spacious and clean, some with water views, and up to four kids ages 11 and under stay and eat free. Best part: it has the largest indoor pool in town.
Play: Get a taste of Fenway (without the sticker shock), complete with Citgo sign and a replica left field wall as you watch the Seadogs play. The ’dogs play home five times during spring break week (Hadlock Field, 207-879-9500, www.milb.com. Tickets start at $12). When you’re not at the stadium, visit the Children’s Museum & Theatre of Maine (142 Free St., 207-828-1234, www.kitetails.org, $10), where kids can climb, crawl, and explore three floors of touch-me-please exhibits. If the weather cooperates, rent bikes from EnCYCLEpedia (6 Commercial St., 866-857-9544, www.portlandmainebikerental.com) for a pedal around town. Then stop at Gorgeous Gelato for a well-earned treat (434 Fore St., 207-699-4309, www.gorgeousgelato.com). On your way home, make a short detour to Cape Elizabeth to see the Portland Head Light at Fort Williams Park (1000 Shore Road, 207-799-2661, www.portlandheadlight.com).
Eat: Of course, the kids want pizza, and you’ll find the best at Otto (576 Congress St., 207-358-7090, www.ottoportland.com). Try the signature mashed potato, scallion, and bacon pizza, or go for the classic four cheese pie. You’ll find tasty, fresh-made Southern-style dishes (fried chicken and waffles, pulled pork mac and cheese) at friendly Hot Suppa, housed in an 1860s Victorian mansion (703 Congress St., 207-871-5005, www.hotsuppa.com).
THE GREAT OUTDOORS
It doesn’t get more quaint and quintessential New England than the pretty, little village of Woodstock, Vt., with its classic square, 19th-century homes, covered bridge, and one-of-a-kind shops, surrounded by conservation land, gentleman farms and mountain vistas. Sound a little too boring for your brood? No worries: there’s plenty of outdoor adventure and a bunch of kid-friendly activities. www.woodstockvt.com
Stay: Base yourself at the stately Woodstock Inn & Resort, established by Mary and Laurance Rockefeller (14 The Green, 802-332-6853, www.woodstockinn.com). During spring, the resort offers savings up to 50 percent off, including accommodations with breakfast, starting at $179. Your family will want for naught: the retro-style game room has TVs, billiards, foosball, arcade games, and board games. The fitness center has a large indoor pool and tennis courts. And the resort has connected with local outfitters offering a variety of fun excursions (see below).
Play: Enticing a free-flying hawk to land on your hand is pretty cool. New England Falconry has partnered with the Woodstock Inn to offer guests a not-to-be-missed experience in the ancient sport of falconry. If the kids want more close encounters, head to the Vermont Institute of Natural Science, with live raptor shows and nature trails (149 Natures Way, Quechee, 802-359-5000, www.vinsweb.org, adults $15, ages 4-17 $13). Then go meet the cows, horses, and sheep at the Billings Farm & Museum (69 Old River Road, 802-457-2355, www.billingsfarm.org, adults $15, students ages 16 and up $9, ages 5-16 $8, ages 3-4 $4), where you can brush a Jersey, watch an afternoon milking session, and take a horse-drawn wagon ride. The slopes at Killington (802-422-3333, www.killington.com) are still open for spring skiing or don your muck boots and hit the trails. The Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller Historical Park (802-457-3368, www.nps.gov/mabi) has 20 miles of trails and carriage roads, including a path to an overlook near the summit of Mount Tom, with great views of the village and surrounding mountains.
Eat: Pick up fresh-made salads, soups, and sandwiches at the Woodstock Farmers’ Market, one of the finest local markets in Vermont (979 W. Woodstock Road, 802-457-3658, www.woodstockfarmersmarket.com). The casual and bustling Worthy Kitchen (442 Woodstock Road, 802-457-7281, www.facebook.com/WorthyKitchen) features a blackboard menu of upscale comfort fare and a line-up of craft brews.
OUT OF THE BOX
A family pleasure trip to Hartford? Don’t pshaw the idea so quickly – read on. This capital city, built on guns and insurance, may not be an obvious choice for a vacation getaway, but the area has some major draws, including planes, butterflies, and wooden horses. www.ctvisit.com/hartford
Stay: The Downtown Hartford Marriott (200 Columbus Ave., 860-249-8000, www.marriott.com, starting at $149), next to the Connecticut Science Center and within walking distance to other top attractions, is the obvious choice. Kids will like the indoor pool; parents will like the on-site spa. Another option is a stay at nearby Flamig Farm, where you can perform farm chores, ride a pony, and walk trails (7 Shingle Road, West Simsbury, 860-658-5070, www.flamigfarm.com, two-night minimum, starting at $270).
Play: Begin at the Connecticut Science Center (250 Columbus Blvd., 860-724-3623, www.ctsciencecenter.org, adults $23.95, ages 3-17 $16.95), where you’ll find hours of fun. The top-ranked museum has more than 165 exhibits in 10 galleries, including the Sports Lab where you can design a bike, and Planet Earth where you can dig for fossils and record your own weather forecast. And what better way to celebrate spring than walking through an atrium flittering with colorful butterflies? The light-filled Butterfly Encounter ($6) is the museum’s newest exhibit. Encounter a horse of another color at leafy Bushnell Park, home to a vintage 1914 carousel. Living History Tours, Graveyard Shift Ghost Tours and Get a Clue Murder Mystery Tours are kid-friendly options at the Mark Twain House (351 Farmington Ave., 860-247-0998, www.marktwainhouse.org, adults $25, ages 6-17 $17). Go on a scavenger hunt, fly a plane, and see more than 80 aircraft at the New England Air Museum (36 Perimeter Road, Windsor Locks, 860-623-3305, www.neam.org, adults $15, ages 4-14 $10). Follow real dinosaur footprints at nearby Dinosaur State Park, one of the largest dinosaur track sites in North America (400 West St., Rocky Hill, 860-529-8423, www.dinosaurstatepark.org, adults $6, ages 6-12 $2).
Eat: Share plates of pasta with a side of cheesy garlic bread at Salute, a contemporary Italian eatery in downtown (100 Trumbull St., 860-899-1350, www.salutehartford.com). The family deal at popular Bear’s Smokehouse (25 Front St., 860-785-8772, www.bearsbbq.com) easily feeds 4-5 with a choice of its famous meats and sides (try the collard greens with turkey or the mashed sweet potatoes).
AN ISLAND ESCAPE
It’s a whole lot easier to visit Martha’s Vineyard in spring: no crowds, abundant parking spaces, empty tables at restaurants, elbow room on the beaches, fewer bugs. It’s also a whole lot kinder on your budget, when lodging prices are slashed up to 50 percent. The water is probably still a little too chilly for swimming, but the weather could be perfect for biking and hiking. www.mvy.com
Stay: The Mansion House in Vineyard Haven boasts an enviable location, a short walk from the ferry and Main Street shops and restaurants, and spring rates are heavily discounted (9 Main St., 800-332-4112, mvmansionhouse.com, starting at $179). Rooms are big and comfy, and the views from their rooftop cupola are fantastic. The Vineyard Harbor Motel offers clean rooms, some with kitchens, a private beach, and is an easy 10-minute walk to downtown (508-693-3334, www.vineyardharbormotel.us, starting at $179).
Play: The best way to get around the island is by bike. Martha’s Bikes (4 Lagoon Pond Road, 833-362-7842, www.marthasbikerentals.com) rents all sizes, including small ones with training wheels. Pedal to see the West Chop Lighthouse or head to Oak Bluffs to ride the Flying Horses Carousel or to visit pretty Joseph Sylvia State Beach. While in Oak Bluffs don’t miss a visit to the ultra-kid-friendly Island Alpaca Farm (1 Head of the Pond Road, 508-693-5554, www.islandalpaca.com), with more than 50 adorable Huacaya alpacas (pet them!). Take a hike at the 194-acre Felix Neck Wildlife Sanctuary in Edgartown (100 Felix Neck Road, 508-627-4850, www.massaudubon.org), with four miles of nature trails and a visitor center with live animals and hands-on activities.
Eat: You can watch planes fly in while eating breakfast or lunch at the popular Right Fork Diner (12 Mattakesett Way, 508-627-5522, www.rightforkdiner.com).We also like the made-from-scratch, home cooking at the longstanding Art Cliff Diner (38 Beach Road, 508-693-1224, www.artcliffdiner.com). Pick up homemade fudge, cookies and other treats at Sweet Bites (32 Beach Road, 508-684-8585, www.facebook.com/sweetbitesmv).
Diane Bair and Pamela Wright can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.