Our Maine Vacation

Annie Rasiak

© Copyright 2003 by Annie Rasiak

Drawing of a pyramid with a treasure inside.

It’s hot.  And dry.  Of course--it’s August.  You need a vacation.  Go to Maine.  This year marked the second August vacation we took in Maine, and each one was glorious.  The first was in the Rangeley Lake area, about one and one-half hours Northwest of Portland.  We got lobster, but it wasn’t cheap; we saw a moose three times; we rented a cabin on a lake, swam there and hiked in the nearby mountains.  Our Labrador loved it!  But he ruined the day we tried to drive the coast.
 So this year, we did the coast.  We stayed on Mount Desert Island near Seal Harbor, about 20 minutes’ drive from Bar Harbor.  The first nice surprise was the free Island Explorer, sponsored by L.L. Bean.  The bus service schedules are posted at every stop, eight routes cover the island, and schedules are available in every shop in the area.  The shuttles run from as early as 6:50 in the morning, until almost midnight.  The buses have bike racks in the front and back.  I once saw eight bikes on a bus, in the rain:  four on the front bike rack; two on the back; and two inside the bus!  And get this:  the L.L. Bean outlet store is NOT a stop!  (We did, however visit the Ellsworth store three times, and learned from experience that Friday is the day to go—they stock up for the weekend, and the store is completely picked over by Monday!)

 Now, Mount Desert Island offers enough activities to fill a summer, but let me share some of our “finds”.

Hiking:  Cadillac Summit is a must-see.  You get a 360 degree view of the area, as well as the chance to be the first in America to see the sunrise!  There are also blueberries to be picked and—get this—you don’t have to hike!  You can drive to the summit and park, or hike or bike if you feel so inclined.  We didn’t.  If you DO feel like hiking, there are hiking trails and peaks all over.  Some we sampled were Bubble Rock, the Carriage Road (you can take a horse-drawn carriage, too), Jordan Pond (don’t miss the fantastic gift shop at Jordan Pond House), and Penobscot Mountain (the trailhead is about 1/2 mile up a carriage road from Jordan Pond, and the top has spectacular views of Jordan Pond and Seal Harbor).

Tides:  Check any local brochure for the daily tide schedule.  We concentrated on low tides to gather starfish, sand dollars, and more; and mid-tide to see the show at Thunderhole (don’t miss it!).  High tides are quite high, about 12 feet, compared to the typical 5-6 feet. The highest tides in the world are at the end of the Bay of Fundy, about a three hour drive from Mt. Desert Island.

Ferries, cruises and watches:  EVERYTHING is available at Bar Harbor, but you can save some money by sailing from another harbor.  For example, we took a nature cruise from Bass Harbor with wonderful guides who actually live on Gott Island, so were intimately familiar with island life.  We saw grey and harbor seals, bald eagles, osprey, cormorants, porpoise, crabs and lobster, with a thorough explanation of these animals’ habits and habitats, as well as how a lobster trap is made, works, and why; and saved $5 per person over a similar cruise from Bar Harbor.  Island Cruises’ website is www.acadiavacations.com/a249/a249-05.htm.  We did deep-sea fishing and a whale and puffin watch from Bar Harbor, because we couldn’t find them elsewhere.  Despite the fact that there were 11 of us, we could not get a family rate and spend $43 per adult and $25 per child on the Whale and Puffin Watch.  We saw Puffins, but only through thick fog.  We saw a mother and calf fin-backed whales and a Humpbacked Whale named Breaker, feeding.  That was truly spectacular, and well worth the price.  But what if he hadn’t shown up?  We did NOT take the ferry to Nova Scotia or any of the other islands, as we found the prices too high, the weather too foggy, and too much to do in Maine.

Shopping:  Besides the Jordan Pond House gift shop, we recommend The Sand Castle on Main Street in Southwest Harbor.  The owner represents over 80 Maine artisans and others from across the United States.  At wholesale shops like Mainely Maine and The Country Store, you’ll find predominantly “Made in China” stickers!  Our favorite shop in Bar Harbor was Jekyll and Hyde’s, also on Maine Street, where we bought Maine Tourmaline at $3/carat and authentic Indian rainmakers made of animal skins and tortoise shells!

Lobster:  We got the best price ($5 per) from lobster boats as they came into Seal Harbor.  But if you miss them, do some comparison pricing at nearby Lobster Pounds.  We bought several times from Lunts Lobster Pound on the way to Ellsworth, and ate their crab rolls, clams, and mussels, too.  For the family-minded, their menu includes peanut butter and jelly sandwiches!

Restaurants:  Again, a lot of good ones, but Mainely Delights in Northeast Harbor is notable.  Don’t miss the crab bisque, the crab roll, or the lobster dinner.  The desserts look pretty special, too, but we were too full!

Where to Stay:  There are thousands of places, but steer clear of The Knowles Company.  The house we rented was infested with roaches, red ants, black ants, mosquitoes, spiders, and a mouse!

Fishing:  My son caught a Pollock on the deep-sea fishing trip, and somebody else caught a cod, but by far the best fishing was from the dock at Seal Harbor.  My boys brought home as many as five mackerel a day, and threw back as many as 20 Pollock (too hard to clean).

Fort Knox State Historic Site:  Down the coast, barely off Route 1 at Bucksport is “the other Fort Knox.”  No battles were fought here.  No soldiers ever lived here.  But the fort is well-preserved, and the gift shop sports great Civil War paraphernalia!

Pemaquid Lighthouse:  Let me vent a little.  Pemaquid Lighthouse is beautiful, well-maintained, and situated on a spectacular coastline, well worth the twenty-minute jog east from Route 1.  But be sure you arrive between 10 and 5!  We arrived at 5:02 only to see an old man locking up the Fisherman’s Museum.  He turned to us with a sadistic grin and said, “See that group up in the Lighthouse?  That’s the last group of the day.”  Our moans and groans, sighs and cries met only a widening, more sadistic grin.

Entertainment:  Spend a day at the Fun Park in Ellsworth.  The manager created a family rate for us:  $80 for an all-day pass for two adults, four children to the water park, putt-putt gold and two rides each, including rock climbing, the Slingshot (suspended over a giant trampoline), and hot rods.  We got our money’s worth, and some fabulous photos!

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