We made plans to celebrate my sister's birthday at The Cliff House Maine and so we decided to turn it into a long weekend getaway. Instead of staying at The Cliff House we chose Portland Maine. Portland is only 1.5 hours north of Boston on interstate 95, or if you want a leisurely ride take old Route 1 North. The city offers a variety of hotels, quirky stores, amazing restaurants, a lighthouse, a harbor, and so much more.
When getting ready for a trip I used to pack at least 2 weeks before we would be leaving. I would lay out all the things I wanted to bring (from clothes to toiletries) and then add or subtract as the days went on. For some reason I can not pack early anymore! I actually keep packing later and later. On Saturday morning we woke up, packed, took out the trash, and hopped in the car to head north!
Our first stop along the way was in Kittery, Maine. I absolutely love gummy strawberries so we made a quick stop at Yummies Candies and Nuts. For the kid in you or for actually kids, you will find an enormous variety of candy along with some products from Maine. Further up the road we stopped in for some bread for later in the weekend at When Pigs Fly Bakery. I am now obsessed with their Pineapple Jalapeno Bread. The bread is savory, a hint of heat from the jalapenos, and then just a touch of sweet from the pineapples. A perfect bite!
Nearby is Cape Neddick, home to Nubble Lighthouse. The lighthouse is beautiful and we've seen it a ton of times, but whenever we're in the area we always stop for a quick walk and pictures.
We arrived in Portland and pulled up to the valet at Hilton Garden Inn Portland Down Town Waterfront. I have never seen this hotel so busy! Cars were constantly coming and going, people were checking in and out, and the elevators were always busy. I will say the valet staff were working very hard so that customers didn't have a long wait.
We checked into our room and were given vouchers for breakfast (thanks to being Hilton Diamond Members). Our room offered a view of the harbor, a king bed, pull-out couch, desk/chair, microwave, small fridge, and an average size bathroom. The room was clean when we entered and felt pretty well maintained. After the staff cleaned the room the next day we did notice that the floors weren't vacuumed and some items were left behind.
We didn't try the breakfast during our stay but my parents did and it could have been better. The eggs made to order were very good (especially the omelets) but the potatoes were under-cooked.
The staff are friendly, the rooms are clean, bar, room service (after 5 pm), and the location is great. We recommend this hotel for your Portland getaway.
Sunday morning we woke up to at least 3 inches of snow. Last time I checked the weather report it showed just a dusting for Portland (we also had a very slow ride to Portland from The Cliff House Maine the night before). Instead of having breakfast at the hotel we put on our winter gear and headed to The Holy Donut. The Holy Donut makes delicious natural Maine Mashed Potato Donuts!! Inside you will find a variety of flavors, gluten free donuts, and vegan donuts. On this visit I tried the vegan lemon and triple berry donuts. Both donuts were very satisfying but the lemon was the clear winner. The combination of tartness with the sweet glaze was addicting. Greg opted for the dark chocolate sea salt and the maple bacon donuts. I can't recommend a visit to The Holy Donut enough!
On the walk back to our hotel we stopped at Starbucks so I could get my usual Matcha Lemonade. After breakfast we hopped in the car with my parents and tried to get to Portland Head Lighthouse. Unfortunately, the park was still closed and covered in snow. We then had to turn around because just up the road was a 3 car accident and the road was closed.
We decided to drive back to Portland and head to Vervacious. Vervacious is usually a wonderful spice store, unfortunately, it didn't live up to past visits. I was only able to find 1 spice blend in the store. The woman working informed us they were actually out of a lot and hadn't had the spice blends in stock since the holidays.
We quickly popped into Bam Bam Bakery before heading out of Portland again. Bam Bam Bakery offers a lot of gluten and vegan baked goods. We purchased some gluten free rolls for a friend and I opted for a cinnamon and sugar "pop tart."
My mother was really hoping to visit Fiore Artisan Olive Oils and so we decided to enjoy the 20 minute ride to Freeport Maine. We are so glad we did! Freeport is an adorable town and we all agree we definitely want to return for a stay. We popped into LL Bean, Fiore, and my dad enjoyed a crepe for a nearby restaurant.
Back in Portland we were ready for lunch and called in an order to The Thirsty Pig. The four of us ordered a plain hot dog with mustard, the reuben dog, Matt's bbq banh mi, the Lithuanian Kielbasa sandwich, baked beans, and potato salad. All of our sandwiches were good and filling. My sandwich was the Matt's bbq banh mi and it had a wonderful combination of sweet, salty, crunchy, and freshness thanks to the cilantro. I didn't try the baked beans but heard they were good. The potato salad was good but only if you like dill so keep that in mind.
At the hotel we spent the afternoon relaxing with a bottle of wine and good conversations. For dinner we decided on The Honey Paw. The Honey Paw does not skimp on portions and so we actually ended up over-ordering. We ordered the fried wings to start (as well an a 2nd order for Greg's meal). The wings were crispy, salty, and unique with the addition of coconut. One order would have been plenty for us! The scallion pancakes were crispy and savory but a little too salty for me. The other entrees were wonton noodle soup, ramen, and half chicken. The wonton soup was delicious and slightly hot. The noodles were chewy and the wontons were nicely filled. The ramen was delicous and filled with vegetables. The half chicken was outstanding. The chicken was hot, crispy, and full of flavor. I didn't try the accompanying corn bread but more than half of it was definitely gone!
Monday morning we got up and were still full from last nights dinner so we opted for just beverages from Starbucks. While I went inside Greg had a nice chat with a gentleman who was in the area for work but lost his job. Without realizing what the other was doing I bought the man a hot drink and hot sandwich and Greg gave him some money towards a phone card he needed in order to look for work. Instead of just passing by a person looking for help take a second and help them out. Trust me it's a wonderful feeling to make someone else happy.
After saying goodbye to my parents and checking out of the hotel we decided to give a drive to Portland Head Lighthouse/Fort Williams Park another try. I'm so glad we did Fort Williams Park has walking trails, ruins, and fabulous ocean views. Portland Head Light house is stunning and provides wonderful pictures. We can't wait to return when the weather is warmer!
We continued on south and decided to stop back into When Pigs Fly Bakery for a loaf of bread for home. I was thrilled to see my delicious Pineapple Jalapeno Bread again. I also picked up their German Sourdough for breakfasts.
Back at home we unpacked the car, started laundry, got groceries at Whole Foods, and settled in to watch Wonder. It was the perfect end to a great long weekend!
The Cliff House Maine (part of Destination Hotels) offered an Ice Bar party over the weekend and it was a perfect idea to celebrate my sister's birthday.
We arrived at the hotel around 4:00 pm and found the outdoor terrace where the party was being held. Our first impression wasn't great. To start there was a long line of traffic pulling into the resort. The staff were turning away anyone who didn't have a dinner reservation as they were at capacity. Luckily, my brother in law made a dinner reservation for us. Out on the terrace there was only 1 ice bar and it had a long line of guests waiting for drinks. We purchased drink tickets (mixed drink, beer, or non-alcoholic options). The bartenders were very friendly and did keep the line moving. The mixed drink was kind of a cosmopolitan and while tasty it would have been nice to be able to select from a menu. Our drinks were poured down the ice luge and into our cups with a lime garnish.
To the right of the terrace there was an interior party as well. Inside we found a good live band, dancing, coffee, tea, and hot chocolate. Eventually we found a cash bar inside as well. Around 5:00 the staff brought out complimentary shrimp cocktail, oysters, and ceviche. As you can imagine these went very fast!
At 6:00 we made our way back outside. We enjoyed standing around the fire pit and watching the fireworks. Once the show was over we made our way to the hotel and to The Tiller Restaurant. The interior of the hotel was packed with people and we had a very long wait to order drinks.
I feel that the hotel wasn't prepared for the amount of people attending the event. It would have been much better if they created an event page and sold tickets that way they could have better prepared themselves. We enjoyed our time at the Ice Bar party however things then took a turn for the worse.
We checked in for our reservation and were seated around 7:30 pm. We ordered the lobster chowder, duck meatloaf, ricotta gnocchi, parsnip soup, grilled romaine, mussels and the charcuterie board to start. The parsnip soup was overly sweet, the romaine was barely grilled, and the mussels were bland. The most upsetting was the charcuterie board. The board offered only 2 pieces of meat and was mostly cheese and fruit. If we wanted the cheese board we would have ordered it. Most servers would recognize that a full bowl of mussels left on the table is a problem. Our server didn't ask if we were done nor did she ask if they were okay. The server merely took the bowl away.
For entrees we ordered the short rib, oxtail ragu, scallops, and the lobster pasta. The short rib was incredibly dry, the oxtail ragu was sent back because it was ice cold, the scallops were over cooked, and the lobster pasta was so undercooked that it felt as though there were shells in the bowl. When we explained why none of us finished our plates the server basically said oh that's not good and then continued to talk about the snow outside.
For dessert the server stated that we would get complimentary dessert to make us happy. Two dishes were ordered along with 2 coffees, and an espresso. The server brought over 2 coffees and 2 espressos even though one wasn't ordered. The worst offense of the evening was when I tasted the espresso. The espresso tasted rancid that I couldn't force myself to drink it and had to spit it back into the cup. The others at the table tasted the 2nd espresso and it was just as bad. We aren't sure if your machine isn't clean, the water temperature wasn't right, or the grinds were old but it was incredibly unpleasant. The server came back to our table and I apologized for having to complain again but the espresso was unacceptable. The server again didn't apologize just tried to force me to take a cup of coffee. I had to state over and over that I didn't want one.
At no point did a manager come to our table. For an over $300 meal the food and service were incredibly lacking. I read a negative review on the ice bar party page and couldn't believe it but after our experience I understand the gentleman's frustration. With so many other wonderful options on the coast of Maine we wouldn't recommend the restaurant and wouldn't return.
On Friday we arrived at the Seaport Hotel & World Trade Center for the Boston Globe Travel Show. We checked in, printed our passes, and made our way to the Waterfront Ballroom. We chose a table that was pretty open and for the most part there were only 4 of us. A few others did join our table for a little while and I'm so glad they did. It was really nice meeting Carol Kent of Carol Kent Yacht Charters. We had a lovely chat and were able to connect on Twitter.
Our day started with a presentation from Fort Myers & Sanibel Beach. We had a nice chat with the woman from Florida and learned a bit more about the area. My in-laws love shelling at Sanibel Beach so we were pretty familiar with the area.
The next two presenters joining our table were from Royal Caribbean and Norwegian Cruise Lines. We have been on several NCL cruises and are actually taking our first Royal Caribbean cruise in April. Their pitches were definitely geared more towards travel agents but it was nice to hear about the current promotions for travelers.
I have been wanting to visit the Azores for a while now. I will admit that the airlines and flight details were a deterrent prior to now. Tour Azores out of Fall River MA are from Portugal, love talking about Portugal, and offer extremely reasonable trips. I am definitely interested in their Lisbon/Azores 7-day vacations that start at $799 (land only). In addition to this great information Azores Airlines is adding new planes and new schedules out of Boston that sound amazing! Azores Airlines is all about servicing their customers. Azores Airlines offers a free checked bag (23kg), free carry-on bag, free in-flight wifi, meals, and wines.
I absolutely love traveling to the Caribbean. These days I'm looking for a mix of beautiful beaches, great food, and something adventurous in nature. Renee S.C. Goodwin from Grenada completely sold me on her country! Renee was passionate, exciting, and shared fabulous ideas on what to do when visiting Grenada. I can't wait to look up more information on planning a trip for us to Grenada.
Before lunch we heard about the updated all-inclusive resorts on Aruba. The Divi and Tamarijn resorts are older properties but it sounds as though the resorts are keeping up with trends thanks to refurbishments and all-inclusive offerings for guests. MSC Cruises was next and I can honestly say that what I learned definitely has me interested. I am looking forward to them becoming more active in the U.S. and seeing how things go with their new private island off of Bimini (in 2019). Our last presenter before lunch was Latam Airlines. We heard about their new non-stop flights to Sao Paolo Brazil from Boston. We also heard a little bit about their easy connections to other parts of South America (Patagonia and Machu Picchu are both high on my list of must sees)
Flynn Cruiseport Boston did sponsor a lunch for everyone however we had already made other plans. I heard from others that the lunch and the speaker panel were very nice. Greg and I went to Whiskey Priest to meet up with a few others from Travel Massive. It was really nice chatting with people in the industry who are like minded. We had a lot of laughs, a lot of travel stories, and a tasty lunch. I can't wait for future meet ups!
Back from lunch our first presenter was from New Smyrna Beach Florida. Greg and I actually love New Smyrna and visit it when we are in the Orlando area. It was very nice to hear about the new hotels coming to the city as well as hearing about the artist community. The Boston Passport Agency was up next. We were given great handouts to help others with applying, we were filled in on the new costs, and were given a basic understanding of the others ways to stay safe when traveling.
The representative from Universal Studios definitely peaked my interest. In addition to wanting to visit Harry Potter World I definitely have to visit once Voodoo Donuts opens up in Universal City Walk. I have been dying to try their donuts and I'm definitely in the Orlando area more often than I am in Portland Oregon.
Brickell Bay Beach Club and Spa was a complete let down presentation wise. With more resorts following travel trends to hear an old school presentation was sad to be honest. Marvel Vilchez (Sales & Marketing Director) spoke about how gratuities aren't added to your bill but then stated that if service is above and beyond you can give them cash tips. What non all-inclusive hotel requires you to give gratuities? She went on to explain that you receive such great service because the owner feels the staff needs to really work for tips. Marvel followed this by talking about how you receive fresh towels every day. Again, what hotel doesn't give you fresh towels every day? I went online and checked out some reviews and when I see affordable, wifi issues, no air conditioning, etc. It leads me to believe my initial thoughts were correct and this wouldn't be a resort we would visit.
It was really nice to learn about company managed, and multi-size rent-able homes from Balmoral Florida Resort. Only 25 minutes from Disney World, offering concierge services, pet friendly, breakfast, and more. It's rental properties all with the amenities of a resort. It sounded really great for families visiting the area and online reviews are terrific.
Our last presenter for the day was Metropolitan Touring. Francisco Dousdebes talked with us about luxury small cruises to the Galapagos and unique lodging in Ecuador. What I liked most was these properties are all owned by Metropolitan Touring they aren't just a facilitator. All of the properties looked stunning and I loved Francisco's passion for each property. Ecuador wasn't on my radar for travel but I am now dying to stay at Mashpi Lodge. Mashpi Lodge is a National Geographic Unique Lodges of the World. I will be checking them out in Amazing Hotels on Netflix.
I am not sure if the next two representatives (scheduled to talk) weren't there or if they just never made it to our table but we didn't hear from Puerto Rico Tourism Authority nor USA Gateway Travel.
At 4:00 it was time for the reception and access to the exhibitor's booths. Greg and I skipped getting drinks since we were driving home soon. We started in the Caribbean and made our way around. We picked up some more brochures about St Lucia, Grenada, river cruises, Newfoundland, Foxwoods Resort and Casino, train trips, and adventure travel.
If I could make recommendations to the Boston Globe Travel Show I would tell them to assign registered visitors a Querty symbol so that vendors could scan guests and send them information in the future. This was a huge benefit at the New York Times Travel Show. I would also recommend skipping companies offering a massage, jewelry, or skin care. These items didn't interest us at all and we would have preferred seeing travel organizations from more regions.
All in all, we had a wonderful day and were inspired by several representatives to visit their countries/resorts. In addition to this I am also inspired to get my travel agents license. Hopefully I will be able to combine my experiences, love of research/planning of trips, and help others to explore our wonderful planet.
New York Times Travel Show
We woke up Saturday morning and were excited to attend the New York Times Travel Show. After getting ready we walked down to 42nd St and stopped for some Starbucks. Once we were done with our drinks we hopped into a taxi and made our way to the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center.
Once inside we found the coat check which was immensely helpful. Greg had purchased tickets for me as part of my Christmas present so we were able to pick up a couple lanyards and head right on into the main area. Our first stop inside was Asia. We sat down and discussed a tour of China focusing on visiting the Great Wall. We looked into information to Tokyo, South Korea, Nepal, and Thailand (we're planning a trip for early 2019). I've never really been one to want to go on set tours but some of the travel companies we met with had unique and fun options at pretty reasonable prices. After Asia we visited the Africa section. We looked at a couple different lodges, safaris, and spoke with South African Airways. Unfortunately, we didn't spend too much time here as we know we won't be getting a trip together to Africa for a while.
Nearby we came across the booth of Rare Finds Travel Club. Melanie created Rare Finds Travel Club and offers her members ideas, tips, and plans for short getaways. Melanie is passionate, intelligent, and very funny; we loved chatting with her. During the travel show a monthly discount was offered, we took full advantage of it and joined the club. I can honestly say, that after reading a couple of the escapes, Rare Finds Travel Club does offer a unique perspective. There were definitely some places I have never heard of that I just have to visit now.
The next section we visited was Europe. We looked at Access Trips and their culinary tours. They do seem to be a little on the high side of pricing but I liked their itinerary's. I was most intrigued by GAP Travel booth. We discussed the new options of active travel on Avalon Waterways with Robin. We have heard great things about Avalon Waterways but knew that it was geared to an older crowd. With their new active options, we agree that if feels like it's something more in line with our travel desires.
After a few hours and about 40 pounds worth of booklets we were ready to head out for some lunch. I would have liked to go to more of the special events or speaking sessions but I am really saving that up for the Boston Globe Travel Show. In Boston I will be attending show during trade day and hopefully meeting up with the group from Travel Massive.
After dropping off all of our brochures and cards we decided to try a casual restaurant nearby. Yaso Tangbao offers Shanghai street food. The restaurant is counter service and offers a large menu. We ordered easily ordered 4 dishes to try. Unfortunately, this is when things went bad. The staff were very disorganized, slow, and other than 1 individual unapologetic.
After a long wait we received our spicy pork soup dumplings, chicken shao mai (sticky rice dumplings), sweet and sour pork ribs, and garlic cucumber salad. The soup dumplings were pretty flavorful, the sticky rice dumplings were filling, the ribs were okay, and the cucumbers were too bitter from the garlic. I wasn't expecting gourmet cuisine but we both felt that this restaurants options were more like reheated food.
After lunch we decided to be gluttons and walk back up to Sprinkles Cupcakes for some dessert. The cupcake ATM was out of vegan cupcakes so we had to be traditional and go inside to order. The staff were very friendly, were happy to package my vegan cupcake alone so it wouldn't be contaminated, and had us quickly on our way.
For dinner we had a reservation at Reichenbach Hall. Our sole purpose for going to this restaurant was to order the pork shank in hopes of having a similar experience to those in Frankfurt. When we arrived, we were brought to our reserved table and given menus. The first thing I noticed was the pork shank was no longer on the menu. What?! I confirmed that this was true! We weren't off to a great start. Our waitress was very busy dealing with multiple tables so after a bit of a wait we finally ordered drinks (beer for great, bourbon for me). To start our meal, we ordered the large pretzel with just mustard. The pretzel was hot and delicious although we had to wipe off a lot of the salt. For entrees I ordered the currywurst and french fries (usually an appetizer) and Greg ordered the bratwurst sampler.
My meal was awful! Currywurst should be cooked bratwurst topped with curry ketchup served with french fries. This dish was bratwurst cooked in a curry ketchup sauce that had been cooking for a while and had been reduced down. It was overpowering and unappetizing. Greg's dish was good although when the best part of the dish is the potato salad I feel like that isn't saying much either.
Unfortunately, I think Reichenbach Hall has become more of a bar scene rather than a restaurant. When looking around you had most of the people drinking only. I noticed that those who did order food didn't finish their dishes either. Needless to say, we wouldn't be back and wouldn't recommend a visit.
On Sunday morning we condensed all of our purchases, brochures, and luggage. After a bit of confusion with the hotel we got our car from the valet and left New York City. 3.5 hours later we were home and happy to see Fred!
The Boston Globe Travel Show is next weekend. We recently went to the New York Times Travel Show and it was incredibly helpful and informative. Greg and I will also be attending the Boston Globe Travel Show and can't wait!!
If you are in Boston on 2/9 - 2/11 and want to visit the show click here for discounted tickets.
For more tips you can check out our Travel Tips, Travel Itineraries, and coming up on Monday we will be posting our first City Guide.