I got it my head during late winter that this was to be the year we did Storyland. For those unfamiliar with Storyland (i.e. living outside the Northeast/New England) it's a fantastic amusement park of the old-fashioned variety - and perfect for the 2-10 age group. You can read more about the history here.
Located in Glen, New Hampshire, it's just about a 3 hour drive from Boston. We chose to make it a full weekend family trip. We are lucky enough to have friends with a home in close by, but there are a ton of hotels, motels and B&Bs in the area.
First stop was to pre-puchase our tickets online. Benefits:
1) You're not buying them for a particular day, so if plans/weather changes, you're not locked in.
2) While there isn't a discount for doing so (they rarely run discounts - there was one around black Friday for a limited amount of tickets) you save a ton of time in the lines.
(Note - we went opening weekend, so they were just getting the online scanner for non-printed tickets figured out, but it was still quicker than the lines!)
3) Their policies (in general) are super family/real-life friendly, including their "Final Three, Next Day Free" where you come in the final three hours of one day and get to come back the whole next day on the same ticket. Truly a godsend with small children who still nap and can't power through 8 hours (or for parents who don't want to.)
We came up on a Friday and made our way up through North Conway outlets, stopping at the Orvis, LL Bean and EMS Outlet stores. For dinner, we hit Flatbread Pizza which is just like the one we go to at home (minus the bowling.) But being kid friendly place with great pizza and excellent local brews made it a huge win. They often have a sizeable wait, but if you call ahead as you're leaving (or even a bit before) they'll put you on the list and it cuts down dramatically on the standing around time.
On Saturday, the weather was hit or miss. Initially, we were going to hit the Indoor Water Park at the Red Jacket Inn. Upon further review, we found it opened at noon and was $40pp over the age of 3. Not quite what we were looking for.
The weather ended up working out in our favor for what we ended up calling the "Outdoor Water Park" - a.k.a Diana's Bath and Waterfall in North Conway. It was a great 1/2 mile hike up gentle terrain that all kiddos (age 2+) can do. At the first break, there was a little sandy spot to throw rocks and watch the water come down. A bit higher up in the falls, you could walk onto a big rock and have the water go around the rock. There were kids swimming (brrr..!!) and families just lazing around. The price was right ($3 for parking in the national park) and great scenery. Just make sure to bring your bug spray - it had just rained and the mozzies were out in force!
After our hike, we headed down into town for one of my favorite sandwiches of all time from Chef's Market in North Conway. Yummy adult-friendly sandwiches and great kids sandwich menu too.
We meandered through town - so many different options - from the North Conway House of Jerky (and yes, they even have a vegan option!) to the Cupcakery to the tons of outdoor sports stores with great summer and winter deals.
After a quick nap for the kiddos (and time off for us parents) we took advantage of the "Last 3 Free" at Storyland and toured the park for an hour. Because it had been raining off and on all day, the park wasn't crowded at all and we got on 3 or 4 rides and got a great lay of the land for the next day! We also cashed in our tickets and got our "return" tickets for the next day. There would still be a line, but far shorter than the one to purchase. We also got our map to game plan.
Dinner took us to the best burgers and beers in town at Moat Mountain. Again, kid friendly, but definitely the right adult atmosphere. We lucked out and got a table straight away, but there was a serious line as we were leaving at 6:30. They brew their own beers (the Stout and Pilsner were our beers of choice!) and the burgers were good, beefy and homemade. (Not a pattie in sight).
You can even get a growler or 4-pack as part of your take away.
Sunday led us to Storyalnd - we pulled into the lot by 9:05am (park opens at 9:30) and it was half full already. The line for re-enters was about 30 people deep, but it moved quickly and we were in the park in less than 10 minutes. The need-ticket line was double the length. We headed right to the antique cars, which we had been advised filled up quickest in the morning. There was already a line but it was fair better than navigating it with young children anywhere near lunch time!
We rode the train to the backside of the park (a great way to get around and assess the situation) and worked our way forward. I'd definitely recommend packing lunches if that's an option for your crew - (the park allows coolers/bags to be brought in). The lines, as expected, were long and the food was, well, amusement park food. 'nough said.
We rode almost all the rides for our age range (10-15?) saw animals, and had an all in all fantastic time experiencing Storyland in about 5-6 hours. We hung out back at our place for naps and clean up and ended up hitting (oops!) Storyland traffic on the way home at 5:30. If you're trying to hit dinner on the way back, I highly suggest doing it in North Conway or Conway, because there isn't much till you get to Rochester/Portsmouth, about 1.5+ hours away.
I would definitely head back, probably in 2-3 years, so there is a bigger jump in the rides the kids are interested in/willing to ride.