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Something for Everyone
"How's the water?" I ask of a fellow just exiting a water slide with three children in tow.
"It's warm, you'll like it," comes the reply, as they rush away to make the trip down again.
We are here to have fun and I am going to go for it. In I go. Dashing down the slide water splashing in my eyes, blinking in an attempt to get a fix on my location, whirling down. My teeth are chattering and I am sure my heart skipped a beat (between the cold water and the thrill of the slide). If this water is warm, I would hate to see what that fellow calls cold. Maine's water, even in late June, still seems quite cool to this guy from the southern Appalachians. My daughter, excitement dripping from her voice, says "You'll get used to it dad."
We were in Aquaboggan Water Park, Saco, Maine. Although I made the trip down that slide several more times, and attempted most of the other attractions, I am not sure I ever fully adjusted to the water temperature, but we did have loads of fun.
Aquaboggan Water Park is just one of the many attractions located near our place of stay, Old Orchard Beach. Other attractions we would visit during our week's stay would include Palace Playland (right on the beach) and Funtown USA (Maine's largest theme park). Old Orchard Beach has a long history as a place of summer fun.
Old Orchard Beach takes its name from an orchard that was once located on some high ground in the area. Sailors used the orchard as a landmark. OOB's potential as a summer resort area was recognized early and the first inn opened in 1820, the same year Maine became a state. Old Orchard Beach was for many years a vacation place of America's rich and famous, including the Kennedys. It is rumored that Joe Kennedy first kissed Rose on Old Orchard Beach, under The Pier.
The Pier has long been the town focal point. During the 1920's-1930's The Pier Casino featured such personalities as Duke Ellington, Rudy Vallee, and Guy Lombardo. The Pier is still the centerpiece of Old Orchard Beach. (It is the dividing point between East Grand Avenue and West Grand Avenue--Grand Avenue being the main drag through town.) Today, The Pier features several food outlets, souvenir shops, and an aquarium.
Old Orchard Beach is a favorite destination of Quebec Canadians. So much is this the case that most menus are written in both English and French. My daughter had ample opportunity to practice the French she has studied. She made several French-speaking friends while there. The language mixture adds an international flair.
Theme parks and The Pier aside, Old Orchard Beach's main attraction is its seven miles long, wide sandy beach. Maine has a tidal shoreline of 3,478 miles, of those only 35 are sandy beach. Old Orchard Beach has the largest share of any location in Maine. The beach stretches from Pine Point to the north, south to Camp Ellis. Old Orchard Beach has been repeatedly voted "Maine's best beach," by residents participating in a newspaper poll.
Old Orchard bills itself as "Maine's Premier Family Beach Resort." The town has taken many steps to ensure that reputation. The low crime rate enhances OOB's reputation. There is a very visible police force: on foot, on bicycle, on four-wheelers, and in patrol cars. Laws are vigilantly enforced. A word of warning to the parking impaired: keep your parking fees paid. The city has taken an aggressive stance in enforcing all laws, and the parking situation is one area where normally law-abiding citizens may carelessly run afoul of the law.
Although there are enough diversions right in town to occupy most families for a week or more, we also like to explore the natural side of things. Two natural areas within a short distance of downtown are Ferry Beach State Park and Scarborough Marsh. Ferry Beach features several hiking trails through the woods. The park is a 100 acre area surrounded by roads and homes. However, within the park one tends to forget just how close civilization is. The trails provide good areas for a meditative walk or a jog.
Scarborough Marsh is Maine's largest salt marsh at 3100 acres. It is owned by Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife. During spring and summer the Maine Audubon Society offers several nature education programs from the Nature Center. One of those is a daily canoe tour through the marsh. My daughter was thrilled at the prospect of canoeing through the marsh. She had never been in a canoe. Her over-exuberance sometimes put a little more "rock" in the canoe than suited either me or my wife. (My wife had never been in a canoe and didn't like the prospect of being dunked, I didn't like the prospect of having my camera go swimming.) Our guide pointed out various bird species and other interesting features as we made the tour. The paddling was easy and relaxed (except for occasional rocking canoe). On our return, the tide was going out so we pretty much coasted back to the center.
Other nature-centered excursions are available, including a Lobster Boat Tour out of the Kennebunk River (20 minutes south) and whale watching outings. These voyages take place First Chance Whale Watch and Second Chance Scenic Lobster Boat Cruise which departs from Kennebunkport. We took the Lobster Boat cruise one evening. A guide pointed out many items of interest including Goat Island Lighthouse and several harbor seals. After cruising down the river and along the coast past Walkers Point (still the summer home of our 41st President - George Bush), we "pulled a couple of Lobster Traps" and saw first hand how the Maine Lobstermen harvest these delicious creatures. We were looking forward to the whale watch. Unfortunately, the only day we could schedule it was a day the weather called for 15-25 foot swells and it was canceled.
We spent the week in an ocean-facing condo. Our accommodations came with a full kitchen, washer & dryer, and two baths. Many area accommodations feature kitchenettes, which sure helps if, like us, you cannot afford to eat out every night. We did eat out on several occasions and there are two fine dining establishments I would like to call to your attention: The Barefoot Boy Restaurant and The Landmark. I highly recommend breakfast at The Barefoot Boy, the blueberry pancakes are delicious, and the omelets are huge. The Landmark is a fine establishment. The owners, Rick & Eileen Payette, purchased the building in October 1995 and went right to work restoring and refurbishing. The building is a Victorian inn which dates from 1896. Dinner is served from 5:00 P.M. daily. The atmosphere was one of quiet relaxation. We were seated on the screened-in porch, soft music played in the background. I had the Sherry Newburg Casserole--the tastiest chunks of lobster I have ever had. The Landmark, I believe, is destined to become known as one of New England's finest restaurants.
Old Orchard Beach truly is a family beach resort. There is something for everyone. My daughter would have been happy to never leave the amusement and theme parks. There are multitudes of stores for shopping and I found a used bookstore that I adored: Hospice Book Store. The store (operated by volunteers) provides revenue for training of Hospice Volunteers of Southern Maine. The prices range from $.25-$3 per book. I found a rare Greek commentary on the Epistles of St Paul dating from the late 1800's, cost: $1. Old Orchard Beach has everything one would expect in a resort community, yet there are several "escapes" to get away and enjoy the serenity of the natural environment.