Four New England family packages for summer

The school year is coming to an end, and summer vacation plans are starting to pop up. With heat poised to sweep the nation, the cool New England air (at least relatively cool) makes it an attractive destination. There are plenty of deals out there at the region’s inns and resorts, so you’ll have plenty of options at your disposal.

1. New England Aquarium Family Package
Do you need a reason to stay at Boston‘s Fairmont Copley Plaza? It’s a great property right in the Back Bay, and parents who love martinis will want to run downstairs to the Oak Bar for a drink. In addition to the fantastic accommodations, you’ll pick up four tickets to the New England Aquarium (two adults and two kids). Prices start at $239 a night (not bad at all for this property) and are good through the end of the year.

2. Family Fun Package
Get away to Kennebunkport, Maine for four nights (with a water-view room) at the Nonantum Resort’s Carriage Inn. The package includes a full breakfast every day, dinner one night in the 95 Ocean restaurant, a poolside lunch one day and an overflowing Nonantum beach bag. You’ll also score tickets for the Intown Trolley, a scenic boat ride, bottled water, an in-room welcome basket, Kennebunk Beach Pass and resort coupons. Rates start at $1,249 for a family of three, with each additional adult costing $359 and each extra kid $100. The deal is available Sunday through Thursday from June 20 to September 2, 2010.3. StoryLand All-Inclusive Family Vacation
Visit with a bit of help from the Eagle Mountain House & Golf Club in Jackson, New Hampshire. This package includes a two-night stay, breakfast and dinner daily and a free nine-hole round of golf. You’ll also get tickets to StoryLand for every family member for one day. Rates start at $509 and are available from June 25 through October 10, 2010.

4. Catch Me if You Can
Visit Catamount Adventure Park, a new ropes and zipline canopy tour, and stay at The Red Lion Inn in Stockbridge, Massachusetts. To help you get through the experience, you’ll receive a backpack with bottled water and trail mix for two upon arrival – and breakfast the following day. Rates start at $405, available from May 31 through September 16, 2010.

Half-Time Pizza: What Boston eats for breakfast

The allure of Boston junk food can be almost impossible to resist. For every Radius, Grill 23 and Abe & Louie’s there is a dive of some kind offering drunk grub, fat fare or belt-buster. On my recent trip back to Boston, I hunted out my second favorite breakfast joint in the city: Half-Time Pizza (the top spot goes to Fill-a-Buster on Beacon Hill for creating the greatest bacon, egg and cheese on an English muffin I’ve ever had).

Half-Time is known to anyone who frequents Bruins or Celtics games, being situated on Causeway, right across the street from the TD Center. Great for pizza and beer after a game, Half-Time’s morning prowess should not be overlooked. While you can get what many would call “traditional” breakfast meals at Half-Time, for me, it’s always been about the pizza – even at 7 AM.

I discovered Half-Time back in the days when the internet was new and companies like CMGi were relevant. I used to commute into North Station, stop at the pizza shop for two slices (served folded into a paper bag) and dash off to catch the Orange Line to Sullivan Square. It is quite possibly the most appalling breakfast one can imagine, but I found it to be pure bliss.

Since leaving Boston in 2004, I’ve made Half-Time a mandatory stop on every trip back, schlepping over from a Back Bay hotel just to savor that delicious pizza, with a slightly tangy sauce. The shops in the North End may get all the notoriety, and Santarpio’s in East Boston is a favorite for reason, but Half-Time deserves its place in the Boston pizza pantheon. To this day, I count it among the best breakfast spots in the city.

Boston’s brunch and books

Though I’ve sworn off books in favor of my Kindle, there’s still something electrifying about an indy bookstore. Throw food into the mix, of course, and the experience can be blissful. On my recent trip to Boston, I sought out Trident Booksellers & Cafe for this reason. The Newbury Street establishment is home to a rare bookstore-and-restaurant combination, Trident, where you can peruse the aisles for something to read before grabbing a table or sitting down at the counter to read it while you munch on a meal. It’s a regular spot for me when I pass through Boston and is a great alternative to the major brunch destinations in the city, especially Sonsie across the street.

Despite the simplicity of the concept – a bunch of tables and a kitchen occupying part of a bookstore – the menu is extensive. Consisting of several pages of dishes, it moves well past diner fare and into the interesting and ultimately creative. It took me seconds to decide I’d have the apple and brie omelette (to tell the truth, it was one of the first things on the menu, and I didn’t bother looking any further), and had to order the “mega tots.”


I’m generally not a fan of “tater tots.” They remind me of the depths to which your grocery store’s freezer section can sink, offering up fare you feared while waiting in the elementary school lunch line. Thankfully, Trident’s menu includes descriptions. This side dish consists of three incredibly large “tots,” really comprised of excellent hash browns. In the middle, you’ll find gooey cheese which melts once you cut into the creation. They are very large and rather filling, even for someone with an appetite like mine. Order it for the table, and you’ll have the experience without leaving grub behind.

Trident offers outside seating, so you can take in the sounds of Boston and a bit of fresh air while you savor your experience, and there’s free wi-fi through the café, so you can turn your meal into productive time – if that’s what you prefer.

My only gripe about Trident was that the service could have been a bit quicker and more attentive. When I arrived, most of the tables were empty, but the restaurant filled quickly, which made the situation a bit worse. The staff was friendly, and my food came out promptly. Ordering took a while, though, and getting some water (well into my meal) chewed up a bit of time. And none of this was of a magnitude that would keep me from returning – it’s just something to keep in mind before you go.

On your next trip up to Boston, skip the usual brunch haunts and pick up a meal at Trident. It’s the sort of unique spot that can make a meal one of the most memorable parts of your getaway.

Papa Gino’s: a Massachusetts pizza that defies substitution

Massachusetts can be a strange place. It took forever for the major national chains to work their way into the state. I didn’t see a Target or Wal-Mart in my area until I got out of the army in 1999. Tastes and attitudes tend to be more than a tad provincial, so even the chains are usually local. When I left Boston several years ago, I was able to find replacements for just about everything I enjoyed – and was usually able to upgrade. How could I not? I’d moved to Manhattan, which is famous for having everything … except what it doesn’t: Papa Gino’s.

Papa Gino’s is a New England pizza chain. Most of its restaurants are in Massachusetts, though it has a few outlets in northern Connecticut, Rhode Island and southern New Hampshire. It’s the quintessential local chain – it’s big in the area and virtually unknown everywhere else in the country. So, when I knew someone who was heading up to Massachusetts, I asked him to bring back a few slices, which I ate cold the morning after his return.

To the pizza connoisseur, a slice from Papa Gino’s would probably be a disappointment. It isn’t exotic and lacks the character of its local competitors. Ask a Bostonian if he’d walk to the nearest Papa Gino’s or brave the Callahan Tunnel for a pie at Santarpio’s in East Boston, and he’ll have his car keys in his hand. But, expats view the world through different lenses, and a slice from Papa Gino’s is something we just can’t get – making it all the more valuable.

Eaten cold, a slice from Pap Gino’s is at its finest – unless you’re eating it cold and you have a hangover. It may not be a cure for what ails you, but it’s sure as hell a great diversion.

[Photo by Svadilfari via Flickr]

Hotel Review: Copley Square Hotel Boston

The Copley Square Hotel opened in 1891 in Boston’s famous Back Bay neighborhood. Near trendy Newbury Street and tucked behind the Boston Public Library, the seven-story boutique hotel seems overshadowed by its Westin and Marriott neighbors, but what it lacks in stature it makes up in grandeur.

The hotel closed in January 2008 for a $18-million renovation and reopened later that year as a luxury contemporary boutique with old-school elegance and modern amenities.


I heard about the modern-meets-sexy designs and decor that graced the rooms at the Copley Square Hotel post-renovation, but I wasn’t quite prepared for the seductive atmosphere I walked into. Simply put: these hotel rooms set the mood.

I was expecting a few silk throw pillows and a curvy bedside lamp, but was greeted with a leopard-print sofa, champagne-colored drapes and a king-size bed perfectly positioned to view the entire city (or be viewed from the city). Yes, there were decorative silk pillows and curvy lamps, and also a 32-inch flat-screen TV, WiFi in the room, and an iPod docking station. There’s also plenty of strategically-placed mirrors, which is a good thing if you’re intent on looking your best before you make your way down the grand staircase that leads into the hotel lobby.

The hotel claims it’s catering to business professionals and it is – I had no problem plugging in, getting on, and communicating from the comforts of my king-sized bed. But, in my opinion, it’s also a the perfect little hideaway for some rekindling of the romantic kind. Just remember to put the sign on your door (the hotel’s risqué-read-between-the-lines way of saying ‘do not disturb’.)


A decent size for a hotel bathroom, it was complete with a tub/shower combo and basic amenities (shampoo, conditioner, soap and lotions). The standout part of this area, however, is the hotel’s “green” commitment. Placed in every bathroom is a plastic chip – flip to green and you don’t need any restocking; flip to red and your cleaning crew will supply fresh towels and amenities. It’s a nicer way to signal a change is needed if you’re not into throwing your dirty towels on the floor.


Room service comes directly from Xhale or minibar, the Copley Square Hotel’s restaurant and martini bar. I opted for a mid-evening snack from the room-service menu and was pleasantly surprised with my options. While there’s a full menu complete with salads, burgers and pasta entrees, the in-room dining menu also includes a snacks page, which offers everything from caramel corn to ice cream sandwiches. I opted for a bowl of “fresh popped corn” but I hear the marshmallows with chocolate dipping sauce is worthy of a try.

Admittedly, the 18 percent gratuity on a bowl of popcorn seemed a bit much, but I chalked this one up to the experience.


My first impression of the hotel staff came when I was greeted at the check-in counter by a lovely woman who wanted to know if I preferred a glass of white or red while I wait. Score 10 for knowing I needed a cocktail. Apparently, the hotel hosts a wine hour every evening and all guests – whether you’ve checked in or not – are welcome to wind down. The check-in process took only a few minutes (disclaimer: I was the only person in line), and I was asked if I required a wake-up call or wanted to join the company staff on a run the following morning. No to both, but it was a lovely touch.

The hotel was debuting a new restaurant concept – Sushi and Sake Nights – the evening I checked in. The food was good, but the waitstaff was unclear as to what sushi and sake really is. Once the kinks were figured out, there was plenty of spicy tuna rolls to go around.


On the outside, the Copley Square Hotel looks like a simple, commuter-friendly, business-oriented hotel perfect for the overnighter needing a place to stay before the big board meeting. One step inside and you’ll forget you have a big presentation due the next day. The renovation put this hotel back on the map, but it came with a price: rooms start at $170 in the off-season and spike to a starting price of $500 for stays during the summer months.

Bottom line:
Business travelers might choose a less-expensive hotel, but for those looking for a hidden hotel perfect for a quick escape from the chaos of everyday life, complete with amenities that ooze “the mood”, this is undoubtedly the place to stay.