This past weekend was Sean’s birthday weekend. It’s so cool when a birthday falls on a Saturday (once every 7 years, right?), plus he was born in summer – so that makes it double cool, since the weather is so nice and warm. I had to take advantage of this lucky occurrence and plan something exciting for us to do.
There were some “wish items” that I had to keep in mind while planning:
* Wish item #1: outside of NYC.
We live in NYC, so like all New Yorkers, we are spoiled with the amount of things to do here, and also have high expectations when it comes to fun activities. My plan was to take us somewhere outside of the city, for a change.
* Wish item #2: a quick overnight trip destination.
This might not seem like a big deal, but the thing is that we’ve both been to a few popular overnight destinations already: Philly, DC, Boston, Baltimore, Niagara Falls. So figuring this one out was a little tricky.
* Wish item #3: within reasonable budget. Two people, two days. Even though this is a special occasion, you don’t want to go broke afterwards.
* Wish item #4: the place had to have good restaurants and some fun things to do for us, since it’s a birthday after all – you gotta have some yummy food and stuff to do!
With these things in mind, I came up with my first potential destination: Portland, Maine. I simply went to jetblue.com site and looked at all flights from JFK airport that are about 1 hour long. Portland seemed great – a few non-stop flights are scheduled every day. One thing that bothered me was the price of tickets: they were about $500 pp roundtrip (I looked for reasonable flight times, leaving Fri night/Sat morning and coming back Sunday evening). The budget looked even more bleak when I started looking for hotels: there is quite a number of good hotels and B&Bs in Portland, but for some reason, everything was booked solid (and not that cheap, either – about $300+ per night, and I looked about 2 weeks in advance)! So, even though Portland, ME seemed like a nice place to visit, it was getting pretty expensive for a quick weekend trip (and we’d have to fly there, which means all this airport hassle).
Then, a friend of mine suggested Rhode Island, mentioning their summer WaterFire festival. I started researching it, and the more I looked, the more I realized that this could be a perfect weekend getaway:
– Quick trip by train: Amtrak takes you there in 3.5 hours in a comfy train (wide seats, wifi, snack car, electric outlets)
– Great hotel options: it wasn’t hard to find a super nice hotel – Renaissance Downtown right by the train station!
– Good food scene: I found this highly recommended restaurant, Gracie’s for Sat night dinner
– Fun things to do: as luck would have it, there was the off-Broadway musical “Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson” running in Providence (last day was Sat!) so I got us tix for that ($22/ticket – a steal!). Then, reading the reviews on TripAdvisor and Yelp, I heard about La Gondola – romantic trips on Providence canals on a real gondola, just like in Venice! What’s even better – they had romantic packages for two, so it was such a perfect pre-dinner activity! And for Sunday, I planned to visit Newport and see grand historical mansions, and thanks to Zipcar (they had a car right there at the hotel) that was booked too.
The plan came together beautifully: it was a total surprise, from the box of clues I made, to hotel, to activities and dinner… We had the most amazing time! It rained on and off on Saturday, but magically the heavy rain held off while we were riding the gondola until we were at dinner. The restaurant was splendid – wonderful service and food rivaling some fine establishments in NYC. Newport trip was a lot of fun as well, and we also explored the area near the ocean a bit before heading back. The train ride was very comfy, and we managed to catch up on the last few episodes of Mad Men that we missed. Good times and lots of fond memories!
Big thanks to Gracie’s, La Gondola, Zipcar and Renaissance hotel for making this trip a huge success! (and yes, me of course, but I already thanked myself and got myself a permission to go shoe shopping :)
Post notes: Budget
In case you’d like to plan something similar, here is the rundown for expenses for this trip:
– Train fare: $396
– Hotel (romantic package for two with champagne, FREE breakfast and late 2pm checkout – awesome): $225
– Quick lunch and beer at Brown campus: $35
– La Gondola romantic trip for 2 (includes drinks, chocolate and cookies, photo frame and souvenir champagne flutes): $149
– Dinner: $89 (3 course + 3 free tastings for 2 people = amazing deal) + $20 tip = $109
– Show tickets: $22 + fees = $48 for 2 tickets
– Taxi ride to restaurant, theater and from theater: $7 + $10 + $8 = $25
– Zipcar reservation, 9am – 4pm: $77
– Newport mansion tickets (2 mansions combo): $24.5 each x 2 = $49
– Lunch in Newport at the Deck (didn’t think food was good. Sean ordered steak frites and it was very rare and not edible. Our waitress was really nice to us and refunded it since we didn’t even touch it): $35
– Dinner at PF Chang before we headed back: $30