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Beyond Fenway: A Family’s First Foray to Boston

By Chris & Pat VandenHeuvel

Despite numerous business trips to Boston, the city never ranked high on our list of family vacation destinations. Boy, were we wrong. It turns out Boston is a lovely, lively place to take the kids on family travel adventures. Boston is a very walkable city that revels in its role in American history while readily revealing its 21st Century sensibilities.

While many Boston hotels offer family treats and specials, only The Colonnade in the Back Bay offers a roof-top pool, which was a big hit with our ten and eleven year-old kids. It’s a unique place to blow off steam under the stars after a long day or do short laps to start the day, under the watchful gaze of a few hundred Bostonians. The cute little bar dispenses smoothies for kids, cocktails for adults and a nice poolside dining menu adds to the private club feel. One drawback – the pool is occasionally rented and off limits to guests, so make sure to inquire about private parties before dashing your children’s (and your own) expectations.

The Colonnade is home to the Paris-inspired Brasserie Jo that served us a delicious breakfast buffet and strong coffee to kick-start our day. Lunch and dinner at Brasserie Jo balanced an air of European sophistication, family friendly attitudes and even a bit of a show: profiteroles served tableside, the main event for our kids.

A 285-room European-style hotel, The Colonnade is near public transportation and a healthy walk to many of Boston’s attractions. One lovely morning we wandered through the Back Bay to Boston’s Public Garden lagoon where the Swan Boats lazily glide (since 1877) through the nation’s first public botanical garden. A Boston landmark made even more famous in the books: Make Way for Ducklings and The Trumpet of the Swan, the 15-minute cruise slowed down our hurried city pace as we meandered under bridges and past flowers, topiaries and towering trees. Yes, it’s touristy but also very peaceful and quaint. Since the weather was warm, we wandered next door to the Boston Common Frog Pond, a large public wading pool that encourages mischief among kids and kid-like adults.

Right across the street from The Colonnade is the Skywalk at the Prudential Center, towering fifty stories above Boylston Street. Handheld audio devices escorted us around the city with narration synchronized to 20 viewing stations along 360 degrees of windows, pointing out landmarks and scores of interesting facts about the city, its history and culture. The genius here is two sets of narration: one for kids, another for adults. Visitors hear from Paul Revere, Steven Tyler of Aerosmith, as well as a variety of Boston residents – it’s very well done. Admission also includes the short film “Wings Over Boston” that provides an inspiring aerial video tour of Boston.

Just down the street from the Colonnade is the silly but fun-for-all Boston Ducks, 23 refurbished, amphibious WWII vehicles that meander through town, ours under the tutelage of Captain Sven the Viking, in toasty Norse attire under the August sun, who “came to America to pillage, plunder and ply the Charles River for Swedish Fish.” We passed the golden-domed State House, the Fleet Center, Boston Common, Copley Square, Faneuil Hall, swanky Newbury Street and more, accompanied by corny jokes and historical anecdotes on the one hour, 20 minute tour. Kids loved quacking at pedestrians and the other Duck boats, and then Sven splashed our Duck into the Charles River for a fish’s eye view of the Boston and Cambridge skylines and a turn at the steering wheel.

Also near The Colonnade is the stunningly beautiful Mary Baker Eddy Library for the Betterment of Humanity chronicling the life of the founder of the Christian Science Church and the Christian Science Monitor. The Hall of Ideas is a grand public space with 800 quotes covering 3,000 years of human history, ingeniously emerging in light from a fountain and spilling out onto the floor and walls, addressing themes such as courage, democracy, freedom, hope and spirituality.

The highlight of the Mary Baker Eddy Library is the Mapparium, a cat walk inside a three-story globe where visitors view the world from within, along with a brief sound and light show about ideas that have changed the course of history and redrawn the world map. Our kids enjoyed exploring the acoustics inside the globe where a whisper on one side of the world (the other end of the cat walk) can be clearly heard on the other.

The Monitor Gallery overlooks the main bureau of the Christian Science Monitor newspaper, where visitors look through a glass window into the working newsroom (a newsroom is always less exciting than it sounds). Interactive displays allow visitors to pretend they are making deadline decisions on photographs and headlines at the Monitor, only to have their decisions reviewed from onscreen Monitor editors. In the nearby Quest Gallery, numerous interactive exhibits that invite users to explore their own values and morals kept all of us enthralled for quite some time.

We only scraped the surface during our brief visit to the New England Aquarium, a terrific marine showcase on Boston’s Central Wharf, with adorable penguins and an absolutely fascinating jellyfish exhibit. Its three-story ocean tank contains sharks and more than 130 species of fish including stingrays, sea turtles, barracuda and octopus, inches from your nose.

Boston has become quite the food town, from Little Italy in the North End (our kids loved the gelato choices) to the Back Bay’s endless string of fashionable restaurants with outdoor patios, such as urbane little Croma’s on Newbury Street where we devoured a roasted asparagus, goat cheese and oven-roasted tomato pizza with a crème fraiche base. Mmm ... still dreaming of it.

Around the corner from The Colonnade is chef Jasper White’s Summer Shack, where simple seafood is king. Our seafood-averse kids found choices beyond the lobster or clam rolls, such as corn dogs, burgers or grilled cheese. The familiar and comforting chain restaurants are here, as well, such as Maggiano’s for large, hearty portions of northern Italian food served family style in a retro-atmosphere. Of course, no visit is complete without a stop at Quincy Market, with over 50 food stalls it’s the ultimate food court. Even the aroma of French fries couldn’t pull our kids away from the street performers break dancing on the square in front of the market.

Our long weekend in Boston – with its food, history and family attractions – turned us into the city’s newest fans. We’ll be back.

IF YOU GO:

  • Ask about The Colonnade’s Family Connection Package where a guaranteed connecting room is available for up to 60% off of the normal rate and guests receive up to four complimentary admissions (2 adult, 2 kid) to either the Duck Tour, Childrens’ Museum or the New England Aquarium, plus a complimentary walking map to the city and picnic lunch from Brasserie Jo.
  • First-timers to Boston may want to do the Skywalk first as it’s a great overview of the city’s offerings and nice way to get the lay of the land. www.prudentialcenter.com/play/skywalk.html. Adults $9.50, kids under 12, $6.50. Open daily, 10am to 8pm.
  • On weekends and during the summer, tickets for the Duck Tour often sell out by noon so get tickets in advance (up to five days) if possible. Tours run daily April through November (Ducks are heated), rain or shine 9am till dusk. Ticket booths (located at Prudential Center, Museum of Science or Faneuil Hall) open at 8:30am. www.bostonducktours.com. Adults $26, kids (3-11) $17, under 3, $5.
  • The Mary Baker Eddy Library is closed on Mondays (and holidays) so plan accordingly. www.marybakereddylibrary.org. Adults $5, seniors/students (age 6 and up) $3.
  • Swan Boats only run late April through September, weather permitting. www.swanboats.com Adults $2.50 / kids (2-15) $1.00 from 10a-4p daily.

Pat and Chris VandenHeuvel have been writing about family travel for the past eleven years. They take their two kids everywhere they can, including villas in Jamaica, high-end resorts and the Galapagos Islands.

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