"IT'S A BIG WORLD out there; why keep going back to the same place?," asked a friend late last summer upon learning that we would once again be taking our family vacation in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. We'd also visited there the year before, and the year before that, and the year before that ... well, you get the idea.
Actually, our love affair with this wonderful New England getaway started back in 1988, at least for me it did. My wife (then girlfriend) had vacationed there many times as a youngster, as it was just a short hop up the interstate from Boston, where most of her extended family resides. In fact, we were in Boston on our first trip together since we'd begun dating when she suggested we go to New Hampshire for a couple of days. The notion stuck me as ludicrous. "New Hampshire?!," I repeated. "What in the world for? There's nothing in New Hampshire--except maybe a primary every four years." "Trust me," she promised. "You'll really like it." She was wrong. I absolutely loved it. I couldn't get enough of the place. Five days later, she had to drag me home. I wouldn't leave. I wanted to quit my job, forget my family and friends, and spend the rest of my life in this mountain paradise.
It was October. The foliage was stunning, breathtaking, magnificent, resplendent, and every other adjective you can think of. From that point on, I was hooked--on both Margaret and New Hampshire. We continued our annual autumn sojourns up there through our dating days and the early years of our marriage. Come each fall, we couldn't wait to go back to see the foliage, breathe the clean mountain air, hike the invigorating trails, shop the myriad outlet stores, ride the old-fashioned steam engines, feast on hearty New England breakfasts, and enjoy picnic lunches in the picturesque forests and cozy romantic dinners at night.
Then we had three kids in three years. Even with the new additions, though, New Hampshire didn't lose its charms, for there are a myriad of activities there specifically designed for the younger set, and we now look forward each year with great anticipation to making the familiar rounds to Squam Lakes Natural Science Center, The Whale's Tale Water Park, Story Land, Santa's Village, and Six-Gun City. All are perfectly suited for our trio--Julie (six), Alex (four), and Trevor (two).
Still, very few vacations are an automatic success. There is some strategy involved. These attractions are popular tourist magnets, so they can get crowded. Calling ahead to each, there was a consensus across the board: the lightest week crowd-wise was the final seven days of August, since the back-to-school shopping frenzy is in full rage. It seems the last-minute-things-to-do list for the upcoming scholastic year leaves little time for most families to be visiting theme parks. We couldn't have been happier with the outcome, or the bright sunny weather that followed us everywhere. (Even when it rained--our second day at Story Land--the soft drizzle proved a pleasant and welcome respite from the late-summer heat that somehow manages to find its way to these high elevations.)
Our kids aren't afraid of change and are no slaves to routine, so they welcome staying at various motels and hotels as we traverse the mountain range from one day-long outing to the next, always with the idea of taking a room near our destination so as not to waste valuable "play" time on travel. With three highly active children, however, even a commodious suite can sometimes be wanting for more room, especially when an impromptu game of freeze tag or hide-and-go-seek breaks out. In perusing the travel guides and tour books, as well as searching my own memory from previous visits, I kept coming back to a trio of notions: Look for bigger places to stay (condominiums and/or townhouses); stay put for more than a couple of days, utilizing the condo/townhouse as a sort of home base and use the time previously spent checking in and out for travel; and heed (well, sort of) the advice of my friend and stake out new territory. …