Get Playful in Portland
Rich in both history and fun, Portland is an artsy community with plenty for kids to do and see. Because the city is on a peninsula on Casco Bay, visitors find that the water is the perfect natural air conditioner for vacationing. You’ll want to dress for summer in the daytime but add layers in the evening to keep you cozy amidst the cool breezes brought in by the ocean. There’s a happening foodie scene (yet plenty of options for picky eaters), and we’ve chosen our favorites for kickin’ it family style in Portland and beyond.
The only thing better than Palace Playland’s (1 Old Orchard St., Old Orchard Beach, Maine; 207-934-2001; palaceplayland.com) classic rides and bustling arcade is the fact that admission is always free! Sure, you’ll be shelling out for games and ride tickets, but that means you can build your visit to New England’s only beachfront amusement park around your budget, regulating kids to a certain number of attractions depending on how much you want to spend.
Those with a competitive streak may get distracted by the glow emitted from the arcade’s recently updated prize counter, boasting all of the traditional booty kids go crazy over.
Little kids will want to check out the Convoy, in which tiny trucks transport them along a colorful track, and the Crop Duster, a collection of planes that are moveable up and down at the discretion of the passenger. The Dizzy Dragon is great for all ages; riders can choose how quickly they want to spin as they circle around the attraction’s lot.
You have to be a little taller (at least 42 inches) to take a slip down the Euro Slide, where kids hop on a mat to race down a brightly-hued hill. The Frog Hopper will set kids up for the thrill rides of their future, featuring a smaller tower that lifts seated children up, then drops them down.
Thrill seekers (read: teens and tweens who still have the stomach to deal with this kind of thing) will head straight to the Galaxi Coaster, an Italian-made coaster that rises high above the midway before dropping down and around in twists and turns. The Pirate will practically bring you to your feet as it swings back and forth, with the motion lifting passengers’ bums out of their seats as it reaches new heights, while Power Surge will spin you around and even upside down.
If you’re looking for even more amusement park action, you need not go any further than Funtown/Splashtown USA (US Route 1,774 Portland Road, Saco, Maine; 207-284-5139; funtownsplashtownusa.com), which began as simply the Marvel Drive-In restaurant in 1960 and slowly expanded into an out-of-this-world family experience over the years. It’s divided into two areas, Funtown and Splashtown, and you can decide whether you want the family to stay dry or get wet. Much like Palace Playland, Funtown features kiddie, family and thrill rides depending on size and comfort level. You can keep your fun as mild or scream-inducing as you like. The little ones will definitely clamor to board the Funtown Kiddie Train.
Splashtown is, as you may have guessed, a water park and also contains options for everyone in your brood. The Family Fun Lagoon is great for guests of all ages as is Pirates Paradise Aquaplay, but watch out, a swashbuckler dumps 500 gallons of water onto guests every two minutes. Arrrrgh! If you want to completely freak yourself out, test your daredevil skills on Poseidon’s Plunge, a steep water slide that will leave you screaming (riders have to be at least 48 inches tall for this bad boy).
The weather in Maine can be spotty so if the parks are forced to close early because of storms Funtown/Splashtown USA will issue a raincheck to return on another, hopefully sunnier, day. It’s a nice little assurance that you’ll get your money’s worth of fun no matter what.
For an amusement park breather head to the tranquil Bug Light Park (South Portland Greenbelt Pathway, South Portland, Maine). It’s a lovely area for picnicking, kite flying or simply observing the boat launches. The Portland Breakwater Lighthouse also lives here. If you’re up for some light exercise, head over to The Clark’s Pond Trail (300 Clarks Pond Parkway, South Portland), a 1.1-mile hike that loops through a scenic woodland area.
A bit off the beaten path of Portland, drive an hour to the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens’ Children’s Garden (132 Botanical Gardens Drive, Boothbay, Maine; 207-633-4333; mainegardens.org), which schedules a sweet Midsummer Celebration in June and hosts daily activities for children during the summer like storytime, a puppet show, nature investigations and even chicken feeding! If your daughter thinks she’s Tinkerbell, you have to take her to Fairy Fridays in July and August where kids can experience fairy music and dance, puppet shows, crafts, dress-up and even fairy yoga (because there’s nothing like doing downward dog while wearing wings)! There are plenty of other kid-centric events available during the summer for a nominal fee, like a birdwatching expedition (for ages 4 through 8) and a bug hunt (also for ages 4 through 8).
Picnic tables are available in the parking area but their Kitchen Garden Café is a nice option if you don’t feel like schlepping your own food.
Kelly Bryant is associate editor of Boston Parents Paper.
Where to Eat
Portland’s culinary scene has plenty of family-friendly offerings for your crew.
• Silly’s – 40 Washington Ave., Portland, Maine; 207-772-0360; sillys.com. First of all, you can’t go wrong with a place named Silly’s. Second, you’ll find a wide range of options for varying dietary needs – like gluten-free and vegetarian. Try the Fried Pickles – you won’t be disappointed.
• Becky’s Diner – Hobson’s Wharf, 390 Commercial St., Portland, Maine; 207-773-7070; beckysdiner.com. Serving breakfast, lunch and dinner this is a great place to grab a bite right on the waterfront. The kid’s menu serves no-nonsense fare like corndogs, chicken fingers, grilled cheese sandwiches and even PB&J, meaning we challenge your children not to find something they’ll want to gobble up.
• Lobster Shack – 225 Two Lights Road, Cape Elizabeth, Maine; 207-799-1677; lobstershacktwolights.com. You’re in Maine therefore you cannot leave the state without enjoying a lobster meal. This joint will appease your craving for a lobster roll while allowing your kids to carry on with their Tour de Cheeseburger.
• The Gelato Fiasco – 74 Maine St., Brunswick, Maine; 207-607-4002; gelatofiasco.com. They had us at gelato and, boy, do they know what they’re doing. Made from scratch, these frozen treat purveyors have concocted more than 1,500 flavors in their history. We wish we could try them all.