We spent a busy week in Boston from May 28 to June 4, 2010, staying downtown at the Marriott Custom House and using only public transportation. It was a great trip and we look forward to going back.
In this review, we'll let you know what we did and how we did it, but won't get into much of the historical detail which really is part of the charm and purpose of visiting Boston. Helpful links are provided however.
Interesting. Friday through Sunday of Memorial Day Weekend was gorgeous. Low 60's in the morning to the mid 70's in the afternoon. Skies were so clear you could see for miles. On Monday morning, wild fire smoke blew down from Canada causing light fog-like conditions and a permeating smell of smoke. It lasted the day. Tuesday through Friday saw cool mornings and an occasional hot afternoon with a couple of showers and a thunderstorm.
Marriott's Boston Custom House
Wow. What an incredibly nice hotel, and a location that can't be beat. Custom House (the tall white tower with the clock in the photo above) is an historic building with a tall tower that tops out at 496 feet. It has just 87 guest rooms with 10-to-12-foot ceilings, and nice public spaces. Guest-only areas include the 360-degree observation deck on the top floor, a small movie theatre, an exercise room, a bar, game room, children's areas, and a free laundry. Pools are available to guests across the street at the Marriott Long Wharf (the brown/red building in the foreground). Marriott's Custom House is located within three blocks of the New England Aquarium and a primary tour bus stop, Quincy Market, Faneuil Hall, and the Blue T subway line. It's within five blocks of the Green and Orange T subway lines as well.
Go Boston Card
We purchased 7-day Go Boston Cards prior to our trip. The cards give you access to 70 area attractions for the initial cost of the card. The cards were readily accepted at all of the attractions advertised. While we didn't actually end up saving that much money (based upon what we chose to do), we did come out ahead and it was nice to have had that part of the trip paid for ahead of time. It also kept us active, as we didn't want to waste the prepaid card.
Note: If you are arriving by cruise ship, be sure to check out our detailed information on Boston's Black Falcon cruise terminal and what you can easily do one a one day trip to Boston.
If you are flying in (as we did on Jet Blue this trip) you do not need a rental car. In fact you'll wish you didn't have a car in Boston. In addition to the cost of the rental car, parking is very expensive and the road traffic can be very heavy. Instead, use the local transportation system which they call the "T". Subway/"T" Map.
Jetblue is a two-class airline with "standard" and "EMS" (Even More Space). The entire plane is outfitted with all-leather seats and entertainment monitors at every seat (free XM radio and satellite tv). They offer free snacks, sodas, and Dunkin Donuts coffee. Your first checked bag is also free. They flew direct to Boston from Charlotte. There were no problems with our flights.
Upon arrival, you'll find Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority (MBTA) vending machines near baggage claim where you can use cash or credit card to buy a 7-day T-Pass for just $18. (You can also buy single-use passes, or store any amount of money on a pass if you prefer). It's all stored on a paper "Charlie Ticket". You can also buy your passes at any subway station. It gives you unlimited travel on the Subway, Local Bus, Inner Harbor Ferry, and Commuter Rail Zone 1A. The 7-Day Pass is valid for 7 days from the date and time of purchase. We used it exclusively and extensively on the subways. There are 4 subway lines: blue, green, orange and red. Now that we're in Boston, from here on out, the subways are referred to as the "T". Be sure to pick up a T map upon arrival. You can also order one by phone before you leave.
A note about the T lines: there are at least two at each station. One goes the way you want to go and the other goes in the opposite direction. Make sure you know which way you are going. Generally "inbound" trains are heading into the city while "outbound" trains are going out from the city. There are several stations for each T and a few opportunities to change from one T color to another to get you where you want to go. Most of the time the T will display its color and post its termination point which is usually the end of the line. Assuming you've looked at a T map and know which station you want to exit at, make a note as to the termination station on that line. Once you know which end of the line that termination point is, then you can easily determine if that's the right T to board.
Most of the T stations are well marked and easy to find. Others however are very hard to find since many are located under historic buildings and in the middle of the street. The closest Orange line station to Custom House is hiding in the basement of the Old State House. The Museum of Fine Arts Green Line station is located in the middle of the street in front and to the right (as you face the street) of the museum.
Your pass also gives you access to the Metro Bus system. We took the bus once, to the zoo. Let me pause here to tell you the bus driver was extremely helpfully and friendly to the point of actually getting off the bus at the zoo stop and walking with me a half block to show me where to board a bus for the return trip. That's customer service!
From Logan airport, outside of baggage claim, take the free shuttle buses marked "Massport" #33 or #55, that stop at each of the airport terminals (A, B, C, and E), to the "Airport" T station serviced by the blue line. When you get off the bus, walk into the station and follow signs to the blue line inbound route to "Bowdoin". Get off at the "Aquarium" station. Be aware that the Aquarium station has three entrance/exits. Do not take the exit to the Aquarium. Instead, follow the signage to the "State Street" exit and then follow the signs to Faneuil Hall/Quincy Marketplace. When you get up to the street level Custom House will be directly across the street! (If you are staying at Marriott Long Wharf, do follow signs to the Aquarium exit. That hotel is literally next to the exit).
Boston is filled with good restaurants and pubs. Due to local laws that prohibit discounted drink specials at happy hour, the locals offer happy hour food specials during the week instead. You can eat pretty well at night if you eat during happy hour.
Here are some of the Happy Hour specials we found: McCormick & Schmick's at the Quincy Market: M-F 3:30 to 6:30 and 9:30-10:30PM. $3.95 half pound burger and fries. A second McCormick's, located at 34 Columbus, also offers $1 Oysters on Tuesday nights.Morton's Back Bay: $6 Bar Bites Menu, Monday-Friday, 5pm to close for 4 petit filet mignon sandwich plate, jumbo lump crab dip, 3 prime cheeseburgers, 3 mini crab cakes, and a few other items. Also $4 seasonal Sam Adams and selected wines by the glass for $5. (617) 266-5858. It's located 1 block west of the "Copley" T station. Legal Sea Foods: A half dozen oysters for $6. Monday-Thursday 3:00pm to 6pm. Long Wharf location phone: (617) 742-5300. Fleming's Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar has a bar menu featuring 5 items for $6 (5pm to 7pm). Menu items include an 8-oz. Prime Burger with cheese and bacon served with signature colossal onion rings, a Tenderloin Carpaccio, a Sweet Chile Calamari, the Wicked Cajun Barbecue Shrimp, Seared Ahi Tuna, and Jumbo Shrimp Cocktail. Flemings Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar is located at 217 Stuart Street near Boston's Park Plaza Hotel & Towers.
|Lobster specials can be found everywhere, offering various sizes of lobster and accompaniments. (Some specials are lobster-only, while others include fries and a vegetable). McCormick & Schmick's has a two 1-pound lobster dinner for $30 anytime. Tia's at the Marriott Long Wharf offers two 1-pound lobsters for $28 anytime. Paddy O's and several other pubs near the Union Oyster House (one block from Quincy Marketplace) offered cooked 1.25-pound lobsters for $12.95 without sides.|
|The best lobster rolls we have eaten were at Legal Seafoods, James Hook, Paddy O's Pub, and Sullivan's (and at under $10, it was the best value). Sullivan's (at left) is located next to Fort Independence on Castle Island. The worst was a "lobster salad" roll in the Quincy Market Colonnade. A typical lobster roll has chunks of sweet lobster lightly dressed in mayonnaise and finely diced celery and served on a top-split hotdog bun. Avoid "lobster salad" rolls as they contain a lot of filler.|
Italian Restaurants in North End: we ate at Carmen for dinner and Bella Vista for lunch and picked up canollis at Mikes Pastry for desert. Carmen's is located next door to Paul Revere's house at 33 North Square in North End. It's a easy 7 block walk from Custom House. Carmen is a very cozy restaurant which has won a number of awards. While we enjoyed a nice dinner with a bottle of wine, we found it a bit pricey. The servers were nice and the bread was good. Bella Vista is located one block away at 288 Hanover St, just a few doors down from Mike's Pastry Shop. Bella Vista is a great place to come for a budget-priced lunch and huge portions. We ordered the $5.95 lunch specials. I had the eggplant parmesan and my wife enjoyed the lasagna. The budget buster is the house Merlot at $8.50 a glass. The glasses are small, but they fill them to the brim. Mike's Pastry is THE place to go for cannoli, especially if you've never had one. Very tasty. We ate one each and took two to go for the next day --- which were even better the second time since we now knew what to expect. Be ready for a jam-packed store with a line snaking out the door and down the street. Relax and strike up a conversation while you wait your turn. You can order cookies, cannoli, and gelato from anyone behind any counter.|
Quincy Market, also known as Faneuil Hall Marketplace: you'll find over 100 stores, 14 restaurants and pubs, as wells as over 36 international food vendors inside of the Quincy Market Colonnade, the largest food hall in New England. A Street Performer Festival took place all over the marketplace during the 3-day Memorial Day weekend.
|Be sure to stop by Jacob Wirth at 31-37 Stuart Street (in the theater district) on Monday's and Wednesday's from 5:30pm - 7:00pm to test your trivia knowledge with host Morgan White Jr. Members of the audience yell out categories and he uses his mind-boggling breadth of knowledge to create questions on the fly. Match wits with him, have great fun, and win prizes. There is no charge to play, while you enjoy a menu of traditional German specialties and current American favorites.|
Boston has number of Farmers Markets offering great prices on fruits and vegetables. On Saturday, we picked up fresh blueberries ($1.50 for 6 oz), blackberries ($1 for 6 oz), big red raspberries ($1.66 for 6 oz), bananas, cherries, and kiwis (5 for $1) at a farmer's market just a block North of Quincy Marketplace. There must have been about 50 vendors and the prices vary. You'll have to visit them all to find the best prices.
Convenience Store / Dunkin Donuts / Breakfast
We picked up milk ($2.50/gallon) and bottled water at the Tedeschi Food Shop literally next door to the Custom House. Our breakfasts consisted of cereal, fruit, and the occasional jelly stick (doughnut) from Dunkin Donuts. You can't walk 4 blocks in the city without running into a Dunkin Donuts shop. They are everywhere and the coffee is excellent. I grew up in the North, and there is no better doughnut than a fresh Dunkin Donuts' jelly stick! Well, okay, the Boston Cream doughnuts are pretty darn good too. (And if you have to ask about the calories, you probably don't enjoy this comfort food on occasion like I do).
||Boston Red Sox Games and Tour of Fenway Park|
The Fenway Park experience is just plain fun! We attended three games and took the Fenway Park escorted tour. It was easy to get tickets to the games, though this is likely because they were playing Kansas City and Oakland. We bought tickets outside the park for two games and bought tickets from StubHub for one game. I was really interested in sitting in Section 33 next to the green monster and was able to get tickets on StubHub for $32 each (Row 8, Seats 11 and 12). These are great seats if you're on a budget. If you sit in this section, the lower your row and higher your seat number (closer to the Green Monster) the better. This guaranteed us seats to one game.
The other two games we bought tickets on the 3-block walk from the "Kenmore" T station to the stadium. When you exit the station you'll see lots of ticket sellers. (For the best price look for the guy who looks like he just wants to sell his personal tickets as opposed to the guys with lots of tickets to sell, however, we did well with both). The first game, we didn't care where we sat, we just wanted to get in. I offered $20 for 2 tickets and was successful on my third attempt. We got 2 seats in bleachers (section 36, row 24, seats 13 and 14) in center field (normally $28 each). Bleachers are actual seats (as opposed to benches) with slightly more leg room than most of the higher priced seating areas. For the third game, I went looking for a single ticket, since my wife was on a whale watch tour. I scored a $30 Section 3, Row 1, Seat 22 ticket for $10! Another great seat.|
I would encourage you to get to the park a couple of hours early to watch batting practice, explore the park, and enjoy the party atmosphere on Yawkey Way which is closed to everyone except ticketholders. We took a tour of Fenway Park at 9:00am. Buy tickets as early as 8:45am at the Team Store located across the street from Fenway Park on Yawkey Way between gates A and D. It's a worthwhile tour of the entire stadium. To get to Fenway Park, take the Blue T Line to the "Government Center" stop and transfer to the Green Line. The Green Line has 5 different routes. Take any Green Line, except E, to the "Kenmore" stop. (It's easier if you don't take E, but if you do, get off at the "Fenway" stop which is a longer walk to the park).
|New England Aquarium|
Located on the harbor about three blocks from the Marriott Custom House, the New England Aquarium is an enjoyable visit. Of all of their exhibits, we most enjoyed the Penguins and the Giant Ocean Tank (a 23-foot deep, 40-foot wide, 200,000-gallon tank (recently updated), filled with more than 600 animals, including sea turtles, sharks, barracuda, stingrays, moray eels and hundreds of colorful reef fish). They also host a whale watch cruise (not the one we went on) and an IMAX theatre.
Charles River Boat Tour|
Green T to Cambridge. Got off, walked through tunnel to 1st Street, then 2 blocks to CambridgeSide Galleria Mall. Turn left before Sears to the waterway. Got tickets for the 10:00am Charles River Tour (90 min) that goes through the locks and harbor. They also have a tour that goes upriver. Good fun. Afterwards, we walked about 3 or 4 blocks along the canal the to Museum of Science.
Museum of Science
Walked here from the Charles River Boat Tour, following the canal. Stayed a solid 3 hours, including 20 minutes for lunch, and took the Green T back. (Walk a couple blocks towards town. The Science Park station is across the street on a raised platform). Our favorite exhibits included Dinosaurs, Mathimatica, Rock Garden (outside), the audiokinetic sculpture (a Rube Goldberg like contraption) and a Lightening Demonstration. Most of the museum is highly interactive. Lots of hands-on exhibits for all family members to enjoy.
||Sam Adams Brewery|
Take the T to Stoney Brook. When you get on the street level (Boyleston Street), turn left and walk to light, turn right on Armory, then the first left onto Porter Street and look for the Sam Adams Brewery. The tour is free and includes 3 beer tastings and a small Sam Adams glass. Check in upon arrival and get a tour time. Although our tour time was for 5 hours later, we were able to hang out and join an earlier tour. This is a learning experience, and a fun time. Brewery Tours are Monday through Thursday from 10am to 3pm, Friday from 10am to 5:30pm, and Saturday from 10am to 3pm. Closed Sunday.
Mass Bay Lines Whale Watch|
This is a 4 hour excursion which takes you out to the Stellwagon Bank (an hour offshore) which is the most active whale habitat on the east coast. We boarded on a particularly foggy day, which was a rather silly thing to do. Unlike the pristine day we went on the Charles River Tour, we couldn't even see the skyline from the harbor. The voyage was narrated by a naturalist on board. It was too foggy to see any whale activity. Visibility was maybe 100 yards. They have an incentive to spot whales since they guarantee it. If whales aren't spotted, then they give you a rain check for use on another day. (It doesn't expire and it's transferrable). The next day, my wife tried again while I attended a Red Sox day game. While the weather was nice in Boston, it was again too foggy at the Bank and my wife got yet another rain check for a future Mass Bay Lines Whale Watch tour.
Harvard Museum of Natural History
Took the Red T back to Park Street and transferred to the Green line to Government Center. Ask directions upon arrival. We had some difficulty locating this museum. You can get lost in the museum too. It has over 12,000 taxidermied animals from around the world (some now extinct, some in need of repair), the 42-foot long Kronosaurus (a prehistoric marine reptile), a one-of-a-kind glass flower exhibit, gems and mineral collection, american indian exhibit, ancient civilization wall art, and the special exhibit: Language of Color
Tomb Presented by 5Wits
This interactive puzzle-solving expedition into a pharaoh's tomb is just a few blocks walking distance from Fenway Park. It's a 45-minute guided adventure wherein you become trapped in an Egyptian tomb and must solve puzzles and challenges to escape. Our guide was very much into her role and should be awarded an Oscar for her performance. Shows change periodically. "Espionage" and "20,000 Leagues" are among the other possible shows. The interactive game changes occasionally to other themes. As of 2011, 5Wits is no longer in Boston.