Greetings from Nantucket! Last week, we left off from my hometown in Connecticut. I was there for the second time in a week, visiting friends and family. Instead of flying back to L.A. as I was scheduled, I changed my ticket and traveled to Nantucket on a spur-of-the-moment trip with my brother and sisters. This was very special for us, because it was the first time we were all together without significant others. If you're up to hanging with my siblings siblings -- and my entertaining niece and nephew -- for some good ol' fashioned family fun at my brother Frank's summer house, jump on board! The ferry to Nantucket is departing, and believe me: You don't want to miss this place. If you're in a hurry or have ADD, don't worry; there's a 2-minute Johnny Jet video at the end of this week's story.
Background on Nantucket
Nantucket lies 30 miles off the Massachusetts coast. It's an island, a town and a county -- the only place in the U.S. with the same name for all three. It is 14 miles east to west, 3-1/2 miles north to south. That sounds tiny, but driving around it sure doesn't feel that way. The population of Nantucket is 12,000 year-round, but during the summer it swells to over 55,000. It's still not crowded, except in the town center and the popular beaches. The most impressive fact of all is that Nantucket lists more buildings in the National Register of Historic Places as totally preserved than anywhere else in Massachusetts -- including places like Boston, Plymouth and Salem. There are still more than 800 houses that were built before the Civil War!
Types of Buildings
Nantucket has strict laws. Homeowners can paint their houses in only 12 approved colors, and the variety is not wide: white, Main Street yellow, cottage red, Hamilton blue, Nantucket red, Newport blue, Nantucket blue, cobblestone, Quaker gray, Nantucket gray, chrome green and Essex green. Exterior colors aren't the only things needing approval. Don't even think about building a modern house on Nantucket. It ain't happening -- in fact, not even skylights are allowed. Even hanging a sign on your door must meet certain standards. Houses on Nantucket are either Colonial style (with clapboard shingles) or Federal style (with brick). There are only a few Victorian structures, and some Greek revival buildings. An interesting fact is that most houses near town have turned stairwells. Instead of going straight out the door, they are turned to the side. This allowed houses to be built closer to the road, giving those homeowners bigger backyards for gardens. I like the stringent regulations (of course, I don't live there), because they preserve the 19th-century character of Nantucket, and there aren't many places in the U.S. where you can find this.
Nantucket is also strict about recycling. My brother Frank learned this law the hard way. One of his first renters didn't recycle, and the trash collector refused to take his refuse until Frank sorted every bit of it. Frank dumped all the garbage in his yard, and sorted out metal, plastic, paper, cardboard and glass. He said it was the most disgusting thing he ever did. So remember to recycle in Nantucket (or wherever you are).
Getting to Nantucket
There are a few ways to get to Nantucket. We could have flown on a regional jet from either Newark (on Continental, tel. 800/525-0280) or Philadelphia (on USAir , tel. 800/428-4322). But those tickets aren't cheap, and with today's commercial air travel hassles we would not have saved much time -- if any. Another option was to fly on a real small plane with Cape Air (tel.: 800/352-0714; website FlyCapeAir.com) or Nantucket Airlines (tel.: 800/635-8787; website: NantucketAirlines.com ). Both offer hourly flights from Hyannis, Boston, New Bedford and Providence, R.I. In addition, Island Airlines (tel.: 800/248-7779, website) offers frequent flights and charters out of Hyannis. But I am not a big fan of small planes.
Car Ferry to Nantucket
So the best bet was to drive, then take a ferry. We packed up the cars, braved the I-95 traffic (it's not bad if you travel off-peak) and made it to Hyannis in four hours. Hyannis is a good-size port town on Cape Cod. Frank already has a car on Nantucket (as you will see, you really don't need a car on the island), so we did not have to take the slow car ferry operated by Steamship Authority (508-477-8600; website: SteamshipAuthority.com; summer one-way fares are adults $14, children 5-12 $7.25, children under 5 are free; car $175, bike $6). Not only does the car ferry take over two hours, but bringing an automobile on a summer weekend requires about a month's advance reservation.
Other Ferries to Nantucket
Another slow, economical way to get to Nantucket is Hy-Line Cruises (tel.: 800/492-8082; website: Hy-lineCruises.com). This traditional ferry takes just under two hours. Summertime one-way fares are adults $16.50, children 5-12 $8.25; children 4 and under are free. Both Hy-Line Cruises and Steamship Authority also operate high-speed catamarans, which take only an hour from Hyannis. Steamship Authority's high-speed service is called the Flying Cloud (tel.: 508/495-FAST; one-way tickets: adult $29.50; children 5-12 $22.25). Hy-Line Cruises (website; summer one-way fares are adults $36; children 5-12 $27; bikes $5). We took the Steamship Authority, because their schedule worked best for us. Getting on and off was a breeze -- even with everything we brought -- because they have bellmen who help passengers load and unload cars.
Arriving in Nantucket
Unfortunately, my sisters, niece and nephew missed the ferry we were on by just 10 minutes (we drove separate cars -- and I told them not to stop at the Clinton Crossing outlet mall in Connecticut). The ferry ride was smooth. It was warm out, so we sat on the back deck and enjoyed the sunset. When the captain slowed the boat heading into port, contagious excitement filled the air. The views of the island were breathtaking. Stepping off the boat is like going back in time -- in a good way. Everything is so quaint, the locals are friendly, and there are no fast food chains . . . including Starbucks. Hallelujah! It was old school, but with all the modern conveniences.
History of Nantucket
To better understand Nantucket, here's a brief history of the island. It was discovered in 1602 by Captain Bartholomew Gosnold. When explorers arrived, there were 1,500 members of Wampanoag Tribe. In 1659 the English settlement began. Back then Nantucket was under the jurisdiction of New York. The "nine original purchasers" from Thomas Mayhew were Tristram Coffin, Thomas Macy, Christopher Hussey, Richard Swayne, Thomas Bernard, Peter Coffin, Stephen Greenleafe, John Swayne and William Pike. You still see those names all around town. From 1800 to 1840 Nantucket was considered the Whaling Capital of the World. At its peak, 88 Nantucket whaling ships sailing around the globe.
Whaling in Nantucket
Whaling made Nantucket famous. Just like in the fictional book Moby-Dick, the Nantucket whalers hunted the sperm whale. It produced valuable spermaceti oil (wax) from the spermaceti organ located in its head. Before electricity, whalers used this oil to make candles. They sailed all over the world, hunting these mammoth mammals down. Ships were gone anywhere from two to five years. Along the way they picked up more manpower. That's why it was not unusual to see people from all parts of the planet -- Portuguese, South Pacific Islanders, Africans -- walking around Nantucket. To learn more about whaling and whales, check out the recently remodeled Whaling Museum at 13 Broad Street (tel.: 508/228-1894). My brother Frank also recommends reading the book In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex.
The Great Fire
In 1846 a "Great Fire" began in the middle of the night in Gary's Hat Shop. It destroyed the wharves and much of the business district, in part because the buildings were so close together and the streets were so narrow. Remarkably, no one died, yet the only building left standing was William Roache's accounting firm. His brick structure remains in Nantucket today. When the town was rebuilt the streets were wider -- and every building on Main Street was constructed of brick. (Most are now covered by wood shingles).
Because of the fire and the steadily declining demand for whale oil after crude oil was discovered, the island underwent a severe depression. This continued until the islanders began promoting tourism. In 1881 a railroad was built from Steamboat Wharf to Surfside, where a new hotel was constructed. In 1917 the railroad was washed out by a major storm. Today only one rail car remains -- it's attached to the Club Car Restaurant (website: www.theclubcar.com). In 1918, cars were permitted on Nantucket.
Nantucket is full of history. There are so many interesting facts and stories. Walking around on the Town Center's cobblestone streets is a treat. I learned a great deal by taking an 80-minute tour, given by the Historical Society last year. Tours depart every day from the Whaling Museum at 11:15 a.m. and 2:15 p.m. The cost is $10, and groups are limited to 20 people (dogs are welcome!).
Where to Stay
Nantucket has about 1,200 hotel rooms, in bed-and-breakfasts, inns and guesthouses. You shouldn't have a problem finding a place -- if you book in advance. But my advice -- because hotel rooms and restaurants aren't cheap -- is to rent a house for your stay. There are all kinds of houses available (not just my brother's, which you will soon learn about!), and you can rent by the weekend, week, month or season. Nantucket real estate agents offering rentals include: Denby Real Estate (tel.: 508/228-2522), Nantucket Real Estate (tel.: 800/228-4070) and Edith Delker Real Estate (tel.: 508/257-9698).
My brother Frank has two houses on Nantucket (lucky guy, huh?). Frank's a smart businessman, and uses these houses mainly as vacation rentals. One house is just a few blocks from the center of town (I wrote about it last year). His other house is in Madaket. Madaket is 5 miles from Town Center. Native Nantucketers actually used to have summer houses there, because it's cooler then the Town Center. Madaket is the perfect place for a family vacation. It's quiet, the unpretentious houses are not right on top of each other, and it's on the beach. Warning: The Madaket surf is rough. There are lifeguards, but you really have to watch out for the little ones.
Frank's house is just a five minute walk from the beach. It has three bedrooms (1,2,3), three baths (including a one bedroom/bath cottage with fancy toiletries), and sleeps six people comfortably. The big difference between his other house and this one is that when you go to sleep with the windows open you can hear (and smell) the ocean waves crashing nearby. The house also has an outdoor shower, wireless high-speed internet, and a washer/dryer. For more information on how to rent Frank's house, log on to this website. If you're more of a "town" person, here's the link to his house on Cliff Road.
You Don't Need a Car
Another plus about vacationing in Nantucket is that you really don't need a car. One option is to ride bikes. Nantucket has beautiful flat terrain. There are over 24 miles of bicycle paths, so it's an ideal place to cruise around. Most inns and house rentals (including Frank's) are stocked with bikes. If yours does not have one, there are plenty of bike rental shops (some even deliver). I love riding around. Not only is it relaxing and a good workout, but you can read all the houses names without stopping (almost every house in Nantucket has a name). Some are pretty funny, like "Thar She Blows". Frank calls his house "Frankie Starlight." It's nice, but it sounds better suited to a porno star or mobster. For those who don't ride, the NRTA (Nantucket Regional Transit Authority) Shuttle operates every 30 minutes from 7 a.m. to 11:30 p.m. There are stops all around the island. The closest to Frank's house is just 100 yards away, in front of the West End Market. From there it's a quick 20-minute ride into town. All NRTA rides cost $2.
Grocery Stores or Take-Out Clam Bake
The best part about renting a house is that you can live like a local by going to the grocery store and cooking at "home." The island has two supermarkets: Grand Union and Stop & Shop. The prices are not much higher than the mainland (here's a comparison chart). Almost every meal we had was at Frank's house. The one night we didn't feel like cooking, we ordered a takeout clambake from Sayless Seafood (no one wanted to personally kill the lobsters). $35 a person gets Nantucket clam chowder, half a pound of steamers, half a pound of mussels, corn on the cob, steamed red potatoes, and a 1-Â¼ -pound lobster with butter and broth. Sayless Seafood, 99 Washington St.; tel. 505/228-4599.
Nantucket has over 82 miles of pristine beaches, almost all of them open to the public. Madaket Beach is known for its amazing sunsets, but it isn't the beach for kids to swim. We packed up the car and went to Jetties and Children's Beaches. They're right next to each other on the north shore of the island (a 15-minute drive). There you find calm, shallow waters, a popular concession stand, and tons of screaming kids. To get a reprieve from the family atmosphere, the following day we went to different beaches. Surfside Beach was also crowded, so after lunch there we went a bit further down the road to Nobadeer Beach. Nobadeer is near the airport, not overly crowded, and was a perfect escape for an afternoon nap.
Every morning the kids woke up with the roosters. They would come into Frank's and my room, and beg us to take them fishing or crabbing. It was so early we couldn't even talk, but persistence pays off. Most mornings we jumped on the bikes and rode down to one of the bridges, with cut-up raw chicken as bait. The first couple of days the only things biting were big ol' dangerous snapping turtles (they loved our chicken). Finally, on the last day we changed locations and hit the jackpot (with the help of the neighbors).
We went into Town Center a couple of times to have drinks, shop (the best bargains I found were at the Thrift Shop) or get a snack. There are plenty of restaurants, and you won't have a difficult time finding a good one. Below are the places we went to.
The best spot for lunch is a half a mile from Town Center. Something Natural serves the tastiest breads, sandwiches and cookies! When you pull into the driveway, you'll think you're at someone's house. But the long takeout line gives it away. Something Natural is the perfect place to grab food for the beach, or to enjoy at one of the outdoor picnic tables spread all around their yard. Sandwiches cost between $5-$8, and are huge. Be sure to order just half, unless you're starved or sharing. Call ahead if you don't want to wait. Something Natural, 50 Cliff Rd.; tel. 508/228-0504.
Afterwards, stop by the Juice Bar in the center of town. They scoop up fantastic homemade ice cream in fresh-baked waffle cones that my niece, nephew and I couldn't get enough of. The Juice Bar, 12 Broad St.; tel. 508/228-5799.
If you just want something light, cruise by the Juice Guys Juice Bar. I'm sure you have had (or at least heard of) their popular drink "Nantucket Nectars" (it's kind of like Snapple). The guys who created it are from Nantucket (duh!) and they own this shop. The Nantucket Nectars aren't any cheaper than at your local store (they charge $2), so skip the bottled juice and get one of their delicious and unusual smoothies. I had the PB & J smoothie (blueberries, strawberries, peanut butter, vanilla nonfat frozen yogurt and apple Juice). Sounds nasty, but boy was it good! Mmmm! The Juice Guys Juice Bar, 4 Easy St.; tel. 888-TWO-TOMS.
Nantucket offers a couple of different Ghost Walks each night. My sisters went on the one the locals said is the best (The Nantucket Haunted Hike). The tour (which operates between May 26 and September 10) is two hours long, with two shows a night at 5 and 8pm. It costs $20 adults, $10 for kids 8-13, free for 7 and under. They said the tour was fun, but the stories weren't scary -- just disturbing. However, when they returned home around 10:30 I could tell they were freaked out. My brother, niece and nephew fell fast asleep. I was checking email. Shortly after, the wind kicked up and the outside shower door began to clank. My sister Georgette, who was sharing the king-size bed with my sister and kids, said she couldn't sleep with that noise, and asked if I would go out and lock it. I said, "No way! Not after the stories you just told me -- and besides it's pitch black!" I wasn't scared, but I knew darn well that Georgette would eventually drag Carol out of bed with her, and I could get them back for all the times they scared the bejeezus out of me when I was a kid. (I'm the youngest, which meant I got tortured growing up -- but that's a whole other story, most likely for a Dr. Phil episode). When Georgette and Carol both agreed to go out with a flashlight low on batteries, I made my move. They went out the front door, and I quietly slipped out the back. On my way I grabbed one of the wet beach towels drying on the deck railing. I started to walk fast at them, like Jason from Friday the 13th. I had the towel over my head, making loud Frankenstein-esque noises for special effects. Those noises quickly turned into crazy wild screams when I tripped on the kids' damn bicycles lying in the grass. Although I was in serious pain from the pedal jabbing into my side, it made the whole scene scarier for them. They later said they had no idea it was me on the ground as they yelped for help. Carol said she was so scared, she almost wet her new pajamas. It was so funny. We seriously laughed ourselves to sleep. Ghost Walk; tel. 508/292-0164.
It's always difficult to leave a fun vacation, and Nantucket ranks up there as one of the best. We stalled as long as we could, and the kids begged my sister to move there because it was their favorite place ever. They said there was so much to do -- and to think they didn't play their normal thousand hours of video games or watch TV. That's what makes Nantucket so great. It's just good traditional family fun. I hope we can all return every summer. Maybe one day people will call me "the man from Nantucket." (You know I had to get that line in there!)
Here's a 2-minute Johnny Jet Video of our trip to Nantucket. If you want to view past videos, here's the link of all JohnnyJet Videos ever made. Remember: With high-speed the video takes about 1 minute to load; with dial-up, it could be three weeks.
Next week we travel on jetBlue to catch a ballgame with my dad before catching an overseas flight to . . . ?
Please tell us what you think of this week's newsletter!
- Calendar of Events
- Cape Air
- Club Car Restaurant
- Continental Airlines
- Denby Real Estate
- Edith Delker Real Estate
- Frank's House in Madaket
- Frank's House in Town
- Ghost walk
- Grocery Store Prices
- Hy-line Cruises
- Island Air
- The Juice Guys Juice Bar
- NHA Research Library Guide to Nantucket Resources
- NRTA Shuttle
- Nantucket Airlines
- Nantucket Chamber
- Nantucket Beach Info
- Nantucket Historical Society
- Nantucket Inquirer and Mirror
- Nantucket Map
- Nantucket Real Estate
- Nantucket Weather
- Sayless Seafood
- Something Natural
- Steamship Authority
- Town of Nantucket
- Whaling Museum
John E. DiScala (aka Johnny Jet), is the founder of www.johnnyjet.com, the ultimate travel website and weekly newsletter. He logs over 150,000 miles a year, has been featured in over 400 articles (including Frommers.com, USA Today, Time, Fortune, the New York Times, CNBC and MSNBC), and has published the book, You Are Here Traveling With JohnnyJet.com.
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