As the school year came to an end, my husband and I realized we only had a one-week window before he began his part-time summer job and his summer lessons. It was only chance to get away. Our destination had to be close because baby tends to sleep during car rides and a baby that sleeps all day is not a fun baby at night. We had already minicationed in New Hampshire, Vermont and Connecticut, so I suggested Maine, with one requirement;I didn’t care what we did as long as we visited LLBean.
It’s not that I have a particular fondness for the brand. I’m not a fan of hunting, don’t fish, don’t own any seafaring recreational vehicles, and don’t hike in the way normal “hikers” do. Plus the women’s clothes are very mom-ish. But I had always heard about the giant store and wanted to check it out.
For those that know me, the fact that I let my husband plan the entire vacation without consulting me would come as a shock. But I had more important things to worry about, like how to pack for baby.
We had a fantastic time and got to do a lot of cool things; things I never would have even thought to add to the itinerary.
Day 1: Driving up / shopping
We headed out after a leisurely breakfast, around 9:30am. It was a weekday so we wanted to avoid morning traffic as we had to go by (the outskirts of) Boston. I had been packing and organizing for a week so everything was all set. There was very little traffic as we headed north, but we did get stuck in a torrential downpour so sudden and so violent that the cars on the road either pulled over or started driving about 10-15mph with hazards. We were the former. We sat in the car, our left tires on the highway, the rest of the car in the grass for a solid five minutes before I felt comfortable enough to continue it was that bad.
By the time we made it to Freeport (about three hours total) the skies had cleared and the weather was perfect for afternoon shopping at LLBean and the surrounding outlets. We ended up grabbing lunch at the cafe in LLBean which turned out to be amazing. We each had a cup of pork chili and split a fruit and cheese plate (crostini, Gouda, Brie, Gorgonzola, apple slices, pecans and figs). I would highly recommend this tiny eatery. We ended up buying a handful of things for baby (a couple of fleece pullovers, one pink and one dark blue, a dinosaur cup and a pair of pants that we needed to change her into rather than head back to the car for a new outfit) and a fleece pullover for the hubby.
Accessibility: there were plenty of elevators in the store but it was difficult to navigate around because of the many small levels. For instance, the kids’ section was about eight steps higher than the women’s section. Perfectly fine if you can take the stairs, but with a stroller, a bit of a pain. These small levels were accessible by ramp, and the rest of the standard floors by elevators. It wasn’t too bad, though, as there was never a line at the elevators.
Recommendation: It’s worth the time if only to take a leisurely stroll through the gigantic store. Plus, there are changing tables in the men’s and the women’s restroom, and the tables are located in a small nook outside of where the stalls are, with its own trash can. There was plenty of room for me to stand there with the stroller and not be in the way.
Day 2: Scarborough Salt Marshes, Len Libby Chocolates and lighthouses (Spring Point, Bug Light, and Portland Head)
We started day two by walking a couple of miles down a trail on the Scarborough salt marshes. The scenery and the weather were beautiful and I was able to take a lot of great pictures. We followed by visiting Len Libby Chocolates to see the 1,700lb milk chocolate moose. It looked very tasty. We picked up our Maine magnet (we get a magnet every trip), got the baby a small stuffed moose and the book Goodnight Ocean (really great Illustrations) picked up some chocolate and a bottle of Eli’s Root Beer. The ladies behind the counter were very helpful and showed us how to get to the three local lighthouses on a Portland area map. We decided to go back to the hotel first so that baby could have some play time out of the car seat. We hung out for a bit and went swimming in the hotel pool (first time in the pool for baby and she loved it!).
It was early afternoon when we headed to downtown Portland. We snagged a great parking spot (metered $2) within minutes, just a couple of blocks from the restaurant a friend had recommended. There are a lot of 9from what I hear) great restaurants in Portland but the best ones are small, with only a handful of tables. This is a challenge for us as we had taken the stroller with us. Gritty McDuff’s had outdoors shaded seating which was perfect. We were ablt to pull the stroller right up to the side of the table. After eating we headed a few blocks away to Shipyard Brewery for a free tasting and some cool swag. We grabbed four pint glasses to add to our collection as well as a t-shirt for me. Shipyard had very friendly staff and a great retail store.
Next, we started our lighthouse tour. We hit Spring Point first, then Bug Light (pretty much next to each other) before driving a bit to Portland Head. It was nearing six after this excursion so we headed back to the hotel.
Accessibility: The marshes had hard packed gravel on the trail and a decent size parking lot which worked for our large-wheeled jogging stroller. Len Libby had plenty of space to fit around the displays of chocolate with a stroller and a good size ramp to get it. Many of the side streets in downtown Portland are paved with cobblestones or bricks so a normal stroller may have difficulty navigating. Gritty’s outdoor seating area had plenty of space to store the stroller but it looked like it would be more difficult to get inside with it. The food was priced well and tasted excellent. Shipyard’s tasting room was one level down, accessible only by stairs so we folded the stroller and placed it in a nook by the door and carried the car seat down. Spring Point (WARNING) is not accessible by stroller. It is at least a quarter-mile out over rocks. We put baby in a Chico carrier but I felt uncomfortable hopping rock to rock with her. I would not do that again. At Bug Light we could take the stroller to within 100-feet of the lighthouse. Portland Head Light was on solid ground with paved walkways.
Recommendations: Yes to everything! Next time we are in the area we would plan a whole afternoon at Portland Head. The lighthouse is situated in a large park with rolling hills, picnic areas and a cliff walk. We could easily spent a couple of leisurely hours here.
Day 3: Delorme Corporate Headquarters, Desert of Maine, When Pigs Fly Bakery, Maine Beer Company, game store, Allagash Brewery and Duckfat.
We started the day by visiting the Delorme Corporate Headquarters to see Eartha, a 6,000lb to scale and rotating globe of the earth. It was amazing to see the “view from space” but also to realize the traditional maps we see in the U.S. do not quite do justice to the size of other continents in comparison to N. America. I mean the U.S. is really 1/3 the size of Africa but that’s not how it is usually portrayed on our maps. We shopped a bit in the company store and got baby a book of stories from around the world and a kite. For us, we picked up a small globe and a map of lighthouses around the country. Next, we headed to the Desert of Maine which is a natural (glacier-made) desert located in the middle of the woods. Right down the road in Freeport was the bakery When Pigs Fly where we picked up some bread, olive oil and jam to have for lunch before heading to the Maine Beer Company. We got back on the highway to drive out to the middle of nowhere so my amazing nerd husband could visit a large game store and pick up a few new games. After that it was back to the hotel for a rest and some swimming before hitting Allagash for a free tasting and Duckfat in downtown Portland for dinner.
Accessibility: Delorme was easily accessible, quiet and had plenty of space to move around. At the Desert we chose to walk the trail rather than take the tram. Our stroller did fine in the sand but smaller strollers may not make it. When Pigs Fly had a ramp but we carried the baby in. It was small inside so a stroller would have gotten in the way. Maine Beer Co had a ramp, wide doors and plenty of space for a stroller. Allagash too had plenty of space for the stroller. At Duckfat there was no way to get the stroller inside but luckily outdoor seating opened soon after we arrived.
Recommendation: Delorme is highly recommended. We spent a good half hour watching the globe spin and talking about geography in a way that actually made geography seem cool. The Desert of Maine was a one-time thing. It was cool to see (and to read about) but the $10.50 per adult price tag (whether you walked or took the tram) was a bit much. When Pigs Fly Bakery was AMAZING and I am already planning a day trip to a sister store in MA. The Maine Beer Co had the worst tasting craft beer we had ever tried. It was like the Bud Light of craft beer; there was nothing unique or exciting about it. Plus, the “tasting” was not free. Every craft brewery worth its salt gives free tastings and this one was just a big disappointment. Allagash was delicious and had some cool swag and really friendly staff. Duckfat was okay but communal seating and overpriced food (plus wicked salty fries) would call this place a once-only restaurant.
Day 4: Casco Bay
On our last day, we decided to take a ferryboat tour of Casco Bay. It wasn’t an actual tour as passengers disembarked at each of the small islands we stopped at, but the captain did talk about what we were passing and the makeup of each island in terms of the people that lived or vacationed there. For instance, one island only has summer residences because the city of Portland turns off the water supply during the winter. Another has a K-5 school. After the two-hour trip we hopped in the car for our return trip home.
Accessibility: There is a parking garage located at Casco Bay and we arrived early so we did not have to worry about finding metered street parking. It cost $16 for the four hours we were parked. There was an elevator and a good sized family restroom located at the dock.
Recommendation: I enjoyed the cruise, as did my husband, but baby was not as thrilled. It was too loud and too windy for her to sleep and that is what she needed. I think this would make a great excursion with older kids so that you could disembark at an island and walk a bit before getting another cruise back to the dock.
All in all, Portland was a blast, even with a three-month old, and I would definitely come back!
Side Note: We stayed at the cheapest Portland hotel, the Ramada Plaze Portland, which actually turned out to be a great decision. It was right off the highway (make sure you have an EZ Pass!) and only took 15-20 minutes to get to downtown Portland. There was no continental breakfast but each day the housekeeping staff left us bottles of Poland Spring water and packs of crackers. The crib was provided free and we had selected a room with a fridge and microwave so that we could make our own breakfast and keep baby’s food cold. It was clean, quiet, and perfect for only $85/night!