International hospitality from Iceland to Bosnia
More to the liking of Alice, for reasons that are evident in its name, was the Ice Cream Cruise that putted around the town harbour for close-ups of boats, houses and birds. While passengers merrily slurped their cones and ice cream sandwiches, Captain Max Perkins discussed local fauna and, just as knowledgably, local politics. He also gave my daughter a thrill by letting her take the wheel of the 26ft-launch when we were far from any obstacles. For kids old enough to handle longer excursions, the same company does whale watches, which can last for six hours. And we were visiting too early in the season to go, but the sailboat Endeavor has a kid-centric pirate-themed cruise during the high season of July and August.
Back on shore, the two-room Maria Mitchell Aquarium might be overlooked unless your kids are excited to see local fish and touch hermit crabs. But for a few dollars more, it is worth going on “Feeding Frenzy” mornings (9 am Monday through Saturday in the high season) to witness fish, crabs and an 80-year-old lobster go wild for their breakfast. They also offer week-long summer programs for budding Cousteaus ages four to 15.
The town library, a stately old building called the Atheneum, was a surprise hit, with a beautiful children’s wing, a climbing tree outside and an event calendar full of activities, including the Mexican folk singers who were entertaining a dozen kids on the lawn when we arrived.
Prior to visiting the excellent Whaling Museum in the centre of town, which retells the island’s nearly 100-year-history as the whaling capital of the world, my daughter had peppered us with questions about the whaling trade, so the subject was not upsetting (though it may upsetting for younger kids). She even sat in the front row for an adult-geared telling of the story of the whaleship Essex, famous for being the inspiration of Herman Melville’s novel Moby-Dick. But before the tale turned to the starving crew’s desperate cannibalism after the whale sank their ship, my wife steered her to the museum’s Room of Curiosities where a friendly docent chatted to Alice, and my wife leaned over the balcony to hear the end of the gripping tale. A suspended whale skeleton, a lighthouse light, a roof deck and a model version of the tourist train that starts with a push of a button are all appealing to little ones, but the Discovery Room, with its facilitator-led nautical craft making, themed children’s books, interactive exhibits and period dress-up, can happily occupy a youngster for hours.
For movie-going aged children, the island’s new Dreamland theatre is the nicest option – it was the main venue for the star-studded Nantucket Film Festival while we were there. But the smaller Starlight Theatre & Cafe has a nice option of combining a film with a kid-friendly meal.
Restaurant options on the island range from haute cuisine to seafood takeaway, and most places cater to young guests. The friendly Fog Island Cafe has the feel and cuisine of a small town diner, with hearty breakfast options such as cheesy huevos rancheros (a Mexican take on eggs, beans and salsa) and “trail cakes” (pancakes made with granola and bananas), served in cosy wooden booths with bottomless cups of coffee. Better still is the popular Black Eyed Susan’s, with excellent buttermilk pancakes and a hash brown scramble that is worth the wait for a table.
There are many great spots for lunch, but catering to the pack-‘n’-go beach-bound crowd is Something Natural, set back in an old house a short walk from town. It has thick, fresh sandwiches with choices of veggies and meats (made even more delicious on their famous herb bread), and huge cookies. The best lunch spot we found was Claudette's Sandwiches (10 Main Street; 508-257-6622), an informal spot out in the easterly village of Siasconset (shorten to ‘Sconset, lest you sound like a tourist). Their hearty and lovingly prepared sandwiches are served on a shady deck across from the public bus stop.