No whining allowed!
Bruce Hebert, a Maine charter fishing captain, promises he's got the secret to keep that "I'm bored" whining at bay -- at least for a few hours.
"You've got to keep the kids busy," he explains. That means if they're fishing off the rocky Maine coast here in Kennebunkport, the fish had better be biting.
That starts with catching long strings of mackerel -- five or six at a time -- that will serve as bait. Enesi Domi, 14, with us from the Bronx, courtesy of the Fresh Air Fund, which matches inner-city kids with families willing to host them for vacation, is all smiles from the get-go. So is my husband.
"If kids aren't catching fish, they are bored and they get whiny. That's why I start catching fish as soon as I can," said Hebert.
If Hebert's name sounds familiar, it's because he and his brother are featured on National Geographic Channel's "Wicked Tuna" reality show about tuna fishing.
But at home in Kennebunkport in southern Maine, he runs a charter fishing business in the summer with special two-hour charters for families on the Libreti Rose II, named for his wife and three daughters -- Lisa, Brie, Tiara and Rose.
Maine is the kind of place for an old-fashioned family vacation with the chance to learn something new, whether you're going fishing, stand-up paddle-boarding for the first time or maybe learning how to catch -- and eat a lobster.
Berthed next to the Libreti Rose II is the Lobster boat Rugosa, which takes families out to show them how lobsters are trapped and caught. Did you know Maine provides the world with 75 percent of its lobsters? (Here's what I wrote about going out on the Rugosa.)
"It's all about family here," observed Rose Daley, a retired Connecticut teacher who vacationed with her kids here all their lives and now lives here full time. Her grandkids were visiting from Boston and she was playing with them on the beach which was crowded with families splashing in the water and building sandcastles.
Sure there are the 21st-century amenities we want on vacation -- Wi-Fi and air conditioning among them -- but this part of Maine manages to retain its old-fashioned charm too, promises Liz Daley Ortega, Rose Daley's daughter.
In fact, we're staying at the just opened Lodge on the Cove a retrofitted traditional motor court designed for today's families. The Lodge offers original art in the 30 rooms, which have been breezily decorated reminiscent of Crate and Barrel, a "tiki" bar serving homemade chowder and lobster sliders and a big octagonal lounge with books and games -- comfortable and unpretentious and hip. It's the latest hotel from the Kennebunkport Resort Collection.
The little touches really make the difference -- the fresh baked muffins served at no charge in the morning in the main lodge, the kids' yoga classes, ice cream "socials" and the bikes that can be borrowed at no charge. Families congregate at the pool outside overlooking Chick's Cove on the Kennebunk River.
We strolled into downtown Kennebunkport for a lobster roll -- the Clam Shack, www.theclamshack.net, is to have America's best lobster roll -- and then ate lobster again at Mabel's Lobster Claw, a small old-fashioned seafood place across the road from the ocean where the owners' son was our waiter.
Kudos to the new David's KPT Restaurant overlooking the harbor for its great food (Enesi proclaimed his dinner "the best of my life!"), but also for their healthy kids' menu that includes a grilled skewer of shrimp and scallops, steak and grilled chicken with veggies.
Spend a few days here and it's easy to see why so many young parents who vacationed in Maine as kids are back with their families, like Logan Wendling, here from Kentucky with her 6-year-old. "It's the kind of place where you don't have to worry about leaving your stuff on the beach and the kids all play together," she said.
"There's so much for kids to do here," added Heather Simms, here from Connecticut with her husband and 8-year-old son. One day her son Justin boogie boarded on the beach all day; another day he was game to explore the nature trails at the Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge in nearby Wells, Me. "I love this place!" Justin declared.
One morning, Enesi and my husband took a stand-up paddle-boarding lesson at the Tides Beach Club hotel. (Hint: To get a teen up early on vacation, promise an activity he wants to try!)
Another morning, we went for a long bike tour with Summer Feet Cycling through the neighboring town of Kennebunk, past the beaches crowded with families, stately oceanfront houses and Walker's Point, where six generations of the Bush family have vacationed.
Ultimately, the heat got to us and we bailed before the planned end of the tour -- conveniently in front of an ice cream shop. A plus with biking with a tour like this: We were driven back to our car.
But the high point of the weekend -- especially for Enesi --was fishing.
Captain Hebert, who has been fishing for more than 50 years, took us to a spot just offshore from the rocky coast where he promised the "stripers" (striped bass) won't be able to resist the mackerel we're using as bait.
He helped Enesi bait his hook and taught him to cast. Literally within minutes, we caught several "keepers" -- between 20 to 26 inches long.
When we got back to shore, Hebert filleted the fish for us so Enesi could take it home to the Bronx for his mom to cook.
There couldn't have been a better souvenir.
Eileen Ogintz is the creator of the syndicated column and website Taking the Kids. She is also the author of the ten-book Kid’s Guide series to major American cities and the Great Smoky Mountains. The third-edition of the Kid’s Guide to NYC has just been released.