So long, Lefty. Bye-bye, Mr. Bubbles.
The kids giggled as they threw them overboard.
Lucky lobsters. Yes, Lefty and Mr. Bubbles are Maine lobsters — so named because Lefty only had a left claw and Mr. Bubbles had lots of bubbles coming out of his mouth. They had followed the bait into a trap just offshore in Kennebunkport, Maine, right near former President George H.W. Bush's home.
Too small to be keepers we set them free, as we learned to do aboard the Rugosa, a classic New England wooden 38-foot lobster boat, where families learn about lobstering.
"It was fun to throw them back," said 9-year-old Meghan Beswick, here from Toronto with her parents and siblings.
"Made me hungry," added her 10-year-old sister Kate, who had to be coaxed to pick one up.
Lobster a must-eat
Maine supplies 90 percent of the country's lobsters and a trip to this New England state isn't complete without eating one (or more) outside on a picnic table at a lobster "shack" somewhere along the famous Maine coast. Many vacationers, in fact, will drive extra miles to chow down on their favorite lobster roll (a lobster salad on a hot dog-type roll).
But before lunch, I can't think of a better way to spend a vacation morning than taking the kids out on a lobster boat to see exactly what it takes to get lobsters from the ocean to their plates. You'll find other tours like this elsewhere in Maine.
Aboard the Rugosa we learn from Dave Coleman, our affable captain, that licensed lobstermen work very, very hard. (Each lobsterman has about 800 traps and checks about 150 of them every day.) We watched as Dave hauled in one big trap, checked the bait (herring this time) and the size of the lobsters. (By law, a lobster's heads must be at least 3-1/2 inches long and it cannot be pregnant, or it must be thrown back into coastal waters.) We also learned how to tell the difference between a male and a female lobster.
We laugh when Coleman explains that until the early 20th century, only prisoners and the poor ate lobster. "You wouldn't want to bring a lobster roll to school. You'd get teased," he told the kids. They were once so plentiful that people would pick them up off the beach.
Maine is ideal for an old-fashioned family vacation with plenty of modern touches. Indulge your young foodies at Portland restaurants or shop till you drop in Freeport, home of L.L. Bean and more than 200 retail outlets. Eat blueberry pancakes (the season starts in mid-July). Head out on an old-fashioned schooner for a few days, like we did one summer aboard the Isaac H. Evans, where we ate our fill of fresh lobster on a deserted island, or explore Acadia National Park and hike some of the famous Appalachian Trail.
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Lodging, lodging, everywhere
Fish on a lake or in the ocean, kayak, sail or simply lie on the beach. Take your pick of lodging — campground or cottage, an old-fashioned resort on a lake like Migis Lodge or a B&B (we opted for those when touring Maine colleges). Now you can even meld that traditional Maine cottage experience with every accoutrement you'd expect at a deluxe family resort. Think outdoor (hot) showers with Frette sheets on the beds, maid service and a red 1956 station wagon to ferry your gang to the beach.
Hidden Pond is just 16 spacious cottages (and another 20 bungalow suites designed for adults, each with their own pool) spread over 60 wooded acres a mile from Kennebunkport's famous Goose Rocks Beach, which is open from May to October. There is no kids' club or kids' menu at the resort's new restaurant, Earth, but you can order anything from seafood paella to pizza.
"Kids are programmed every minute at home," said Tim Harrington, one of Hidden Pond's owners. "We don't want that."
This is a place where kids can tool around on bikes, go for a hike, putter in the vegetable gardens (guests are invited to take home what they pick), do cannonballs in the family pool, gather around the fire pit for s'mores (fixings provided) or work on a water color with the artist in residence.
"It's a good place to unwind," says Dawn Beswick, staying with her family for a long weekend. Her kids loved the lobster boat. "We can spread out in the cottage and we don't have to eat out every night. This is family time." You can even arrange for a private chef to cook for your gang.
Digs spendy to cheap
Be forewarned that this all comes at a steep price — these cottages are nearly $1,000 a night, though across Maine you can certainly find plenty of affordable digs. (The www.visitmaine.com website lists more than 260 deals and packages.)
But if you can afford the price, you'll find something different here — individual cottages reminiscent of old-fashioned vacation spots down to the "finds" from local flea markets — old books, paintings, games — and a screened-in porch with a big couch meant for naps together. The difference: parents won't find a stay at these cottages the labor-intensive vacation such a getaway was for their parents.
Harrington and his partners want Hidden Pond to be a place that offers kids the chance to reconnect with nature, as well as offer the service that well-heeled parents want — including the unique Tree House Spa that offers treatment rooms literally in the trees.
"The idea is fabulous," said Janet Seidl, here from Boston for a girls' weekend with her sister, friend and their daughters.
The new resort still needs to tweak its service, guests suggested. Still, they are trying hard to make a family vacation as stress free and memorable as possible — and that doesn't always happen, even at the priciest places.
Memo to parents looking for a total adult getaway while the kids are in camp: A mile down the road, across from Goose Rocks Beach, Harrington and his partners have opened The Tides Beach Club, which has a first-rate restaurant.
Another lobster roll, please!
© 2011 Eileen Ogintz ... Distributed by Tribune Media Services, Inc.