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In the latest installation of our “By the Sea” summer destination series, TPG Contributor Drew Limsky is in the mood for lobster and the great outdoors — so he takes us to Bar Harbor, Maine.
Lightly populated with year-round residents, vacation spot Bar Harbor is located on Maine’s beloved Mt. Desert Island, which takes in a good swath of Acadia National Park. Bar Harbor is a low-key place, with no luxury resorts but with a stellar pedigree; this is where the Astors, the Carnegies, the Vanderbilts and the Rockefellers built homes. Nowadays, you’re more likely to see Martha Stewart and John Travolta around town (though probably not together).
Celebrities aside, however, Bar Harbor isn’t really about people, but rather immersing yourself in nature, whether on a hiking trail, along the Atlantic coast or out on the water.
A 20-minute drive from downtown Bar Harbor, Hancock County-Bar Harbor Airport (BHB) and its two runways service Cape Air and PenAir (seasonal) flights from Boston (BOS). However, if you fly into Bangor International Airport (BGR), you could fly Delta, American, United or Allegiant, and the 50-mile drive southeast to Bar Harbor will only take you a little more than an hour. You’ll find all the big rental car chains at BGR, including Enterprise, Avis, Hertz, Budget and more.
Delta, American and United provide daily, nonstop service to BGR from Detroit (DTW), Philadelphia (PHL) and Washington DC’s Reagan National (DCA); Delta also provides nonstop service to BGR from LaGuardia (LGA); and Allegiant provides several weekly flights to Orlando Sanford (SFB) and St. Petersburg-Tampa (PIE). This is a fantastic opportunity to take advantage of British Airways’ short-haul Avios awards — a flight from Philadelphia or Washington DC to Bangor (BGR) will run you just 4,500 Avios each way.
Where to Stay
In Bar Harbor, you won’t find true luxury lodgings — or the rates that go along with them — but you will find a good selection and great locations.
For instance, you can’t beat the seriously killer setting of the Holiday Inn Resort Bar Harbor, splendidly perched on Frenchman’s Bay with 1,000 feet of waterfront and lush greenery for days. Plus, it’s one mile from downtown Bar Harbor and three miles from the entrance to Acadia National Park. Nightly rates start at $189 or 35,000 points.
Hampton Inn Bar Harbor is within walking distance of downtown Bar Harbor. It features indoor and outdoor swimming pools, a free hot breakfast and nice business amenities such as free Wi-Fi in every room and a free 24-hour business center. This Hilton Rewards Category 7 property lists rates starting from $219 or 60,000 HHonors Points.
If you hold American Express cards such as the Platinum Card, The Enhanced Business Platinum Card or Business Gold Rewards Card, you can exchange Membership Rewards or earn bonus points by booking through the American Express Travel portal. Here you’ll find slew of budget and mid-range options in Bar Harbor, including the two properties mentioned above, as well as Quality Inns, Comfort Inns, a Best Western and a handful of independent inns and motels.
For my money, though, Bar Harbor is the kind of place to go for a little character and local flavor in the accommodations department, and that means Airbnb. You won’t be spoiled for choice, but if you want a cute cottage or cabin, expect to spend $150 or more per night; the fresher ones seem to go for $250 and up. Quirkier options such as campers and carriage houses cost less; sometimes under $100 per night. If you’re traveling with a large group, you’ll have to act fast to score a historic property that sleeps six or more. Check out Maximizing Points and Miles with Airbnb and VRBO, and keep in mind that Airbnb is a Membership Rewards partner, allowing you to redeem points for Airbnb gift cards in denominations of $100 or $250.
What to Do
While National Park entrance fees aren’t explicitly stated in any credit card’s travel category spending, you’re better off paying for Acadia National Park’s entrance fees ($25 per car or $12 per person/bike, each valid for 7 days) with a card that gives you bonus points for all travel spending, such as the Chase Sapphire Preferred. Summer travelers should note that entrance fees will be waived on Tuesday, August 25, 2015 in honor of the National Park Service’s birthday.
Outdoor enthusiasts of all experience levels will love to get on a bike and ride the 55 miles of carriage trails in Acadia, while the Cadillac Challenge Century is a legendary daylong ride for expert cyclists. The hiking here is also pretty spectacular, with paths winding along meadows, over hills and beside lakes.
I’d personally suggest a kayaking tour. Coastal Kayaking Tours is located right in downtown, and it offers half-day and full-day tours of such spots as the Porcupine Islands in Frenchman Bay, and Blue Hill Bay. Wildlife-spotting opportunities include osprey, harbor seals, porpoises and maybe even a bald eagle. Afterward, have those muscles worked on at the Eden Spa at the Bluenoose Inn; featured treatments include a Dead Sea mud wrap and a hot stone massage.
Don’t even pretend that the main reason to head up to Maine isn’t to crack open some local lobster. The Traveling Lobster is revered for its seafood (the mussels get marks as high as the crustaceans), so grab a picnic table or take it to go. Mount Desert Ice Cream regularly pops up on “best ice cream in the country” lists, for its quality as much as for its gourmet flavors, including blueberry basil and nectarine Champagne.
Looking for the best pancakes, too? Go no further than Jeannie’s Great Maine Breakfast for the blueberry pancakes, the apple spice pancakes and, heck, even the gluten-free pancakes. If you like it, you can leave with Jeannie’s famous pancake mix.
Have you been to Bar Harbor — or are you planning a visit this year? We’d love to hear about your experiences or plans in the comments below.
Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
|Intro APR||Regular APR||Annual Fee||Foreign Transaction Fee||Credit Rating|
|N/A||See Issuer's Terms||Introductory Annual Fee of $0 the first year, then $95||0%||Excellent Credit|