Thanks to the Amtrak Downeaster for partnering with us on this trip to Portland, Maine. All opinions are my own.
I hate driving but love Portland, Maine, so when the Amtrak Downeaster asked us to work with them on a weekend getaway, I was definitely thrilled to participate. My daughter had some weekend commitments for the next few weekends, so I was able to get some much needed one on one time with my 11-year old son. I grew up with Amtrak (my dad and uncle worked for them), so I always enjoy sharing my love of trains with my kids.
About the Amtrak Downeaster
The Amtrak Downeaster operates daily from Boston’s North Station to Portland, Maine, with a few trains extended to Brunswick and Freeport, Maine each day. Other stops include Old Orchard Beach, Saco, and Wells in Maine, and Dover, Durham, and Exeter in New Hampshire. Late departures are offered from Boston on the days when the TD Garden is hosting evening events.
The Downeaster offers coach and business class seating. You’ll need a valid reservation for the train, although seats are first-come, first-served. My son and I had no problem finding a set of seats together. There’s also plenty of room for luggage in the overhead space (check the luggage maximums before leaving). You’ll also have lots of legroom (much more than I usually have on a plane or in a car), a tray table, and outlets at each seat.
If you get hungry on board the Amtrak Downeaster, there is a Cafe Car on board. It offers light meals (including popular Maine treats like Maine Red Snapper hot dogs, whoopie pies, and gummy lobsters), snacks, refreshments, and alcoholic beverages. You can take your cafe purchases back to your seat, or choose to sit in the few tables in the cafe.
Our Experience on the Amtrak Downeaster
We wanted to spend the maximum amount of time in Portland, Maine, so we chose to take the first Downeaster train out of North Station. We arrived a little early and then waited for the train’s platform number to be called. About ten minutes before departure, it was called. We headed to the train and easily found two seats together.
Because we were on the train during lunch time, my son and I visited the Cafe Car to grab a quick lunch. He had one of those famous hot dogs, while I grabbed some snack food and water. There were seats available in the Cafe Car, but we went back to our seats.
The scenery on the train to Maine is absolutely beautiful. I had plans to work on the way up to Portland, but ended up listening to music, reading my book, and looking out the window. That’s one of the best parts about traveling with a tween – I once again have the opportunity to read while he entertains himself. The time went by so fast, and we even arrived at the Portland station about 15 minutes early. The station is nice. It’s a combo bus station and train station, and it offers vending machines and complimentary WiFi.
The Portland Harbor Hotel
Our weekend getaway included a night at the Portland Harbor Hotel. The hotel offers a complimentary car service, and I had a car reserved to bring us to the hotel. When we arrived, I called the hotel, and the car came a few minutes later. The train station is about a ten minute ride to the Old Port section of Portland, where the hotel and most of the attractions are located.
If you are planning a family vacation to Portland, the Portland Harbor Hotel is definitely a fantastic option. We were able to walk to every place that we went during our stay, although the car is also available if necessary. Just steps from the hotel is dozens of shops, cafes, and restaurants. Our executive suite room was so comfortable and was perfect for our stay. It included free WiFi, a bathroom with shower and huge soaking tub, a King bed with pullout sofa, a desk, a table with four chairs, a fireplace, and two televisions. Because the hotel has a complimentary car service, it’s perfect for families taking the Amtrak Downeaster. We didn’t need to pay for a cab at all.
Our Day in Portland, Maine
We arrived mid-day, and after checking in and unloading our bags, immediately headed out. Because we ate on the train, we were ready for our adventure to begin. We decided to start at the Portland Science Center, which offers traveling science exhibits. It’s located right on the waterfront, and was a quick walk from the hotel. The current exhibit was all about sharks, and my son and I enjoyed learning all about them. It was amazing to hear about how rare shark attacks actually are. Did you know that more people die from taking selfies than from shark attacks? The exhibit runs through May 13th, 2018.
After the Science Center, we decided to walk around. We came upon Vena’s Fizz House, which offers craft cocktails and artisanal sodas. The sign outside said that all ages were welcome, so my son and I went in for a lemonade break. The drinks were so delicious, and they offer a little retail store where you can purchase their mixes and infusions. There were several kids in there, so it’s definitely acceptable for children, especially during the day. After our drink break, we did a little more shopping, then went back to the hotel to rest up and get ready for dinner.
I had made a reservation at Paciarino, an Italian restaurant located right downstairs from the Portland Harbor Hotel. We had seen it on another trip to Portland a few years ago, but it was completely booked. This time, I was able to get a reservation. It’s a small place with a limited menu, but the food was absolutely delicious. They don’t have a specific kids’ menu, but my son enjoyed the ravioli.
After a restful night, we were eager to grab breakfast at the Holy Donut, a Portland institution that is known for their potato donuts. The Portland Harbor Hotel offers coffee stations on a few floors of the hotel, or guests in the executive section can request delivery. I got my coffee early, and then we headed out to the Holy Donut, which was a 5 minute walk away. There are a few seats there, but we took our donuts back to the room to enjoy them.
Checkout time is 11am, so after we packed up, we left our bags with the front desk, and then went for another walk. This time, we went down Commercial Street, visiting the various shops. When it was lunchtime, we went to the Flatbread Company right on the water, where my son and I shared a pizza and salad.
After more shopping and exploring, we stopped for gelato (for him) and espresso (for me) at a nearby cafe. Then we retrieved our luggage from the hotel and took the complimentary car service back to the train station.
Returning on the Amtrak Downeaster
My son and I waited in the station until our train was called – about ten minutes prior to departure. This train originated in Portland, so it was empty when we got on. We quickly found our seats and settled in.
When the Cafe Car opened (about twenty minutes after we departed Portland) my son was eager to go grab a snack. He chose popcorn this time, partly because the scent was in the air (several people behind us had the same thought). This time, our ride seemed to go by so quickly. Before we knew it, we were back at Boston’s North Station, right where we started.
The Amtrak Downeaster is a great option for families looking to visit Portland or Freeport, especially if you don’t want the hassle of driving. It’s such a relaxing trip, and you’ll feel like you are starting your vacation the minute you get on board. The whole ride is part of the experience, and it’s a great opportunity to get away for a day or weekend. The train is also so convenient for those who want to attend special events in both Maine and Boston.
Learn more by following the Amtrak Downeaster on Instagram (@amtrakdowneaster) and Twitter (@riderail) and liking the Downeaster on Facebook (@amtrakdowneaster). You can also take advantage of the Train to Maine BOGO deal (buy one adult full fare ticket, bring a friend for free). For more information, visit this site.