Somewhere between the contra dancing and the campfire sing-along, you might be thinking: What year is this? Have I gone back in time? Nope. You’ve traveled 150 miles north of Boston, to Sebasco Harbor Resort in the village of Sebasco Estates, Maine. In this land of retro family fun, it feels perfectly natural to belt out “On Top of Spaghetti” alongside kids wearing light-up Viking helmets. The truly shocking part: There’s not a cellphone in sight. Past guests have included Eleanor Roosevelt, Cameron Diaz, and Samantha Bee — names you don’t typically see in the same sentence.
When you meet new families at Sebasco (and it’s all families in summertime), the first question isn’t “Where are you from?” or “What do you do?” — it’s “How long have you been coming here?” The resort is currently celebrating its 90th season, and there are folks who’ve been returning every year for a good chunk of that. “There’s Sally — she’s been coming here for 50 years,” says Bob Smith, co-owner of the property, and on the scene himself since 1996, on a walk around the 450-acre resort. Another guest, Trish, “first came here when she was age 15,” Smith says. “Now, her daughter and granddaughter are coming back with her.”
It wasn’t the fancy digs that brought them back. “We’re not the Ritz-Carlton, and we don’t try to be,” Smith says. “Our guests are looking for comfortable and casual,” he says, a place where you can bring the gang and stay in a 10-bedroom cottage if you wish, without worrying about a little sand tracked in. The 128 bedrooms are spread out among two- to 10-bedroom cottages, Harbor Village suites, a main lodge, spa suites, and 10 rooms in an on-property lighthouse. (It was built by the resort’s founder in 1945 but never commissioned by the Coast Guard.) Many rooms have mini-kitchens, and some have full kitchens. The décor is a bit dated in some spaces; other rooms have been recently redone and are more modern. The waterfront location is definitely a draw: Set on the Popham Peninsula with views of Sebasco Harbor-meets-New Meadow River-meets Casco Bay, the resort is surrounded by the requisite rocky shoreline and deep-blue ocean, dotted with sailboats swaying on their moorings, and a few scattered lobster boats.
But the real reason people keep coming, for nearly a century now, is the range of activities offered at the resort. It really is like summer camp for families, and the season reflects that, mid-May through October. Their sweet spot is families with kids from age 6 to 12 or 13, plus those with teens who are into golf and tennis. Things change in the fall, when the kids are back in school and couples (as well as international guests) show up. “We’ll match our list of activities with anyone’s,” Smith says. Facilities include the largest saltwater pool in Maine (Olympic-size, and getting a rehab this winter); a putting green and nine-hole golf course; tennis courts and lawn games; the Fairwinds Spa; and a kid’s club, Camp Merritt. There are canoes and paddleboats (free for guests to use; guided kayak tours cost extra), a fitness center, yoga on the lawn every day, and a short hiking trail that leads to the top of Mount Merritt. And, bobbing in the harbor, is the circa 1930s Ruth, an open river tour boat that takes guests on harbor cruises and pirate cruises to a nearby island, where kids look for buried treasure. Cruises are offered twice per day, weather permitting, for an extra fee. Another old-school amusement — “the heart of the resort,” Smith says — is the Quarterdeck, a rec hall with candlepin bowling and arcade games. Kids quickly discover Patty’s Sweet Scoops, the resort’s ice cream shop, with ice cream from Gifford’s of Maine.
Speaking of food, Sebasco Harbor Resort offers all-day options, so you don’t have to load the kids or grandkids into the car if someone is peckish. The casual Ledges Pub & Patio (most items $12 and up) overlooks the water, and offers a breakfast buffet, plus lunch and dinner — think fried seafood, lobster rolls, burgers, and salads, and a kid’s menu. We ordered the black quinoa with veggies on the children’s menu for our tiny companion; she didn’t eat it, but kudos to the kitchen for the healthy option. (It made a good adult snack later.) The Pilot House, in the same building as the Ledges, is the white tablecloth/fine dining choice (entrees from $22), with a wide selection of entrees, many seafood-focused, and a decent level of quality, comparable to restaurants in nearby towns like Bath. Best part: views all around, and seagull visits that keep the kids amused.
The big weekly dining event is the lobster bake, held on Thursday nights during the summer season, with lobster, chowder, mussels, corn, the works — and blueberry pie for dessert. The convivial atmosphere of folks wearing lobster bibs and chowing down family-style is enhanced by the post-meal contra dancing, with live musicians directing the set. Even the smallest guests get into the act, do-si-do-ing their little hearts out.
And who doesn’t love a bonfire with s’mores fixings (a regular occurrence here), followed by a rousing sing-along? We were sorry we missed Family Tie-Dye and ice cream making. It’s this kind of sweet, low-tech amusement at which Sebasco Harbor Resort excels. And there’s this: Popham Beach State Park, one of the best (and most popular) beaches in the state, is a short drive away. If you’re looking to give your devices a rest for a day or two, this might be the place.
Sebasco Harbor Resort 29 Kenyon Road, Sebasco Estates, Maine; 877-659-8374; www.sebasco.com. Rates from $179 in summer and $159 in fall; MAP meal plan: $50 per adult per day; kids age 12 and under eat for free. Open from mid-May through October.