My first trip to Boston was in the midst of the American Revolution, as far as my seventh-grade social studies class was concerned. My sister had started college there and she led my mother and me along the Freedom Trail, a 2.5-mile-long path that winds through the city, hitting 16 historic spots. The trail’s brightly colored footsteps and red brick path mark the way on the street and sidewalks, even into cemeteries and churches. Brochures and maps are available online and at visitor centers. I found the trail fun and fascinating, wrote my class paper on it and have loved Boston ever since.
What do my kids remember most about their first trip to Boston when they were 8 and 9? Holding on in the rocking subway train (known as “the T”). Riding the water taxi. Jumping on the musical stairs in the science museum and watching the penguins get fed at the aquarium. (We’ll do the Freedom Trail when they’re a bit older.)
One thing’s for sure: We all want to go back. It’s a relatively easy trip by car (five hours) from the Syracuse area. Boston mixes fun and history in a way kids can see and understand; and lottery winnings aren’t required to pay for it all. If your family has a membership with the Museum of Science and Technology (MOST) in Syracuse, the Sciencenter in Ithaca, or either of the Rochester museums—Strong National Museum of Play or Rochester Museum and Science Center—admission to the top children’s sites in Boston will be free.
Before you go, look online for coupons. Consider signing up in advance for daily coupon deals (such as Groupon and LivingSocial) for the city of Boston. In addition, check out the special hotel-museum packages offered by the aquarium and museums and listed on their websites. These packages may offer benefits and prices that meet your family’s budget or special needs, such as a hot breakfast, shuttle service or free parking.
My mother used one of these hotel packages years ago and we felt very fancy. We stayed at the historic Omni Parker House Hotel, which still offers special family packages in combination with museum and other Boston activities. Step outside the hotel and you’re footsteps away from the Freedom Trail and the Boston Common, America’s first public park, located on 44 acres in the center of the city. I recommend staying at least two nights in or just outside Boston if you plan to take the T into the city.
If you’re driving to Boston, start out early so you can take a detour from the Massachusetts Turnpike (I-90) via I-91 and Route 9 to Amherst, Mass., to the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art (except on Mondays when it’s closed). This year marks the museum’s 10th anniversary and the 10th year since “Slowly, slowly, slowly,” said the Sloth was published by Carle, known for his The Very Hungry Caterpillar and Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? books, among other favorites. Special exhibits this summer feature artwork from Sloth as well as art from the Maisy book series by British author Lucy Cousins. Children and parents will marvel at the variety of designs that build to create a picture book. An art studio and a library also are available for creative breaks for the whole family. Make sure to check the schedule for shows in the auditorium, too. Admission is $6 for those under age 18 and $9 for adults. (AAA discount applies.)
If Friday is your Day One in Boston, arrive, get settled into your hotel and head over to the Boston Children’s Museum, which has $1 admission from 5 to 9 p.m. on Fridays. Get there with a ride on the T. The museum is located just across the Charles River from downtown Boston, so we took the T to the South Station stop on the Red Line.
Climbing up to street level, we headed for the Congress Street Bridge and walked across. There, we saw it: a 40-foot-tall old-fashioned milk bottle that marks the entrance to the Children’s Museum and sells ice cream, too.
The museum offers a three-story climbing structure for children while parents can watch from the adjacent stairs. A science playground, an Arthur TV and book interactive exhibit, a kids’ stage and much more will keep kids entertained for at least two hours.
I recommend devoting Day Two to the Museum of Science. I must admit I was a hesitant visitor. “We have our own science museums,” I told my family. “Why do I have to go to another one?” But I was won over and I can’t wait to go back. It started with a model of the flying car from the Harry Potter movies. The car model appeared to have crashed into one wall in the museum lobby.
Demonstrations are offered daily, such as camouflage in the wild, mind games and even juggling. Even after almost three hours inside, no one wanted to leave and we hadn’t even seen an IMAX movie. Luckily, the museum was closing for the day or we’d still be there.
If you still have energy, take the T to the Arlington stop on the Green Line, which is at one corner of the Boston Public Garden. A main attraction there is the Swan Boat rides. The tradition of the swan boats dates to 1877. Climb aboard for a quiet, 15-minute ride around the lagoon on the pedal-powered boats that run seven days a week.
For dinner, try heading to the North End of Boston, which is known for its Italian food. Enjoy some pizza, pasta and cannolis before returning to your hotel and giving the kids some time to swim and relax.
Day Three means going home but not before exploring Boston’s waterfront. Start with a visit to the New England Aquarium (Aquarium stop on the Blue Line), for which you’ve already bought tickets online. The ticket line can take up to an hour on busy days (trust me, I waited in it), so save time and buy in advance. Consider a break to watch an IMAX movie there, too. You can even take a whale-watching boat tour offered by the aquarium. These trips last three to four hours and guarantee whale sightings. Prices range from $35 for children to $45 for adults. (We’re saving that for another visit, along with a ride on the Codzilla, a super-fast boat that zooms across the harbor for a 40-minute ride at speeds up to 40 mph.)
The aquarium is arranged in a three-level spiral, starting with sharks and rays and winding on up past a variety of penguins to the giant sea turtle on the top. This sloping arrangement allows for plenty of viewing space as one walks around and around the tank and the fish swim by.
Speaking of fish, lunchtime should follow the aquarium tour and options include an in-house cafe, street vendors and many nearby restaurants in this area known as The Waterfront. We crossed the street to the well-known Legal Sea Foods for a lunch that satisfied all, including our wallets. My husband wanted a real seafood entrée; the kids wanted traditional kids’ meals (Read: chicken fingers and spaghetti) and I wanted a bowl of chowder. Done and in a nice atmosphere at a “real” restaurant (not fast food).
Next we stumbled upon the boats that take commuters and tourists across the city. From the adjacent Long Wharf we took a ferry (for the same price as the T) across the harbor to the Charlestown Navy Yard. This boat ride took less than 15 minutes and offered a wonderful view of the shoreline. It dropped us off one ship away from the U.S.S. Constitution, the oldest commissioned warship afloat, and a stop along the Freedom Trail. Sailors lead the free tours every 30 minutes from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Tuesdays through Sundays in summertime. Children love venturing through tiny staircases to see the bunks below, trying out the ship’s bell and hearing about the importance of grog. Celebrate the bicentennial of the War of 1812 by visiting the ship that earned its nickname “Old Ironsides” during that conflict.
Now it’s time to head west, back to Central New York. If you’ve got another day, consider catching a Boston Red Sox game in the historic Fenway Park. (The infamous “Green Monster,” or left-field wall, really is cool to see in action.) Or try walking the entire Freedom Trail, stopping to shop or eat at Quincy Market next to Faneuil Hall where the revolutionary protests really did start.
Eileen Gilligan, an award-winning writer and mother of two, lives in Baldwinsville.
The T. The MBTA (Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority) runs the subway, buses and boats that serve the city and its surrounding communities. Children age 11 and under ride free (up to two children with each adult). Some T tickets also are good for riding the boats and ferries. Check out fares, maps, schedules and more at www.mbta.com.
New England Aquarium. 308 Congress St., Boston. (617) 426-6500. www.neaq.org.
Museum of Science. 1 Science Park, Boston. (617) 723-2500. www.mos.org. Reciprocal admission with membership from the MOST, Sciencenter of Ithaca or Rochester Museum and Science Center, and 50 percent off
admission with Rosamond Gifford Zoo membership.
U.S.S. Constitution. Charlestown Navy Yard, Boston. www.history.navy.mil/ussconsitution/visitor_info.html.
Boston Children’s Museum. 308 Congress St., Boston. (617) 426-6500. www.bostonkids.org. Try $1 Friday
admission from 5 to 9 p.m.
Swan Boats. Boston Public Garden. www.swanboats.com.
Freedom Trail. Boston Public Garden. www.thefreedomtrail.org.
The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art. 125 West Bay Road, Amherst, Mass. (413) 658-1100.
Photo by Kristin Angel © 2011
© 2007 The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art/Damia Stewart
2010 photo by Andrew Greto
S. Cheng Photo