With roughly 6,000 miles of coastline, the region offers countless ways to experience the ocean and maritime history, many beyond day trips to the beach. And the sea — what floats on top, what lies beneath, what crowds the shore — inspires curiosity in children.
With marine science centers showcasing life beneath the ocean surface, kids may never look at periwinkles, starfish, or crabs the same way. After spending time with a Maine lobsterman, watching the shipbuilding process, stepping back in time at a historic seaport, or boarding a submarine, they may view New Englanders’ relationship with the sea differently. Speedboat thrill rides through Boston Harbor and surf lessons simply show how much fun it is to splash around.
USS Nautilus / Submarine Force Museum Groton, Conn.
The Nautilus submarine claims a couple of naval firsts: the world’s first nuclear-powered vessel and the first ship to reach the North Pole. Now, floating just steps from the shore, the Nautilus is open for exploration. Check out the Torpedo Room, the officers’ living quarters with folding sinks, the control room, and the crew’s mess hall. “The kids really like the bathrooms and the showers because they’re so small,’’ said Elizabeth Murphy, education director. “They also like that there was ice cream available all the time. You can see the ice cream machine in the crew’s mess.’’ The museum displays artifacts related to US submarine history, including a torpedo collection that dates to the early 20th century. 1 Crystal Lake Road, 860-694-3558, 800-343-0079, daily except Tuesdays 9 a.m.-5 p.m. May 1-Oct. 31, 9-4 Nov. 1-April 30, free.
Cinnamon Rainbows Surf Co. Hampton, N.H.
Named after a secret surf spot in the Caribbean, Cinnamon Rainbows introduces New Englanders to a sport commonly associated with warmer climates. With 20-plus years of experience giving lessons, the company provides one-on-one instruction for children 4 and older. After reviewing the dos and don’ts of surfing, instructors take kids into the water with a soft surfboard and dive into the fundamentals. “It’s all about teaching kids the safety aspects and how to have fun,’’ said owner Dave Cropper. “Usually, there’s success right off the bat.’’ Kids comfortable in the ocean take to surfing quickly. Lessons last approximately an hour because instructors are mindful of students’ stamina and attention span. 931 Ocean Blvd., 603-929-7467, www.cinnamonrainbows.com, lessons offered end of May-end of September. Scheduling depends on weather and surf conditions, private lessons $50/approx. hour, fee includes wetsuit, surfboard.
Maine Maritime Museum Bath
Amy Lent, executive director, proudly points out, “There are lots of maritime museums around the country, but very few of them that can speak to a vibrant history and a current maritime culture. And the Maine Maritime Museum is one of them.’’ She hopes young visitors will want to be part of that maritime culture one day. To spark interest, tour the Percy & Small Shipyard, a turn-of-the-century site that built large, wooden schooners. The shipyard takes visitors through the entire schooner-building process. See US Navy ships under construction at Bath Iron Works. Or, youngsters can head to the pirate playship and use their imaginations. If watching others make ships and playing pretend isn’t enough, build a wooden boat using old-fashioned tools and techniques. 243 Washington St., 207-443-1316, www.mainemaritimemuseum.org, daily 9:30 a.m.-5 p.m., adults $12, seniors $11, students (with ID) and ages 5-16 $9, 4 and under free.
Save the Bay Exploration Center Newport, R.I.
Forget fireflies. The Save the Bay Exploration Center has a Narragansett Bay at Night exhibit with sea creatures that glow in the dark. In another area, kids can search for camouflaged flounder and watch jellyfish wiggle around. The center showcases Rhode Island’s largest natural resource, Narragansett Bay, with 14 tanks (including a touch tank) and 150 species that make their home in the surrounding waters. “There’s such a disconnect between people and their local environment now,’’ said Bridget Prescott, education director. “They want to go to the rain forest, far away. Most people aren’t looking at what’s going on in their own backyard.’’ Recognizing that, for one of its themes, the center will examine what the state might look like if sea levels rise. 175 Memorial Blvd., 401-324-6020, www.savebay.org, daily 10 a.m.-4 p.m. May 29-Labor Day, general admission $5, age 3 and under free.
Lucky Catch Cruises’ Lobster Boat Tour Portland, Maine
Experience 90 minutes in the life of a Maine lobsterman with Lucky Catch Cruises. Kids can even dress the part in pint-sized aprons, pants, and gloves. Cruises depart from Portland’s Long Wharf and take scenic routes through Casco Bay. Watch Captain Tom Martin haul traps, learn what different buoys mean, and check out sea critters caught accidentally. “Everybody gets excited about hauling the traps up, just to see what’s inside,’’ said Martin. “When you get a keeper, there’s big excitement because you get to put the bands on.’’ At the end of the trip, all lobsters caught are available for sale. Portland Lobster Co. will cook the catch for a truly fresh lobster dinner. 170 Commercial St., 207-761-0941, www.luckycatch.com, Memorial Day weekend to Columbus Day weekend, cruises depart daily most months, check website for schedule, adults $25, seniors $22, ages 13-18 $20, 2-12 $15, under 2 free.
Mystic Seaport: The Museum of America and the Sea Mystic, Conn.
Tour a 19th-century New England seaport complete with the last surviving whaleship, horse and carriage rides, and authentic trade shops. Kids can venture down below in different ships and see how sailors once lived. Also, they can visit a rope manufacturing company, sail maker, shipsmith, and printing press office. “Kids seem to love those because they are watching somebody at work, especially the shipsmith because [he is] working with fire and bending metal,’’ said Susan Funk, executive vice president.
“It’s one of those magical arts.’’ The recently opened “Tugs!’’ exhibit teaches about tugboats, letting kids steer one through a busy harbor on a simulator. 75 Greenmanville Ave., 860-572-5315, 888-973-2767, www.mysticseaport.org, March 27-Oct. 31, daily 9 a.m.-5 p.m., Nov. 1-28, 10-4, adults $24; seniors, military, college students $22; ages 6-17 $15; 5 and under free.
Codzilla Boston Harbor
Speeding through Boston Harbor, Codzilla is hard to miss with its fearsome, teeth-baring, angry cod paint job and blaring rock music. The 70-foot boat has two turbocharged diesel engines, enough to drive Codzilla through wet-and-wild 360-degree turns. During the 40-minute ride, the boat reaches speeds of 40 miles per hour. Hold tight and be prepared to get soaked. “You’re so close to the water line that the wind is really in your face,’’ said Alison Nolan, general manager of Boston Harbor Cruises. “You get salt spray. The farther you sit toward the back, the wetter you get on the ride.’’ A back story about a giant, mutant codfish scripted by a Disney
theme park writer fills the 12-minute ride through wake-restricted water, then the stunts begin. 1 Long Wharf, 617-227-4321, www.bostonharborcruises.com/codzilla, check website for a schedule of daily departures, adults $25, seniors $23, ages 4-12 $21, 3 and under free.
Seacoast Science Center Rye, N.H.
Situated inside Odiorne Point State Park, the center lets kids explore marine life indoors and outdoors. “There’s always something going on at the science center [for] 18 months all the way up to senior,’’ said Perrin Chick, education director. The center hosts hands-on visitor programs every hour daily, covering a variety of topics. At the touch tank, kids can “pet’’ starfish, sea urchins, periwinkles, and other sea critters. Outside, the 135-acre state park offers seven natural habitats to explore. For structured activities, children 18 months to 3 1/2 can join the Splish Splash summer program for sand castle building and seaside scavenger hunts. 570 Ocean Boulevard, 603-436-8043, www.seacoastsciencecenter.org, daily 10 a.m.-5 p.m. April-October, Sat-Mon 10-5 November-March, age 13-adult $5, 3-12 $2, under 3 free, separate admission to state park.
Shira Springer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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