2012 Massachusetts Summer Vacation

In August of 2012 our family of four vacationed in Boston, MA. day-tripping to various cultural, historical and amusement attractions.


Toeing the Red Line.

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by dutchjamaican on August 24, 2012

At 3.2 miles long and with an average elevation gain of 183 feet I wasn’t entirely sure if the kids would be able to manage Boston’s Freedom Trail in a single day. In the end they did pull it off and even though we would love to have spent more time at many of the sites along the way it turned out to be a memorable, albeit exhausting, day for all of us.

Inner Harbour Ferry

The tour started off with a short ride on the Inner Harbour Ferry. The little, aging, MBTA operated ferry boat snakes in between its larger sisters (Boston Harbour Cruises, Codzilla and Whale Watcher Catamarans) to collect passengers travelling from Long Wharf, home of the New England Aquarium, to the Navy Yard, where Old Ironsides is moored. Though short, the 15 minute trip provides some stunning views of the Boston skyline.

USS Constitution

After the HMS Victory, the oldest commissioned warship is the USS Constitution, but since Nelson’s Flagship is permanently in dry dock, the Constitution has the honor of being the oldest commissioned warship not only afloat, but still sailing.

Aside from special commemorative sailing events such as Boston Navy Week the Constitution or "Old Ironsides" is usually moored at the Charlestown Navy Yard.

If you get there early you should be able to join a guided tour of the ship, presented by an active-duty sailor, with only a short wait. Thankfully for us both the gun and crew decks are pretty large, so if you have excited and chatty kids, keep them occupied at one end of the ship and they shouldn’t be much of a distraction to the tour taking place at the other end.
Visitors over 18 years of age are required to present a valid ID before entering.

Bunker Hill Monument

For a great upper-thigh workout, head to the 294 steps of the Bunker Hill Monument. Stroller parking is not allowed in the little building attached, so I ended up lugging the thing all the way up to the top. The windows at the top are small, plexiglass and dirty so if it’s views you want head to the Prudential. Climb the obelisk purely for the bragging rights.

After the climb you can use the restrooms and enjoy the air-conditioning at the Bunker Hill Museum at the foot of the hill on the corner of High Street and Monument Avenue.

Warren Tavern

About 4 blocks off the Freedom Trail (counting from City Square) on the corner of Pleasant and Main Street is the restored 18th century Warren Tavern. This is a great place to cool off, grab a drink and a bite before heading back out on the Trail. Look for a full review of this establishment under its own heading.

Italian District

After the Charlestown Bridge the Trail passes Copp’s Hill Burial Ground (Boston’s oldest after King’s Chapel), the Old North Church, the Paul Revere Mall and the Paul Revere House. The kids can cool off a bit in the fountains of North End Park before you continue on Hanover Street, past a slew of Irish Pubs and on to Faneuil Hall.

Faneuil Hall and Quincy Market

At Faneuil you’ll often spot great street performers who entertain passersby with feats of acrobatics, juggling, music and comedy.

A little further up is Quincy market which consists of three main shopping areas: the historic Quincy Market Building has an inner promenade of dozens of vendor stalls selling just about every American and ethnic food variety you can imagine. Along the outer walls of the Market Building you’ll find carts and stalls selling arts, crafts, jewelry, clothing and souvenirs. Surrounding the Quincy Market are North and South Market Streets which, in turn, are bordered by more conventional shops, boutiques and offices.

Downtown

The downtown leg of the Freedom Trail hosts further sites of historical significance such as the Old South Meeting House, the Old State House with the Boston Massacre Site and the King’s Chapel and Granary Burying Grounds.

The Parks

End the day on a high for the kids and spend some time at the Boston Common Frog Pond. There’s a little playground there that is walled off and astro-turfed. It features some water fountains, slides and a bunch of climbing and swinging equipment. Then head over to the Boston Public Garden and enjoy a relaxing ride on the Swan Paddle Boats. Two adults and two kids will cost you a little over eight dollars for a roughly 15 minute figure-8 tour of the pond.
Freedom Trail
15 State Street
Boston, Massachusetts, 02109
(617) 242-5642

Pleasure Bay, Castle Island and Sullivan's

Member Rating 3 out of 5 by dutchjamaican on August 23, 2012

Having a few hours to kill we decided to make a circuit around Pleasure Bay, before returning our rental car to Alamo at Logan Airport.

Pleasure Bay can be found at the East end of South Boston, just across from the airport. Sheltered by the Head Island Causeway the Bay is popular with local swimmers, sunbathers and sail boaters while the Causeway itself is utilized by anglers, walkers, runners and skaters.

The path around Pleasure Bay has been designated a Healthy Heart Trail by the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation and a full circuit is approximately 4K. (Incidentally I find that Boston is one of the best cities for walking and running).

Bear in mind though that apart from few short stretches on William J. Day Boulevard and around Fort Independence the trail is pretty much unsheltered and at times when the breeze isn’t blowing it can get quite hot.

At the North End of the trail, between the parking lot and the paths up to the Fort, you’ll find Sullivan’s, a fast food joint and a South Boston staple since 1951. Sullivan’s offers the usual New England fare: Lobster Rolls, Fried Seafood, Sandwiches and Ice Cream but the quality is good and the service outstanding. Lines usually extend through the door but orders are taken quickly and efficiently at the three to four registers and the wait is surprisingly short.

The Clam Strips, Fried Shrimps, Chicken Strips and Crinkle Cut Fries were all good, not greasy and are served with single serve packets of Tartar Sauce upon request. The kids really liked the Vanilla Soft-Serve which can be ordered with fruit-flavored syrup swirled in. The Italian Soda was a bit too sweet for my taste but still good. (The best Italian Soda we had in Boston was the Torani Mango from the Cookie Monstah food truck on Chinatown Park, right next to the Paifang).

Meals can be eaten on the picnic tables out front (un-shaded) on the grassy hillside heading up to the Fort or on park benches in the shade. Since there were a lot of dog owners walking their pets on the same lawn the picnickers were using we opted for one of the benches.

A little way further is a clean and well-maintained playground where the kids can run around and blow off steam. The area is not fenced off however and since some of the equipment is very large and impossible to see over or around my wife and I each sat at opposite ends of the playground so that at least one of us could have an eye on the kids at all times.

The rest of the trail swings around Fort Independence, where you can watch the boats cruise in and out of the Charles River Mouth on their way from or to open sea, and onto the Head Island Causeway which in parts is connected by a series of bridges.

Apart from the occasional rumble of jets taking off from Logan airport the walk around Pleasure Bay is a relaxing and invigorating experience.
Castle Island Historic Site
William J. Day Blvd.
South Boston, Massachusetts, 02127
(617) 268-5744

Amity Island Scavenger Hunt

Member Rating 0 out of 5 by dutchjamaican on August 23, 2012

This was originally supposed to be a review about doing the Amity Trivia Hunt, part of Jaws Fest on Martha’s Vineyard. However, due to a variety of circumstances, although we did purchase the hunt, we were unable to start it, let alone complete it.

I have therefore filed this piece under Stories and Tips to provide some advice for anyone considering participating in this event in the future.

Some background info:

In 1972 the movie Jaws burst onto the screen defining the whole concept of the summer blockbuster, becoming the highest grossing movie ever at the time and instantly garnering a cult following. To stage Amity Island from Peter Benchley’s novel, director Steven Spielberg chose a variety of locations on and around the island of Martha’s Vineyard.

Martha’s Vineyard is an Island off the coast of Cape Cod in Massachusetts and a very popular vacation destination for New Englanders during the summer months. It is reachable via a variety of ferry services which depart from different ports along the coast from Maine to Rhode Island. The biggest of these outfits is the Steamship Authority which operates services between Wood’s Hole (WH) on the mainland and your choice of Vineyard Haven (VH) or Oak Bluffs (OB) on the island. As far as I can tell the S.A. is the only company that carries cars and trucks as well as walk-on passengers.

Since Jaws’ release (and its subsequent sequels) every summer scores of fans make the pilgrimage to Martha’s Vineyard to photograph themselves in some of the movie’s iconic filming locations. (In addition to the Jaws fanatics, there are a growing number of "film location tourists" who enjoy visiting sites and sets around the world related to their favorite movies.)

These visits eventually culminated in the first organized fan event in 2005, dubbed Jaws Fest, which since 2010 has taken place annually in August.

Since we already had plans to make a trip to Martha’s Vineyard during our stay in Massachusetts, we decided to have our visit coincide with the Amity Trivia Hunt so we could combine sight-seeing with a little movie fandom and a game which might entertain the kids.

However, the Triva Hunt is not Letterboxing or Geocaching; deciphering the cryptic directions in the game book requires an intensely geeky knowledge of Jaws, including plot, dialog, character names and especially the architecture and location of the various buildings (original and purpose-built) that were depicted in the movie.

Here follow some tips that should help make your Amity Trivia Hunt more enjoyable and successful:

1. Watch the movie at least three times before attending Jaws Fest, paying special attention to the first half of the movie (before the protagonists set out on the Orca II). I casually watched it the night before thinking that would suffice. How wrong I was.

2. If you own a digital copy consider taking it along on your mobile device. (No idea if this constitutes cheating).

3. Make sure everyone tagging along is old enough to have watched and appreciated the movie so they can participate. My 2 and 6 year olds hadn’t a clue what was going on and were subsequently bored out of their minds.

4. Make sure everyone in your party is wearing comfortable shoes and is fully ambulant. A lot of walking is involved (including on beaches and other rough terrain) as well as hopping on and off buses. Parking grandma is the shade while you go traipsing about is not an option.

5. If you’re day-tripping, arrive at Wood’s Hole as early as possible. I would recommend catching the 08:15 to Vineyard Haven which should get you to Edgartown by around 09:30. Ferries depart every hour and fifteen minutes so every delay takes a significant chunk out of your day. At 09:00 the parking lots closest to the ferry dock were already full and we were redirected to the Gifford Street lot. Driving there plus waiting on and taking the shuttle bus meant we arrived back at the dock just in time to miss the 09:30 and had to wait until 10:45 for the next service. Close to noon on the Island the traffic from VH to Edgartown was bumper to bumper so it wasn’t until after 1 PM that we finally got to the Dr. Daniel Fischer House to collect the Trivia Bag.

I can’t comment on the other aspects of Jaws Fest including the VIP meet and greets, the prop museums, the shark conservation presentations and the reenactments by dedicated fans since we didn’t have the time to experience any of those. The website however says that the event was a success and that nearly 1800 people attended the screenings of Jaws in the Park at Vineyard Haven, so I’m guessing there’s a good time to be had with the rest of the program as well.

Catching a Game at Historic Fenway Park

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by dutchjamaican on August 23, 2012

If you’re going to experience one MLB game in your life, there is probably no better choice than to watch the Red Sox play at home in historic Fenway Park.

Fenway, which celebrated its centennial in 2012, is the oldest Major League ballpark still in use (the Minor League Rockwood Field in Birmingham, AL dating from 1910 is the oldest in the world) and arguably the most famous sporting venue in the United States.

Located just south of the Charles River Basin between the Downtown and Brookline areas Fenway shows its age by having no parking facilities worth mentioning. Drivers can get parking in private garages and supermarket parking lots for anywhere from $25 to $50 depending on the proximity to the ballpark.

We were lucky to get a lift to the corner of Boylston and Yawkey which is about as close as you’ll get to the stadium on game-day since all streets adjacent to Fenway are cordoned off for the duration of the game. Each corner has several lines for ticket and bag checks but they move pretty rapidly and shouldn’t take more than 5 minutes or so to get through.

The concession stands outside the park and inside, below the stands offer a wide range of beverages and snacks. Onion Rings were good, Fries average but we didn’t much care for the Italian Sausage which was bland. I’ve been told that Fenway Franks are the way to go and I’m sorry we didn’t try those instead. Be prepared to pay a premium; Fries, Rings, Sausages, Bottled Water and a 100 Year Fenway keepsake cup of Soda set us back nearly 50 bucks.

If you’re a little late getting into the ballpark and your seat is near one of those support columns that hold up the upper deck, you might find that the person who booked the spot behind the pole is occupying your seat (as we did) but you should be able to sort that out with a minimum of fuss.

It is obvious from the cheers of encouragement, the roars of approval and the occasional cat-calls directed at the visiting team that Red Sox spectators are die-hard baseball lovers and it’s hard not to get caught up in their enthusiasm. Pretty soon you too will be participating in the Mexican Wave, whistling at an unpopular call and yelling for that potential homerun ball to "Get out of the park!"

Spectators in the bleachers and on top of the Green Monster are particularly dedicated, braving 3 hours of searing heat while cheering on their teams. It is no surprise that MLB’s cameras, which take time out to zoom in on fans during the interludes between innings, pay special attention to those folks out in the sun.

Being from Europe and used to seeing football fans separated by fences and police I was surprised to notice the Lighter Blue of the Texas Rangers fans dotted around the stands, surrounded by a sea of Red, Kelly Green and Navy. Unmolested, even when the game ended with the Rangers up by one point, opposing team supporters smiled, shook hands and filed out of the ballpark. True sportsmanship which, unfortunately, seems to be becoming more and more unique to fans of baseball.

After the game we initially joined the shuffling throng bound for Kenmore Station (Green Line) but after a few steps down the subway stairs we decided to about turn and head for fresh air. (Just after a ballgame conditions in the nearby T stations are cramped, hot and sweaty.)

TIP: If you have the time, the weather is cooperating and you don’t mind hoofing it a bit consider walking to a station further away from the Stadium to avoid the press. Since we were headed South, we instead made our way to the Orange Line at Ruggles, a pleasant walk of about 15 minutes.
Fenway Park
4 Yawkey Way
Boston, Massachusetts
(617) 482-4769

Canobie Lake Park, Salem NH.

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by dutchjamaican on August 10, 2012

In the heart of New England near Salem, New Hampshire, lies Canobie Lake Park a lightly themed, medium sized amusement park with rides for all ages.

For older kids and grown-ups Canobie features 3 Roller Coasters, a Water Coaster, 2 Log Flumes and 2 Extreme Spinners.

Attractions that are fun for the whole family: Boat, Cable Car & Train Rides, the Castaway Island Water Park, a Ferris wheel, various Arcades, a Pirate Ship and a Theatre with daily tribute shows to popular artists.

The littlest ones will enjoy a seemingly endless host of Carousels, Spinner Rides, Track Rides, Bumper Cars and a kiddie-sized coaster dubbed the "Dragon". This choice of rides for younger kids is why we opted for Canobie instead of "Six Flags over New England". (That and the 2 hour drive from Boston to Springfield).

On the day we visited only one ride appeared out of service, not bad considering they offer over 85 of them.
We noticed that a lot of effort was made to theme several areas in Canobie, something that you don’t often find in local seasonal theme parks. In particular the South side around the Mine of Lost Souls is themed as the American Frontier and the West side around the Boston Tea Party which has nicely detailed elements of historical coastal New England.

Places to buy food and drink abound, but most are counter-service affairs with small, sometimes shaded, seating areas.

The only exception is Portofino Restaurant which is indoors, air-conditioned and has bay windows overlooking Lake Canobie. Don’t let the name fool you though, the fare at Portofino is not what the name would suggest. The Chicken Parigiana, Spaghetti and Meatballs and Garlic Bread all taste like mass-produced, thaw and heat deals with very little good in the flavor and texture departments.

I can’t comment on the Lasagna, but the kids did enjoy their Pizza (hand-tossed according to the blurb), so stick with that if you absolutely have to have your AC fix on a hot day.

Pizzas, Hot Dogs and Burgers are pretty much the standard choices around the park with a few exceptions such as:
Minuteman Clams - West side by lake: Seafood
Poncho Cantina - West side: Mexican
Dancing Bear Cantina – South side in the Frontier area.

Out of all the menu options at Canobie I would certainly recommend the Pulled Pork Sandwich, available at the Dancing Bear. It is not quite Kansas City, but still head and shoulders above anything else that we tried.

Due to its central location this attraction is within day-trip range of many major towns in Maine, New Hampshire and Massachusetts and can easily be reached via the I-93.

With discount coupons offered with McDonalds Happy Meals, three of us were able to spend the day at Canobie’s for less than a single ticket to Disney (kids three and under as well as parking are always free).
Canobie Lake Park
85 North Policy Street
Salem, New Hampshire, 03079
(603) 893-3506

Chuck E. Cheese's Natick, MA.

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by dutchjamaican on August 10, 2012

Chuck E. Cheese’s is a chain of pizza restaurants slash gaming arcades with a cartoon theme surrounding the title character and his band. The various locations offer an animatronics stage show, token operated kiddie rides, arcade & video games as well as a small indoor play area for tots.

The penny arcade games offer players rewards in the form of tickets which can be redeemed for a selection of prizes. Rewards range from small candies and dollar-store toys viewable in a glass counter up front, to the larger stuffed animals and board games displayed on the wall behind.

For some reason our kids really dig going to Chuck E. Cheese’s, so we usually plan for half a day at a local branch on every family trip to the US.

When in the Boston area you basically have four options in the immediate vicinity: Everett, Danvers, Burlington and Natick. We chose Natick since it was the closest to where we were staying and because of its proximity to the nearby Natick Mall which was also on our schedule.

Despite the somewhat mixed reviews on other sites regarding this particular branch, we were pleasantly surprised to find a large and relatively clean Chuck E. Cheese’s, outfitted with a good range of games and rides.

In addition to all the standard rides and games listed above, Natick has a full-cast animatronics band which features Helen Henny, Mr. Munch, Jasper T. Jowls and Pasqually as well as Chuck E. Cheese himself. (Some of the other locations we’ve visited only had the Cheese.)

While the staff did look a bit bored, they were generally courteous and helpful. Especially the fellow manning the exit, stamping and checking stamps, was jovial and friendly.

Two small issues are worth mentioning however:

The first is a matter of taste; in our opinion the Wings Platters are awful: Original, BBQ and Buffalo are all equally bad. Stick with the Pizzas which, while not great, are a lot better than their other food offerings.

The second is regarding the location: there is only one way to get to this Chuck E. Cheeses and that’s driving west on Worcester Street, a separated dual-carriageway. If you overshoot the entrance to the plaza you’ll have to take the off-ramp and drive all the way around via Ruthledge, Wentworth and Wethersfield Roads to be able to give it another shot. Look for the entrance immediately after Dover Carpets!
Chuck E. Cheese's Natick
801 Worcester Street
Natick, Massachusetts, 01760
(508) 650-9497

George's Surf and Turf

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by dutchjamaican on August 10, 2012

Lovers of fried foods (and who isn’t) and in particular fried seafood will probably feel clam-happy at George’s Surf & Turf in the small community of Uxbridge, Massachusetts.

Located right on the forested Uxbridge Road this little unassuming looking dive offers pretty good road-side fare at reasonable prices in a no-frills environment. Only outside seating is available with covered picnic tables on both the street-side and woods-side of the establishment. In the evenings one can opt for car-hop service (sans roller-skates) by leaving your car lights on in the parking lot.

George’s specializes in deep-fried Surf such as: Shrimps, Scallops (Bay and Sea), Clams (Whole and Strip) and Haddock. For the truly ravenous, a combination platter with all of the above plus Fries and Coleslaw is also on the menu. Other seafood options include Clam-Chowder, Lobster Rolls and Fish Sandwiches.
On the Turf side diners can choose from Burgers (Regular and Vegetarian), Dogs and Chicken Fingers.

For our group of 3 adults and 2 kids we ordered a variety of fried foods by the ½ pint: Bay Scallops, Whole Clams and Shrimps which were all served with Cocktail and Tartar Sauce, as well as Chicken Fingers and Fries. The Bay Scallops, while sweet in taste, were a little greasy and the batter had a hard time adhering to their slippery smooth surfaces. All the other items tasted great, were fresh and fried perfectly crispy.

For the kids a little picketed play area with some toys, a sand-box and a play-house is located at the edge of the woods, but I have no idea how often these are cleaned and sanitized. Have the kids use it only after eating and keep wet wipes handy.

George’s Surf & Turf is a good place to stop after a day at Southwick’s Zoo, which is located just 10 minutes drive to the South.
George's Surf 'N Turf
116 Uxbridge Road
Mendon, Massachusetts, 01756
(508) 473-2125

Redcoats and Rebels at Old Sturbridge Village

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by dutchjamaican on August 7, 2012

If you are planning a trip to Old Sturbridge Village, check their website to find out if your visit coincides with one of the many historical events that take place there every year. For the price of one admission you’ll be getting two attractions (or three if you are able to take advantage of the free second visit).

Military buffs and anyone interested in learning more about the American War of Independence should definitely check out "Redcoats and Rebels" (R&R), New England’s largest reenactment event held at Old Sturbridge for two days in August.

Close to 1000 enthusiasts portray, in full battle dress, the Colonial, British, French, Hessian and Native American troops who took part in the conflict over 230 years ago and Sturbridge itself is transformed into an encampment with the units’ white picket tents pitched in regimental fashion on the village green.

In addition to mock battles, special demonstrations related to R&R include:

Camp tours: Explaining how soldiers of the time lived in camp during campaigns, including how they slept, what they ate, how discipline was maintained and what type of non-combat duties they were expected to perform.

Drilling and Inspection: These are important not only for their value as reenactments, they are also a vital safety requirement to ensure that the arms being carried onto the field are sound and their barrels free of any obstructions.

Fife and Drum Sessions: Highlights the role marching music played in keeping the troops on the move and maintaining morale.

Canon Demonstrations: Keep those earplugs handy!

Children might like:

Making a Tri-Corner Militia Hat
Children’s Musket Drill
Reconnoiter with a Ranger

The highlight of the show is of course the battlefield reenactment which takes place in the afternoon in the Freeman Farm Fields. (Try and secure your spot in the shade early).

Around 300 British Redcoats together with their Hessian allies advance on a fortified emplacement of Colonials and French, under a barrage of musket fire. Both sides are supported by deafening heavy artillery and pretty soon the battlefield is shrouded in gun smoke.

The air is filled with the blasts of the canon, the crack of muskets fired in unison, the shouts of the officers calling the shots and the battle cries of men charging the barricades.

It is obvious that a lot of training and preparation has gone into the maneuvers which are executed with precision. And while the scale of the mock encounter is more akin to a skirmish, it is not hard to imagine that a real clash between armies must have been a chaotic, confusing and above all traumatizing experience.

Besides the activities surrounding Redcoats and Rebels, you can of course on those days also enjoy the exhibits and demonstrations that are part of the regular OSV program.

When we visited the schedule included (among others) demonstrations at the Printer, Shoemaker, Broom maker, Sawmill and Carding Mill. Hands-on experience could be had by Helping with Seasonal Work and Milking the Cows at the Freeman Farm.

In addition to the various free guided walking tours the Quinebaug River Boat was also open for business (USD 3.00, 3 & under free).

TIP: The August sun can be merciless, consider carrying sunglasses and a hat and make sure to remain hydrated. Cold bottled water can be purchased and the Bullard Tavern. Arrive early and you’ll acclimatize to the weather as the day heats up. (We stepped out of our air-conditioned car into the broiling mid-day sun which was rough!)
Old Sturbridge Village (OSV)
1 Old Sturbridge Village Road
Sturbridge, Massachusetts, 01566
(508) 347-3362

Blue Moon Bagels every day.

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by dutchjamaican on August 6, 2012

In Medfield, Massachusetts (about 25 miles Southeast of Boston center) you’ll find the Blue Moon Bagel Café, a great little family-run bakery & sandwich deli. The store is located in a shopping plaza off Main Street, next door to a Shaw’s Supermarket.

While the exterior blends in with the rest of the strip mall’s façade and is distinguishable only by the billboard sign facing the parking lot, the café’s interior is invitingly decorated in warm tones and wood finishing.

The owners have over 35 years of bakery experience and it shows in the selection of their ingredients (organic flour, no preservatives or additives) and in the quality of their product.

In addition to its wide range of artisan breads (Challah, Ciabatta, Sourdough, Foccacia) they serve a good selection of Soups, Salads and Sandwiches in both regular and vegetarian varieties.

I would particularly like to recommend the Cubano Panini (Roast Pork, Ham, Pickles and Gruyere) and the Corn Beef Reuben (Beef, Sauerkraut and Swiss on either Rye or Pumpernickel bread).

The Blue Moon Bagel Café is a good place to stop for breakfast when heading from Boston to points West and South, such as the Southwick’s Zoo near Mendon.
Blue Moon Bagel Cafe
236 Main Street
Medfield, Massachusetts, 02052
(508) 359-8880

Southwick's Zoo, Mendon, MA.

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by dutchjamaican on August 5, 2012

Southwick’s Zoo can be found near the towns of Mendon and Uxbridge, Massachusetts, about 45 miles/1 hour Southeast from Boston via Interstates 90 and 495 or 26 miles/half an hour Northwest out of Providence via the 146 Worcester-Providence Turnpike.

At 300 acres Southwick is larger than the next three largest New England zoos (Beardsley, Franklin Park and Roger Williams) combined. Since each of those other zoos boasts a greater number of both species and specimens, this means that in theory Southwick’s should have more square footage per individual than their competitors, which is always a good thing.

Southwick’s keeps around 100 different animal species in average-sized but well maintained enclosures or "habitats". Some highlights include the White Rhino, Chimpanzee, White Tiger, Giraffe and Siamang exhibits. The animals generally appear well cared for and healthy and I personally did not witness any of the neurotic pacing that is so often evident in creatures living in cramped and un-stimulating environments.
Species are mostly limited to birds and mammals from Africa and South America with a few North American (Deer, Alligator) and Australian (Kangaroo, Kookaburra) representatives located here and there. Aquatic exhibits are currently limited to the aforementioned Gators and Turtles.

For families with smaller children Southwick’s is an ideal zoo destination thanks to its location in the woods of rural Massachusetts which provides respite from the baking summer sun and for the many kids-oriented rides and animal encounters.

Rides are not part of the general admission fee and can be purchased either through an upgraded park ticket (includes armband for unlimited mechanical rides) or through individual tickets which cost 0.75 to 1.25 each, depending on how many are purchased at once.

Kids can ride on an actual pony or dromedary as well as a bounce-a-bout and several mechanical animal-themed carousels. The E-ticket attractions are the Woodland Train and the Skyfari Sky Ride.

I would not recommend the Woodland Train (basically a parking lot tram) as there was not much to see besides Deer and Ducks and the tour did not include any running commentary. I got the feeling that this attraction was a work in progress.

The Skyfari however was definitely worth the price of admission. This 15 minute ski-lift ride through the forest canopy was a cool and relaxing experience which provided unique viewpoints to animal exhibits which are sometimes difficult to observe from the ground (primates).

We liked: lots of shade in the trees, distractions for young kids and the Skyfari Sky Ride.

The kids liked: Deer Forest, Petting Zoo, Pot-Bellied Pigs and Animal Rides.
Southwick's Zoo
2 Southwick Street
Mendon, Massachusetts, 01756
800-258-9182

Wrentham Village Premium Outlets

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by dutchjamaican on August 4, 2012

About mid-way between the towns of Mansfield and Franklin, Massachusetts, just south of Interstate 495 you’ll find the Wrentham Village Premium Outlets; one of the largest factory outlet malls in New England.

The mall is laid out in simple fashion with five parallel streets connecting the parking lot to the East with the main North-South promenade (Wrentham Street) to the West. The grounds are very well maintained and immaculately clean.

All the walkways along the storefronts are covered, but you cannot complete an entire circuit of the mall sheltered from the elements as there are no canopies connecting one side of a street to another. A suggestion would be to connect all the East-West streets on the parking lot side and covering the North and South ends of Wrentham Street. The resulting circuit (south down main street and then back and forth on each side street) would be about 1.5 miles or 2.5 km of precipitation-proof window shopping.

From a purely shopper’s point of view the mall has quite a lot to offer:
-Clothing: nearly six-dozen stores including all the big names such as Guess, Gap, Levi’s, DKNY, Tommy Hilfiger and Ralph Lauren.
-For Kids: a little over a dozen mostly clothing outlets, including Carter’s, Oshkosh, Stride Rite, Gap for Kids and a Disney Store Outlet.
-Sportswear and shoes: over two dozen choices including: Adidas, Puma, Reebok, Crocs and Timberland.
-Jewelry and Accessories: again, over two dozen stores such as Coach, Fossil, Movado, Samsonite and Swarovski.
-House and Kitchen Wares were also well-represented with brands like Calphalon, Le Creuset and Williams-Sonoma
-Restaurants and Snacks: for a complete meal or just a caffeine-fix there are over a dozen options, including: Auntie Anne’s, Dunkin Donuts, Green Mountain Coffee and Ruby Tuesday.

For a cool treat on a hot day check out Richie’s Italian Ice stand, dead center on Wrentham Street opposite DKNY. All flavors are great but Mango and Blue Raspberry are particularly good.

My only complaint is that for parents minding kids there isn’t a whole lot to do besides walk the plaza. Sure there are a bunch of coin-operated kiddie rides and claw cranes, but if you are planning to spend two hours plus at the mall while the other half does the shopping make sure to bring along your own entertainment.

I liked: lots of parking, clean & safe environment and decent dining options.
Wife liked: shopping, shopping, deals and shopping.
Kids liked: kiddie rides (for about 10 minutes), Italian Ice, Disney Store.

TIP: before visiting this or any other Premium Outlets Mall become a member of their online VIP Club to get emails on specials and freebies such as the VIP coupon book (normally five dollars).
Wrentham Village Premium Outlets
One Premium Outlets Boulevard
Wrentham, Massachusetts
(508) 384-0600

http://www.igougo.com/journal-j77102-Boston-2012_Massachusetts_Summer_Vacation.html

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