Boston puts out the welcome mat for kids and their families


BOSTON -- Any child who has read Robert McCloskey's children's classic "Make Way for Ducklings" knows that Boston caters to families -- human and otherwise.

During a recent four-day visit to Beantown, we discovered a city teeming with family programs, hotel packages and kid-friendly events, all vying with one another for the attention of small fries and their parents.

For our visit, we sampled family packages at two properties, located on two different waterfronts: the Seaport Hotel, situated on Boston Harbor, and the Royal Sonesta on the Charles River in Cambridge.

The year-old Seaport offers good-size connecting rooms and proximity to a number of museums and restaurants, and kids receive cookies and milk upon arrival and free admission to the Children's Museum.

The family package, available from $159 per room plus tax and service, also includes a welcome goody bag for children; children's movies and Nintendo are available for an extra charge.

In summer, guests receive a one-hour cruise on Sunday mornings at 10 a.m. on the Integrity or the Lady Christing from the World Trade Center.

The property features an indoor lap pool, fitness center with complimentary juice bar and free shuttle service to a number of Boston locations, including South Station and Quincy Market.

Rooms offer harbor and city views.

Prospective guests should be aware that portions of the Big Dig, an ambitious, multiphase highway construction project, are going on adjacent to the property and elsewhere throughout the city.

When completed, the Seaport district, which also boasts the World Trade Center Boston, will be a showpiece, but it is less than picturesque at the moment.

During our one-night stay, we walked with our children, ages 6, 7 and 9, to the Children's Museum, located just 10 minutes away.

A word of advice: Don't try it unless you like walking along highways and around construction. Spring for a $4 cab ride instead.

A much more pleasant walk later in the day along the harbor took us to Jimbo's Fish Shanty, the casual version of one of Boston's best-known seafood eateries, Jimmy's Harborside, located across the street.

Typical fare includes lobster roll sandwiches, baked scrod and the usual kid's menu items.

The next day, we took in the Boston Tea Party Ship & Museum nearby, at which visitors participate in a pre-Revolutionary War town meeting, disguise themselves as Native Americans and board a re-created vessel to dump tea overboard amid cries of "No Taxation Without Representation."

Later that afternoon we moved to the Royal Sonesta where we settled into two adjacent rooms -- the property does Boat rides along the Charles River in Boston offer sightseeing in a kid-friendly setting.have connecting rooms, but none were available -- overlooking the Charles River, Cambridge and the Boston skyline.

The river entrance to the hotel leads to a peaceful esplanade sprinkled with joggers, cyclists and children in strollers.

The front entrance is across the street from the Galleria, where we weathered a brief downpour by eating lunch at the food court and visiting the Disney store.

Guests at the property in the summer receive free boat rides along the Charles River as well as free ice cream in the afternoons from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. and free use of bicycles and helmets.

The hotel features a spacious swimming pool in a retractable glass atrium and a fitness center.

We opted for the 45-minute boat ride, which proved to be a hit with our children.

The river offers views of Boston and Cambridge that visitors can't get from any other vantage point, and the accompanying patter on the part of the guide was low-key.

After a dip in the pool, ice cream and a bike ride along the Esplanade, we headed to the `T,' Boston's public transportation system located some 10 minutes of safe walking from the hotel, for a ride into Quincy Market.

The bustling area comprises historic Faneuil Hall, shops, restaurants and all manner of family-friendly performance art.

Afterwards, we walked another five minutes or so to dinner at Cafe Fleuri in Boston's Meridien Hotel.

It may come as a surprise that the Meridien, with its tony ambience and upscale Julien restaurant, welcomes families, but, in fact, the management has made a conspicuous effort to do so.

The Cafe, the more casual version of the restaurant, is by no means casual in the ordinary family sense: Ralph Lauren furnishings and linens suggest that young diners should have some rudimentary table manners.

But the staff attitude is friendly and kid-savvy, and the children's menu comfortingly familiar.

Our children also enjoyed watching the chef prepare the food in an open kitchen area.

The next day we walked to the Boston Museum of Science, a 10-minute stroll from the hotel, and took in an eye-popping Mugar Omni Theater presentation called "Alaska" and visited the exhibition halls. "Sharks" and "Everest" also were playing at staggered times.

The museum, which also houses the Hayden Planetarium, is especially suitable for families because it offers hands-on exhibits for kids of various ages and interests.

Had we had more time, we would have taken in a 90-minute Boston Duck Tour in an amphibious vehicle or visited the new west wing at the Aquarium.

Instead, we departed for lunch at Turner Fisheries at the Westin Copley Hotel, which we reached easily by the "T."

This restaurant turned out to be another surprise, featuring an array of fresh seafood dishes, including lobster, prawns and raw oysters, and a straightforward kid's menu.

Children are received with a welcoming attitude, although we didn't see very many in the restaurant, and the Westin hotel adjacent offers a kid's club program.

We spent the afternoon touring Copley Square and environs, including a stop at F.A.O. Schwarz, before heading to the Public Garden, home of Boston's famous swan boats.

As we strolled by the pond, we passed nine bronze statues of ducklings being climbed on by children and toddlers as parents snapped their photos.

"Say," said our 6-year-old, throwing one leg over the largest one, "are these the ducklings?"

They were.

Don't know beans about Boston?

BOSTON -- Following is a sampling of useful information for families visiting the Hub.

  • Want to save money on public transportation? The Boston Passport offers one-, three- and seven-day passes good for unlimited travel on all subway and local bus lines.
  • How about discounted passes to city attractions?
  • A Boston CityPass, priced at $27.50 for adults, $14 for children, offers free admission to six attractions.

    They are the New England Aquarium, the John F. Kennedy Library and Museum, the Museum of Fine Arts, the John Hancock Observatory, the Museum of Science and the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum.

    The passes are on sale at any of these attractions.

  • Hate the subway? Try the Airport Water Shuttle connection between Rowes Wharf and Logan Airport.
  • There also is a water shuttle connecting the U.S.S. Constitution, otherwise known as Old Ironsides, in the Charlestown Navy Yard to the aquarium, which boasts a new west wing.

  • Stuck in the airport? For hands-on fun, visit the KidPort at Logan on the upper levels of Terminal A and C.
  • Want to get out of the city? You can tour Boston Harbor and the Harbor Islands on harbor cruises.
  • Looking for events for the fall? Try the Cambridge River Festival in September, the Columbus Day parade in Boston in October, the Festival of Lights and the the Prudential Tree Lighting in December and, of course, First Night on New Year's Eve.
  • The Greater Boston Convention and Visitors Bureau
    (888) SEE BOSTON

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