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Wednesday, July 20, 2011

CMDTA's Travel Tidbits: The Isles of the Shoals

I know this isn't a Disney related post.  I've strayed from Disney before with my series "CMDTA on Vacation." This is a going to be a new series.

"Travel Tidbits" will mainly focus on day and partial day excursions and attractions.

The first subject is going to be the Isles of the Shoals.

The Isles of the Shoals are a small group of tiny islands found off of the coast of New Hampshire.  They have a long storied history that started in the 1600's.  Going to these islands is like stepping back in time.  For the most part they almost seem locked in the 1800's.  Visiting them isn't like visiting Williamsburg or similar attractions but they still have a unique charm you are not going to find anywhere else.

Out of the major islands there is only one that you can visit - Star Island.   The other islands are all privately owned or operated.  For example the largest island, Appledore, is maintained by UNH and Cornell Universities. They use the islands for research.

You might think since some of the islands are privately owned that they must be modernized but that is far from the case.  Other than Star and Appledore only three of the islands have houses on them and of them only one of those, Smuttynose, has multiple houses (two).  The other islands have one house each but one of those is a light house home.

Taking a trip out to the Shoals is a great way to spend a hot summer afternoon considering the temperature is normally about ten degrees lower than on the coast and there is almost always a nice sea breeze blowing.

To get to the Shoals you'll need to buy a ticket on the Thomas Leighton which is a small ship owned and operated by the Isles of the Shoals Steamship Company.

You'll board the ship near downtown Portsmouth.  Once you board and are settled you can kickback and enjoy the trip up the Piscataqua River.  During your voyage you'll hear about the history of Portsmouth and the other towns and cities on he river.  Once you leave the mouth of the river it's about a six mile journey out to the islands.  As you approach you'll hear some of the history of the islands including the brutal weather and even a brutal murder.

Once you reach the Shoals you can get off the ship and take a tour of Star Island.  It's well worth it and is on par with any historical tour I've taken.

You might wonder what kind you service you could expect when there is only one ship that goes to the islands.  After all when you have captive audience businesses tend rake people over the coals to squeeze every last cent out of them.  Does the Steamship Company do that?

The first thing that will stick out when you go to buy your tickets is the price.  To go out to the island, get a tour the whole time, get off the island and get a tour, and return is only a little over $30 for an adult.  It's less than ten dollars an hour.  For the non-Disney fans let me explain why that's such a good deal.

All of the Deeks (including myself) are used to paying at least twice that for a four hour tour. In fact many of us have paid that much for a one our tour (Behind the Seeds at the Land Pavilion).  To get four hours for this price is a steal!

Next thing to mention are the food options on the ship.  Here is where you'd expect to get mauled after all Disney charges a minimum of $8 per beer in the parks and there are no real cheap food options either.  If you budgeted Disney prices and got on the Thomas Leighton you'd be able to buy food and beer for half the ship.  I am not joking.  You can get three tall beers for what Disney charges for one.  Even the food is crazy cheap for an attraction like this.

So the price is good but does the service suffer because of the price?

The service you experience from the Steamship Company is good.  For example Captain Vanlandingham doesn't mail it it.  What I mean by that is he never sounded bored, annoyed, or put out.  You might think that's to be expected but he even took the safety announcements seriously and he took the time to expound on some of the reasons safety is more important than usual while on the Piscataqua River.

Another area where service stands out is in the tour guide / historian area.  While you are heading out to the islands you hear someone narrating what you are seeing as you go.  If you buy the "walkabout" package you'll meet this person.  Her name is Natalie.  She is friendly, soft spoken and knowledgeable.  At first you'd think someone who is soft spoken would not make a good tour guide but Natalie proves that is not the case.  Her laid back style made her seem less stuffy and more approachable.  I've run into some tour guides in the past that seem so formal and stuffy you feel dumb asking questions or even trying to enjoy yourself.  You will not have that problem on this tour. 

One thing I will mention about this tour.  It is not handicap accessible.  Wheelchairs or motorized scooters cannot handle the terrain.  Other than that almost everyone can handle the tour with little or not problem.

For more information or to buy tickets in advance check out the Isles of the Shoals Steamship Company's website. 

For more information check out this website.

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