I grew up in the landlocked Midwest. Summers were spent at swimming pools, running through sprinklers, and sliding down a big yellow slip’n slide we set up in our yard. That was my only real exposure to water activities and water culture. I’m comfortable with cornfields, mile roads, and farming culture because that’s what I was surrounded by. I was familiar with towns like Des Moines, Lincoln, and the Quad Cities – all mid size Midwestern towns we traveled to. However, the seaside towns and islands of New England, like Nantucket, Martha’s Vineyard, and Newport were as foreign sounding to me as Paris, or Rome. And the thought of a New England getaway; beaches, lobster bakes, and a summer island cottage was completely foreign to me. It was time I finally discovered this foreign American sea culture and have a true New England getaway.
I took Blount’s Grand Mariner small ship Islands of New England trip. We went to five iconic towns/islands with very strong sea cultures. Each had varying water-centered histories and most played important roles in our US Sea Culture. I quickly learned though they each had different personalities sort of evidenced by the vehicle that we toured the island in! Every day we’d arrive in a new location, dock the ship, and hop in some sort of vehicle to do a short island/town tour and then we had the rest of the time to ourselves to organize any activities we wanted to do.
The New England Itinerary
Martha’s Vineyard Massachusetts
The first thing I learned about Martha’s Vineyard was that there is no vineyard there. Contrary to the name, it’s not the right environment for a vineyard to thrive, however there is an abundance of wild grapes growing all over the island. The entire island is a mix of creative types/artists struggling to get by, wealthy families who own summer homes, and the original settlers, Native Americans (Wampanoags). It’s a fascinating mix of people living on the island. We traversed the main towns with a quick tour with our ‘hippy-ish’ guide and got a taste of what each town had to offer. I enjoyed the vast diversity between the fancy Victorian houses of Oak Bluffs with beautifully manicured lawns, to the more fishing oriented harbor of Tisbury, and then to the cliffs and natural settings of Gayhead.
Nantucket has a year round population of 15,000 people and then summer happens, and the population rises to 50,000. Yes, Nantucket is a summer tourist island, with a totally different personality than Martha’s Vineyard. Nantucket is for the elite (cottage prices are in the millions) and it’s for the people who don’t mind following rules and like things organized. There is a strict housing code in Nantucket, which is why all of the homes look alike. And that is also why Nantucket also appears so darn charming – it’s coordinated in color and texture. There’s also a strong whaling and lighthouse history there if you dig a little deeper. We went to the Lightship Basket Museum and learned why and how the lightship crews used to make woven baskets that are now world famous.
New Bedford Massachusetts
Leave the summer tourist crowd behind and get to know the diverse, blue-collar town of New Bedford. This is a town where people live and work year around, it’s not an expensive summer tourist island. New Bedford was full of surprises and accolades that most people don’t know about. It’s currently the number one fishing port in the world thanks to its bounty of scallop fisherman. It’s probably best known for being the former whaling capital of the world, which meant sailors from all over the globe made New Bedford their ‘home’, transforming it into one of the most diverse towns in the US. In fact, it’s tagline is ‘the town that lit the world’ due to it’s role in the whaling industry. There is a National Historic Park worth visiting as well as the newly renovated whaling museum in old town. The towns most famous resident was Herman Melville, who worked in New Bedford as a whaler, and wrote the novel Moby-Dick in 1851; the city is the initial setting of the book, including a scene set in the Seaman’s Bethel, which still stands today. We even had a 4th generation fisherman come and give us a lecture on the scallop fishing industry; it was my favorite night on the boat thanks to his colorful stories!
Newport Rhode Island
Newport is also a seaside town, but nothing like New Bedford. It’s the home to white-collar money and it’s best known for its role in the post Civil War Gilded Age (1870’s to 1900). It has a historic past full of big money and some of the most luxurious (to point of gaudy) homes I’ve ever laid eyes on. To get an appreciation of what excess means, tour the 1893 home called The Breakers. Owned by the wealthy Vanderbilt family this 70-room mansion is 62,482 square feet of living area on five floors. I felt as if I were touring around a European palace, not a ‘weekend cottage home’ in Rhode Island! Current Day Newport has evolved into a beautiful seaside town and harbor bustling with restaurants, and shops. We docked there for 2 nights and it was the most active harbor we saw with sailboats everywhere you looked. Newport is considered the sailing capital of the world, so it was the perfect place for my mom and me to take a sunset sail on a former America’s Cup boat.
Block Island Rhode Island
Referred to as the Jewel of Rhode Island, Block Island doesn’t have the popularity and ‘name’ of Nantucket or Martha’s Vineyard, it’s more subdued. But, much like it’s ‘sister islands’ it’s a summer get away destination; the year around population of 1000 increases to 23,000 in the summer. However Block Island lacks any hoity-toity feel to it. In fact, we did a short island tour in the town school bus and our tour guide was the head of the Chamber of Commerce and the school bus driver on the island! Block Island was laid back and adorable; it was the kind of place I’d want to take a summer vacation. You can walk right off the dock and rent a bike or moped and you’ll be zipping around the quiet island in no time to secluded beaches and lighthouses. We skipped the 2 wheels and went for the paddles instead and explored the Great Salt Pond by kayak with our local guide from Pond and Beyond Kayak Rentals.
How to Get to New England Islands and Seaside Towns
Blount Small Ships Can Park Anywhere
The hard part about getting to all of these New England islands and seaside towns is that they are spread apart. You can feasibly drive to all of these places and ferry to the islands, but then you have to also find hotel rooms and parking – which isn’t always easy during the crowded summer months. If you are visiting seaside towns and islands, then you might as well travel by water. You can go by yacht if you have oodles of money, or you can take a small ship like Blount, a locally owned, family run small ship cruising business based in Rhode Island. By traveling to New England islands by small ship, you no longer have to worry about hotels, food, or parking!
The Grand Mariner, our small ship holding 80 people, was designed just for this, cruising into shallow ports and hanging out with the yachts and sailboats. Luther Blount, founder of Blount Small Ship Adventures, designed boats specifically to get to shallow ports. He even designed and built a ‘front door’, a bow ramp that opens up and lets you walk right out of the front of the ship onto the beach, no docks necessary!
See what the Small Ship Experience is all about as I walk you through the ship via Facebook Live
More Blount Small Ship Perks
Lobster Bake – We had a real true New England lobster bake right on the beach in front of our boat. See how they cooked up 50 lobsters at once over seaweed in this video!
The Smell of Bread – All Blount ships have an on board baker! We were treated to fresh baked bread, cookies, and pastries every day.
Lectures – we were enthralled and entertained by professional historical interpreter Pat Perry of Sneak Peek Productions. She dressed in period costumes and provided lectures on fascinating things about the culture of New England in the colonial era. I particularly loved her Under The Petticoat presentation where I finally learned what all of those layers and bonnets were for!
BYOB – Instead of getting nickel and dimed paying for expensive drinks on board, Blount has a ‘bring your own’ policy. They provide the mixers and you can bring your own alcohol! Wine and beer however are included at each dinner.
We Are Fam-i-ly…
I think my favorite thing about the cruise was the small community feel it had. Not only is the business family run and the boats were manufactured by founder Luther Blount, but most of the people working on the ship were from the New England area and had been working with Blount for years. It really did feel like a tight knit family.
The Perfect Vacation for Multi-Generational Travel
Speaking of family, I brought my mom and sister-in-law with me on the cruise. This was a great itinerary for Multi Generational travel, particularly with older parents. The passengers trended a bit older so it was perfect for my mom, however there were plenty of other active options for my sister-in-law and me to do every time we docked. If you are looking for a good, mature family trip, put Blount on your list. If you go, make sure to research your stops and activities ahead of time as you have plenty of time in each stop to organize whatever activities or sightseeing you want to do if you don’t want to go on the Blount organized tours. You can cater the experience to what you like to do, which is ultimately the best kind of travel!
Blount will take away the driving and hotel hassle and provide the perfect New England getaway!
Blount isn’t simply about New England, check out these other Blount itineraries I have my eye on!
Cuba Cruising – a new location starting in 2017!
Great American Waterways cruising through the Erie Canal and Great Lakes
Locks, Legends, and Canals of the Northeast – perfect for Autumn leaf viewing season!
I was a guest of Blount Small Ship Adventures on this trip, however all opinions expressed here are my own.