Child's Play

Boston welcomes the younger set with plenty of fun things to do and see.

New England

July 17, 2005|By Marion Winik | Marion Winik,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

For most tourists, Boston is all about the American Revolution and the Red Sox. But when your traveling companion is a preschooler, great landmarks of history and professional sports get a blank stare, followed by cries of starvation and boredom.

Fortunately for those who wind up in Beantown with rug rats, the Cradle of Liberty is also a Cradle of Cuteness, a metropolis peopled by swans, ducks, frogs, butterflies, fairies and turtles.

Though I have much experience traveling with small children, most of it occurred a while back: My first generation of children are now teenagers. However, five years ago, I succumbed to the combined effects of a new second marriage, a ticking biological clock and vague memories of the movie Yours, Mine and Ours, and had a little girl.

Soon I was remembering how to buckle a car seat and, not long after, how to entertain someone belted into one on a long road trip. (In my younger mommy years, I got one of those closet shoe organizers and filled each compartment with a toy or snack, then hung it over the driver's seat. These days, I rent 10 DVDs and bring along my laptop.)

Earlier this year, one of my first-generation children, 14-year-old Vince, applied to a three-day bass guitar program at the Berklee College of Music in Boston. Of young Mr. Winik's various interests, music is one of the few I encourage, so when it turned out that you had to be 15 to stay in the dorm, I volunteered to take him there and rent a hotel room nearby.

I'd bring Jane along, I thought, and spend a couple of days doing fun stuff with her in the city. One-on-one time with Mommy is a rare commodity around my house; I pictured us in Boston, me with nothing to do but entertain her, her responding with enthusiasm.

Amazingly, that is more or less what happened.

Ducks, Part 1

As soon as we were settled in the Sheraton Boston and Vince had gone to class, Jane and I jumped on a Duck Tour. (Very easy: Our hotel was attached to the Prudential Center, a launch point for the tour.)

These tours are conducted in amphibious vehicles built for use in World War II, now converted to brightly colored tourist-toters with awnings. We have them in Baltimore at the Inner Harbor, and they serve in similar lines of duty in cities around the country.

We bought ourselves snacks at a luscious mega-grocery store called Shaw's (me: tuna sushi rolls; her: a Lunchables package of turkey and cheese) and sat down to wait for our departure. Though there were lots of others waiting - Boston was so full of tourists it seemed like Disney World, and we happened to visit during what turned out to be college graduation and gay pride weekend - everything went like clockwork and we were soon being greeted by our driver, allegedly an ex-gondolier from Venice.

Not for a moment of the 90-minute tour did Jane's attention wander; highlights were when we drove directly into the Charles River and, not long after, when Capt. Guido let her steer the slow-moving craft for a while. For me, the most charming part was when his narration lapsed into an irate Bostonian rant about what locals call the "Taj Ma-jail," a detention facility so lushly appointed that it lacks only a logo on the roof to appear to be a new location of Marriott.

Back at headquarters

Though Jane loved the Duck Tour and asked to go on it again several times during the trip, as soon as we disembarked, she vetoed a trip to the Swan Boats - a famous ride in the Public Garden - in favor of returning to the hotel for a swim.

Hotels are pricey in Boston in June; I had called many of them and had also gotten help from a bed and breakfast booking service. I wanted to be within walking distance of Berklee, and I also wanted a pool - an incomparable advantage when traveling with kids. When I ran into a $149 Internet special at the Sheraton across the street from the school, it became the obvious choice.

We could see the enormous pool with its retractable roof from the window of our room when we went up to change, and Jane's legs, too tired to get down the hall moments earlier, returned to full functionality. Within seconds, she was splashing in the turquoise water with a new friend.

The mother of that friend was Ruth Jacobs of Seattle. She had lived in Boston until 2002, was now on a combination business and pleasure return trip, and was candid when asked to help me choose from the attractions I was trying to fit into the next 48 hours.

She nixed Faneuil Hall ("Oh, it's just a mall now"), the Franklin Park Zoo ("Not in this heat!") and the Museum of Fine Arts ("Great place, but a wash for kids") and confirmed that the other choices on my list were right on. Why no aquarium visit? she asked, and I told her we'd just been to a very fine one back home.

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