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Cruise Port Review
Boston, Massachusetts

by Lisa Plotnick

['One if by land, two if by sea' -- the Old North Church]

Welcome to Boston!

Whether you are just passing through or are spending a few days pre- or post-cruise, there are a myriad of sights and attractions to please just about everyone.

There are many tour books about Boston and a wealth of information on the Internet. Therefore, rather than reiterate these guides, I will also provide my perspective having worked in and around Boston for over a dozen years. So, join me as I give you my tips for enjoying one of my favorite cities.

Hotel Planning

As with any vacation plan, choose your hotel wisely. There are many hotels -- chains included -- that have the word "Boston" in their name but are actually located far from town. Obviously, the more convenient the location, the higher the cost will be. In my opinion, this is well worth it. Most of the main attractions in Boston are in fairly close proximity. My suggestion would be to look for a hotel in Back Bay, Beacon Hill, or Downtown (all in Boston), or Kendall Square, Harvard Square or East Cambridge (all in nearby Cambridge). Staying at one of the hotels at Logan Airport may also be fine as they usually provide a free shuttle to the Airport train station, if you don't mind the city being a short subway ride away. (Inquire at the hotel before booking.)

Arrival at the Airport

If you are arriving by air, you will likely fly into Logan Airport, which is located in East Boston. (Boston's Logan Airport) Once you've gathered your luggage, follow the signs to "Ground Transport." Here you will find several options for getting to your hotel or ship. If you are fortunate enough to be staying in a hotel that offers complimentary van service, call them ahead of time to learn the location of the pick-up point. If you have purchased an air-sea package, follow the instructions given to you by the cruise line. Otherwise, I highly suggest a taxi as the means of leaving the airport. Finding a taxi will not be a problem -- again, just follow the signs and wait in the queue.

Taxi fares are metered and will cost approximately $15-$30 depending upon your destination and traffic conditions. (The Black Falcon Cruise Terminal should be in the lower end of this range.) Also note that all taxis leaving Logan Airport will charge an additional $6 per trip to cover tolls, airport fees, and similar fees. This may or may not be on the meter, but will be clearly explained in a placard on the back of the front seat. And, please remember to tip your driver. I find that 15% is much appreciated.

Getting Around

Unless your travels will take you beyond Boston or Cambridge, there is no need to rent a car. In fact, a car will be more of an annoyance than a convenience. Rental fees are expensive, and finding a parking spot or a reasonably priced garage is an adventure. And, with a great deal of roadwork currently being performed in Boston (including "The Big Dig" highway project (bigdig.com), driving can be a nightmare. Fortunately, there are plenty of ways to get around town that are less costly and less frustrating.

[A section of brick sidewalk]

The best way to see Boston is on foot. Boston is known as "America's Walking City," but let me pass along a few tips based on years of experience. First, traffic lights are rarely in the pedestrian's favor. Patience is necessary. Second, while it is state law that drivers stop for pedestrians in a crosswalk where there is no traffic light, few actually do, so use caution. Finally, wear a good pair of walking shoes as the sidewalks in the historical areas tend to be made of brick or cobblestone (which, by the way, are slippery when wet).

Boston also boasts a fine public transportation system known as the MBTA, or "T" for short. (MBTA). The subway is a bargain at $1 per ride, and visitor passes are also available. The subway portion of the T consists of four color-coded lines: Red, Orange, Green and Blue. Transfers between lines are available at several stations. When describing the tourist attractions below, I will indicate the closest subway stations. The T also runs busses and commuter trains that can take you as far north as Cape Ann or as far south as Plymouth. Refer to the link above for details on schedules and fares.

Black Falcon Cruise Terminal, where your ship will dock, is best reached by taxi. If Boston is a port of call for you and you have set out to tour on your own, be sure to leave ample time to return to the ship. I'd recommend at least an hour, as the combination of road construction and rush hour traffic will cause delays.

 

Local Attractions

As with any large city, Boston offers a variety of attractions that will accommodate many interests. Outlined below are some of my favorites.

American History

Boston is home to many historical sites from the American Revolution, including the Old North Church, the Old South Meeting House, and Bunker Hill, which are just several stops on the 3-mile walking tour dubbed the Freedom Trail. Other points of interest include the USS Constitution ("Old Ironsides"), Boston Common (oldest public park in the U.S.), and Faneuil Hall (which was recently refurbished). If this is your first visit to Boston, I highly recommend a tour of the Freedom Trail, whether by organized tour, by trolley, or on foot. Should you go out on your own, the Freedom Trail is very easy to navigate -- just follow the red line that runs down the sidewalk. You may pick up a free map at any Visitor Center or at: National Parks Service. The Freedom Trail was recently enhanced with audio narration, and handsets may be rented at the main Visitor Center on Boston Common (Green Line/Red Line: Park Street). A number of trolley companies also offer tours, and several of them will allow you to get on at off at the sites that interest you and re-board for no additional fee.

[54th Regiment Memorial]

Also available is a Black Heritage Trail (Black Heritage Trail), which features historically significant sites including the African Meeting House and the Robert Gould Shaw and 54th Regiment Memorial (Green Line/Red Line: Park Street).

Architecture

Beacon Hill, Boston]

Boston is also renowned for its Federal and Georgian architecture. Abundant examples may be found in the rowhouses of the quaint Beacon Hill neighborhood (including Louisburg Square, pictured). Also on Beacon Hill are the Federal architecture designs of Charles Bulfinch, including the golden-domed State House on Beacon Street and the Harrison Gray Otis House on Cambridge Street. The latter houses a museum of the Society of the Preservation of New England Antiquities. (Red Line: Charles/MGH). There is also a great deal of modern architecture, including I.M. Pei's John Hancock Tower (Green Line: Copley) and the JFK Library (Red Line: JFK/UMass, look for free shuttle bus). An interesting juxtaposition of new and old architecture may be found in various locations throughout town. The best one, in my opinion, is at the corner of State and Congress Streets, in which a modern building was erected around an older structure. The exterior of the older building now serves as a grand lobby for the refurbished building (Orange Line/Blue Line: State Street, Green Line: Government Center).



Parks

[Swan Boats at Public Garden]

There is plenty of nature in Boston, and it can be found in a number of parks within the city. The most famous parks are Boston Common (see above) and the Public Garden, which mark the beginning of Boston's Emerald Necklace, a series of public parks designed by Frederick Law Olmstead. My favorites include the Public Garden (Swan Boats, "Make Way for Ducklings" statue), Commonwealth Mall (be sure to check out the Firefighters Memorial near Dartmouth Street), and the Arnold Arboretum (a "living museum" run by Harvard University). If time permits, take a walk on the Boson side of the Charles River (Green Line: Science Park) and you will eventually happen upon the Hatch Shell, where concerts are regularly held (including the big Fourth of July bash by the Boston Pops).

For the Sports Fans

Fenway Park, home of the Red Sox, and the Fleet Center, home of the Celtics and Bruins, are both located within the city of Boston. Fenway Park dates back to 1912 while the Fleet Center was built in 1993 to replace the then-adjacent Boston Garden (which has since been demolished). Both venues occasionally offer tours. Check out the following links for information and availability: Fenway Park (Green Line: Kenmore Square Station); Fleet Center Green Line/Orange Line: North Station).

Dining

[Union Oyster House, Boston]

A trip to Boston would not be complete without a visit to one of our many fine seafood establishments. One of my favorites is the Union Oyster House ( Union Oyster House), Green Line/Orange Line: Haymarket Station). The Union Oyster House, conveniently located on the Freedom Trail, is reportedly the longest continuously operating restaurant in the U.S. Do not miss the clam chowder and steamers. Another local favorite is Legal Seafood, with various locations within and around Boston. For a good, old-fashioned New England meal (including authentic Boston baked beans), stop by Durgin Park in Quincy Market (Green Line: Government Center, Orange Line/Blue Line: State Street). They also have the best cornbread in town, in my opinion.

Should you crave Italian cuisine, look no further than Boston's North End. Nearly every restaurant we have tried has been superb. Best yet, there are many restaurants that offer huge portions at a very reasonable price. You may have to wait in line (particularly on Thursday through Sunday evenings), but the wait is worth it. Save room for a cannoli from Mike's Pastry on Hanover Street. The North End is conveniently located on Boston's Freedom Trail.

Boston also has a Chinatown, where you may indulge in wonderful dim sum and other delicacies. Aside from traditional Chinese fare, Chinatown also boasts an array of Cambodian, Vietnamese, Malaysian, Japanese, and other ethnic Asian favorites. (Orange Line: Chinatown, Green Line: Boylston).

For an elegant dining experience, visit Aujord'hui in the Four Seasons Hotel on Boylston Street. (Green Line: Arlington Station). This fine restaurant offers French cuisine in a beautiful setting. Another fine option is No. 9 Park (Red or Green Line: Park Street Station), which offers a variety of dishes, including a prix fixé chef's tasting menu. Reservations are recommended for both restaurants.

One of the most frequent questions I receive from tourists is, "Where's Cheers?" Actually, there are two. The original inspiration for the television show is in Boston's Beacon Hill neighborhood (Green Line: Arlington Station) while a bar and restaurant built to resemble the show's set is located in Quincy Market. While there, you can even pick up a map telling you how to get from one to the other.

Shopping

[Quincy Market, Boston]

My personal favorite -- and a favorite of many tourists -- is Quincy Market. (Orange Line/Blue Line: State Street, Green Line: Government Center). The central building is essentially a large food court, where you can find New England specialties as well as more familiar items such as hot dogs and pizza. On either side of the central building are pushcarts from vendors selling everything from handmade goods to Boston souvenirs. Two adjacent buildings, the North and South Markets, contain more shops, including those that sponsor the pushcarts. The nearby Faneuil Hall also offers souvenirs such as T-shirts, historic sports photographs, and jewelry.

[Filene's, in Downtown Crossing, Boston]

You will find many locals in Downtown Crossing, which consists of several chain stores, smaller shops, and pushcarts. This is where you will find the famous Filene's department store, which houses the original Filene's Basement. (Red Line/Orange Line: Downtown Crossing).

If your travels take you to Boston's Back Bay neighborhood, you will find a number of upscale stores on Boylston and Newbury Streets (which run parallel to each other one block apart). Shreve Crump and Lowe sells Boston-themed fine jewelry and other items. Also check out the unique Womens Industrial Union. (Green Line: Arlington Station).

Antique lovers will marvel at the number and quality of the shops along Charles Street in the Beacon Hill neighborhood. Begin your walk at the corner of Beacon and Charles Streets, with the entrance to the Public Garden behind you.

Beyond Boston

There are a number of cities and towns outside of Boston that also have many points of interest. Among these are:

  • Cambridge (home of Harvard, MIT, and other fine colleges and universities);
  • Salem (House of Green Gables, Salem Witch Museum, Peabody Essex Museum);
  • Lexington/Concord (Battle of Lexington Green -- "Shot Heard Around the World");
  • Plymouth (Plimouth Plantation and Plymouth Rock);
  • Quincy (birthplace of John Adams and John Quincy Adams); and
  • Fall River (Battleship Cove)

Cambridge is easily accessible to Boson, as it is located directly across the Charles River. (Red Line: Kendall or Harvard Squares). If Boston is a port of call on your cruise and you would like to visit one of these other areas, I highly recommend a ship's excursion due to their distance from Boston.

Boston Weather

As any New Englander will tell you, weather conditions can vary quite a bit from day to day -- and sometimes, even within the same day. If you are visiting in the summer months, expect the temperatures to range from 65° to 85° F (18° to 30° C). September and October are cooler with temperatures typically ranging from 45° to 70° F (8° to 23° C). As you will presumably be on a cruise that also includes points north (Maine and/or Canada), my advice would be to bring clothing that can be layered. Also pack an umbrella and sunglasses, as you will likely need both during the course of your vacation.

Overwhelmed?

Indeed, Boston has something for everyone. To really see the city and its surrounding areas would require more than just a couple of days. With that in mind, I'd recommend the following if time is short:

  • Port of Call / Less than One Day: Freedom Trail tour with lunch at Quincy Market, Durgin Park, or Union Oyster House. Along the Freedom Trail, check out the refurbished Faneuil Hall and the USS Constitution.
  • Two Days: Above, plus a visit to a museum and/or park. If time permits, ride a Swan Boat in the Public Garden.
  • Three Days: All of the above, plus a visit to an outlying area such as Plymouth or Salem.

And, don't be discouraged if you can't see all that you would like given limited time. We would love to have you back to Boston for a return visit!


[Signal Flags]


[Lisa Plotnick, SeaLetter Columnist and Forum Manager]Lisa Plotnick, a writer who lives in Massachusetts with her husband, Neil, and young son, has written many SeaLetter Cruise Magazine articles, cruise ship reviews and book reviews. Lisa is a fan of the classic liners, unfortunately a dying breed in the early 21st century. The Plotnicks have cruised once or twice a year for the past twelve years and have been on most of the major cruise lines as well as several lesser-known lines.

Lisa is a SeaLetter Columnist and also assists in the management of the SeaLetter Cruise Forum. She may be reached for questions or comment at: lisa@sealetter.com




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