Mystic Seaport and Foxwoods: A getaway in the northeastern US

Mystic Seaport, less than 90 minutes from New York City as the crow drives, is America’s largest maritime museum, and you and your kids will love it.

THE JAMES W. MORGAN whaling ship at Mystic Seaport. (photo credit: MICHAEL LEVIN)
THE JAMES W. MORGAN whaling ship at Mystic Seaport.
(photo credit: MICHAEL LEVIN)
So you’ve got a weekend off, and you’d love to get in a road trip to de-stress – whether from a Zoom-ified new school year or the myriad other corona challenges. (Or you want to daydream about it from the comfort of your own home.) But you’re wondering if anything is open.

Take heart – and then take I-95, or Amtrak, to Mystic, Connecticut, where you can have a family vacation, however brief, second to none, even during what one hopes are the final days of the pandemic.

Mystic Seaport, less than 90 minutes from New York City as the crow drives, is America’s largest maritime museum, and you and your kids will love it.

Mystic Seaport features exhibits for landlubbers that show exactly how ships made it into the water, with demonstrations of ship chandlery, rope-making, woodcarving, and everything else it takes to get a vessel seaworthy.

You can also walk onto various historical vessels, including the Charles W. Morgan, a whaling ship that took 37 voyages to all seven seas during the 80 years of its useful life.

While not everything at Mystic Seaport is open, plenty is, including the ships on which you can set foot.

The Charles W. Morgan’s voyages lasted as long as three or four years each, with the crew harpooning whales wherever they could be found. When a whale was spotted, a small boat would be lowered, and half-a-dozen men would set off in pursuit. They would harpoon the beast and let it drag the boat until it exhausted itself, at which point the men would move in for the kill. This, the folks at Mystic Seaport will happily tell you, was known as a “Nantucket sleigh ride.” The Charles W. Morgan then turned into a giant, floating, whale-rendering station, as the men would go below decks, strip off the blubber and turn it into whale oil, a precious commodity in the 19th century.

You can see the state room, closet-sized by our cruise ship-derived standards, of the captain, which includes his birdcage. Places like Mystic fire the minds of children and get them thinking about a world that is bigger, and older, than their cellphones.

Where to stay? In the Mystic area, which is served by an Amtrak station and various car rental companies, you can find all of the usual hotel chains. But less than half an hour from Mystic Seaport is Foxwoods, a gleaming mega-hotel and casino complex rising out of the pine trees and providing a wide array of entertainment options.

NOT EVERYTHING at Foxwoods is open, but there are plenty of things for you and your kids to do. While mom and dad are hitting the blackjack tables, the kids can be go-karting on the Monza World Class Karting track. Adults can do up to 45 miles an hour in the meticulously maintained cars, while the youngsters can hit a cruising speed of 25 miles an hour. The karts cost 30 bucks for the first ride, which lasts eight minutes, and 15 dollars for each subsequent passage.

While the gym and the pool are closed, the shopping mall is open, so you can do all your back-to-school shopping with all of the popular mid-range national brands. And if you haven’t completely exhausted your funds in the mall and at the slots, you and your family can go bowling while remaining on property. The bowling alley at Foxwoods is pretty spectacular compared to your local lanes, and the food is great, too. There are plenty of dining options ranging from Dunkin’ Donuts to a prime steakhouse in the casino.

Less than half an hour from Foxwoods are the beaches at Westerly, Rhode Island, and here’s a pro tip you won’t find in the travel guides: You can pay rather exorbitant parking fees at the various beaches, of which East Beach is the local favorite, or you can ask the locals where Taylor Swift’s house is, and then follow the stream of smart people parking for free and using the beach access path just behind her house.

But don’t tell Taylor I sent you.

Finally, if you’re looking for a quieter, more spiritual experience, perhaps to counterbalance the thrill of the dice table and the slot machines, I recommend Enders Island, approximately 10 minutes away from Mystic Seaport. Enders Island is a retreat center surrounded on all sides by the Long Island Sound, replete with beautiful gardens, walking paths, and the tiniest of beaches. The views are wonderful and the experience is serene and sublime.

In order to get to Enders Island, you go past a stern-faced guard in a little booth who makes sure that ordinary people don’t come onto the ultra-exclusive tiny island separating Enders from the mainland. Just tell him you’re going to Enders, and he will give you a big smile and a wave. There is no charge for visiting Enders Island, and you can actually launch a kayak or other small seagoing vessel (not a whaling ship) from the tiny beach just to the left of the entrance and (free) parking lot.

So there you have it, mom and dad. Get off the couch, grab the kids, and head to Mystic, Foxwoods and environs. It’s a great way to close out the summer and give your family a treat before the new school year – masks, Zoom and all – begins.
The writer, a New York Times bestselling author, teaches writing at