When my family heard Greyhound was operating a new upscale bus service (free WiFi, comfortable seats, advance reservations) for $1 between major cities in the northeast, we decided to make a trip from New York to Boston. Combined with the many weekend hotel specials and kid-centric institutions, we discovered a surprisingly cheap family travel destination.
All costs below are per person for our three-person family. We did not include discretionary costs like purchases made in gift shops or for treats like ice cream. As it turned out, there is only one, one-dollar ticket per bus, and we didn't get it, but the $20/per person was still far more reasonable than the plane or train fare. (www.boltbus.com; $40 for three round-trip tickets)
As a New Yorker, I had to look twice at the room rates to make sure the booking engine was working properly. Four-star hotels over Memorial Day weekend, booked only four days in advance, were running less than $200/night? It seemed impossible. Apparently, Boston's financial center hotels still cater primarily to weekday business travelers, so our first lesson was to look for a hotel close enough to the district to benefit from the discount but not too far from a T stop or Boston Common.
We chose the Hyatt Regency Financial District (tel. 800/223-1234; www.hyattregencyboston.com; packages from $130 per night) because it had a pool, was cheap, and was close to everything we needed: a block from a major T station, two blocks from Boston Common, and five blocks from both South Station (major train/bus station) and the Children's Museum. We requested a fridge for the room (free) and brought milk, cereal, yogurt and some fruit to eat for breakfast, saving us a daily $50 breakfast bill.
To keep the trip in our budget, we started off with a Boston CityPass (www.citypass.com; $44 age 12 and up; $24 ages 3-11) and an unlimited 7-day Charlie Card (www.mbta.com/fares_and_passes/charlie/; $15 adults, children 11 and under ride free) for public transportation.
What to Do
The Boston Children's Museum (300 Congress Street; tel. 617/426-8855; www.bostonkids.org) was clearly the highlight of our daughter's trip. She spent the entire day there, and would gladly have spend another if there wasn't so much more to pique her interest. It's one of the country's largest, with a Blue Man Group music center, three-story climbing sculpture, plenty of fine-motor skill developing exhibits (including a "workbench," "recycle shop." and "boats afloat") and a few ways to explore different cultures (Japanese house, Boston Black and Children of China exhibits). With our Association of Children's Museum reciprocal membership (www.childrensmuseums.org/visit/reciprocal.htm), the entry was free.
The New England Aquarium (tel. 617/973-5200; www.newenglandaquarium.org; $18 adults, $10 children 3-11. Free for children under 3 and with the CityPass) should be visited at least once with kids, although it's not one of our favorites. Our daughter is accustomed to the ones in Monterey and Coney Island -- both full of extensive well thought out exhibits focusing on sustainability and preservation. Given New England's whaling and fishing heritage, I would have expected a much richer, immersive experience on the culture and connection to the ocean. Instead, most of the effort seems to go into the one large tank holding sharks and other tropical fish.
My daughter still asks when we can go back to the Museum of Science (tel. 617/723-2500; www.mos.org; Admission to exhibit halls $16 adults, $14 seniors, $13 children 3-11, free for children under 3, free with CityPass), and I can see why. Unquestionably one of Boston's best family attractions, it's one of the most comprehensive and approachable ways to make science tangible and inviting. Aside from the "way cool mom!" planetarium and laser show, the butterfly garden and bee hive, discovery center, and over 30 other hands-on activities, there are numerous live demos during the day including juggling, electricity and baseball. From an adult angle, the view of the Charles River from the cafeteria is worth the trip alone.
To say the Harvard Natural History Museum (26 Oxford Street; tel. 617/495-3045; www.hmnh.harvard.edu; free with CityPass) is compact is a bit of an understatement. If one of the major natural history museums in D.C. or New York were smooshed into a few rooms, this would be it. The biggest draws for kids seemed to be the large room of minerals with all kinds of colorful stones and metals, and the wing with exotic stuffed animals, fish and dinosaur bones. The hall of Mammals is particularly spectacular with three giant whale skeletons, and a giraffe my 6'4" husband could easily walk under.
For older children, and adults, there is a sad if potentially educational aspect to this museum: many of the animals on display are now extinct or close to it. Although the museum does not seem to promote any form of environmental agenda, a visit here is a good opportunity for parents to instill some earth-friendly values.
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