PLEASE NOTE: This post was written in 2015, and while it should still give you a good overview of the experience, it is also possible that it may contain some outdated information. Please be sure to check their website for the most current information, especially about things like dates/times and pricing. Kids Cruises are first-come, first-served (no advance booking) and CASH ONLY.
Most of the time, the Connecticut River is, unfortunately, a source of frustration for me. Living “across the river” in Glastonbury, getting over the river en route to westward destinations is at best anxiety-producing (will there be traffic?) and at worst utterly exasperating (Ugg! There’s so much traffic!). And this 2+ years of construction on the Putnam Bridge isn’t helping matters either.
So I thought it might be time to find a way to enjoy this majestic river that holds such a special and significant place in our state’s rich history. (You know, so the next time I am sitting in bumper to bumper cars on the Bulkeley Bridge, I can be a little less annoyed 🙂 ).
Fortunately, a friend had recently told me about a special Kids Cruise offered by RiverQuest on select Saturday mornings during the summer months (thanks, Ellen!). It sounded like the perfect way to enjoy the magnificence of the river and its surroundings, and to learn a little bit more about this important body of water. And the kids would get to go on their first real boat ride! Super!
As you may know already RiverQuest hosts all kinds of wonderful cruises, mostly geared towards adults or at least designed with more mature passengers in mind (kids are also welcome on their regular Daytime Cruises). But their special Kids Cruise is all for the kids! At just an hour long, it’s a little shorter than their standard cruising time (which I think is 90 minutes), tickets are offered at a bit of a discount, and there are all kinds of kid-friendly features that I can’t wait to tell you all about.
Before we get started, I just want to lay out a couple of important points about the RiverQuest Kids Cruise:
1. It only takes place on select Saturdays (so it’s not every Saturday). This season (2015), the Kids Cruise dates were/are June 7 & 27; July 11 & 25; and August 8 & 15 from 10:00a.m. to 11:00a.m. So obviously, 8/8 & 8/15 are the only remaining dates this summer.
2. There is no advance online booking for this cruise. It is first come, first served. The cruise departs at 10:00a.m., but you can get there as early as 9:00a.m. to purchase your tickets. (The dock is located in Eagle Landing State Park in Haddam, CT, so there is plenty of green space to let the kids run around and play, or maybe bring a picnic breakfast/snack to enjoy while you wait.)
3. Ticket purchases can be made in CASH ONLY. For kids ages 2 to 12 the ticket price will be $5; all others $10. Under 2 is FREE.
4. Adults must be accompanied by a child. It doesn’t matter how many adults go with each child (no need for a 1:1 ratio), but suffice it to say that adults cannot come on this cruise on their own. There are a limited number of seats, and they really try to reserve this cruise for the families it was designed for.
5. Children must be accompanied by adults. This is not a drop-off program for kids. They must be accompanied by a caregiver.
6. Life jackets are not mandatory on this cruise. According to the RiverQuest website: “You do not need to bring life jackets with you, per the US Coast Guard, children under 12 do not need to wear them on a commercial boat.” If you feel more comfortable bringing one for your child, I am sure that will be totally fine. And of course, the boat is also stocked with both adult and child life jackets on board for emergencies.
Okay, so are you ready to set sail?! 🙂
We arrived for the July 25th Kids Cruise at about 9:30a.m. In the interest of full disclosure, we had intended to arrive closer to 9:00, but a stop at Dunkin Donuts for much-needed coffee and a few wrong turns held us up.
It was actually a pretty easy drive (the wrong turns were mostly because we were so busy enjoying the scenery that I failed to pay attention to my iPhone GPS). If you are heading east as I was, just as soon as you cross the East Haddam Swing Bridge you’ll want to take a left (you’ll see a sign on your left for Cruise Boats and Eagle Landing State Park.)
As I mentioned, the RiverQuest docks in Eagle Landing State Park, so that is where you are headed.
There is plenty of parking.
And tickets can be purchased at the desk in the grey building all the way on the left.
Tickets are cash only. Actually, you don’t really get tickets so much as laminated number cards that you just keep with you until the cruise and hand in when you get on board.
It is first come, first served. I believe there are something like 60 seats available. So to be on the safe side, you’ll want to get there close to 9:00a.m. (an hour ahead of time). The good news is, you don’t have to wait in line for an hour. You can get your “tickets” when you arrive and then head out to enjoy the park (and the views!) for a bit.
(That’s the beautiful and historic Goodspeed Opera House in the back right corner.)
You can also enjoy a little nature-watching. Like these circling hawks we spotted.
And even a Bald Eagle! (Excuse the blurry photo, but that guy was waaaaay up there! Makes you realize how big they are, huh?)
There are also lots of things to look at and learn about in the Connecticut River Environmental Education Center (the gray building).
We even found some FREE coloring books filled with CT landmarks (most of which we have visited and blogged about on this site! Go us!).
Although there is no real restroom facility, there is a porta-potty nearby and at least it’s a very spacious one.
Before we knew it, it was time to get on board!
I’ll pause here to mention a few of the logistical things that make this cruise so incredibly family-friendly:
1. It is 100% stroller-friendly. Not only can you wheel your stroller from the parking area into the building where you buy tickets and down the dock, but you can even take it on board with you if you like! That can be such a life-saver for those with multiple little ones.
2. You can bring food. Food and beverages are allowed on board (including your morning coffee!). There are even some tables you can sit at to eat.
3. There is a restroom on board. I didn’t actually go into it or figure out how it works exactly, but it’s there. And that is very good to know when you will be “trapped” for an hour with a preschooler who may not be able to hold it 🙂
Of course, the kid-friendly factor goes far beyond logistics.
For starters, they provide binoculars (both kid and adult sized) and a fun scavenger hunt on a table up front.
These binoculars were a hit with our crew!
Although, the little guy might need a lesson in proper use 🙂
The kids loved trying to find all the things on the scavenger hunt. And truthfully, it was kinda fun for us grown-ups too.
The entire cruise is narrated as well, so kids (and grown-ups too!) learn about things like nautical terms, navigation, the river environment, landmarks, etc. And there’s a nifty screen that switches between things like water depth charts, the popular “fish finder” and other displays.
Of course, we all know that kids don’t typically want to sit still and pay attention for long periods of time (and the RiverQuest folks know this too!), so it’s totally fine for them to be moving around the boat the whole time. The narration is there when they want to pay attention to it (and it is somewhat interactive) but it’s no big deal if the kids want to talk or move around or whatever. It’s not like a formal lecture on anything. The whole point of this Kids Cruise is to let kids be kids!
This cruise is also a great option for adults with infants.
Obviously, babies can’t use binoculars or fill out scavenger hunts, and they probably won’t pick up any nautical terms 🙂 But still, you may not feel comfortable taking your baby on a regular daytime cruise for fear of being disruptive if he/she has a meltdown (plus, the regular cruises are longer), so this Kids Cruise is a great option for new parents who want to enjoy a river cruise and want to bring their baby.
We could not have asked for a more glorious day to enjoy a river cruise. Every picture looked like a postcard (and trust me, it has nothing to do with my photography skills!).
We also passed some landmarks and pretty incredible nature sights.
Meanwhile, the kids had a blast checking out the views from the front of the boat…
To the back of the boat…
And everywhere in between!
Don’t forget to say “hi” to Captain Mark!
FYI, the restroom is around the other side of the pilothouse (like my newly learned nautical terminology?!).
We were having such a great time, but just as the RiverQuest folks divined when they made this cruise only an hour, the kids were starting to get a little antsy by 10:45, so we were also happy to see the dock come into sight shortly thereafter.
If you are feeling adventurous (and energetic!) you could follow up this cruise with a visit to Gillette Castle State Park for a picnic lunch (or you can stay at Eagle Landing State Park for your picnic as well).
There’s also a fun country store (Goodspeed’s Station Country Store) across the road from the park that my friend and her family (who joined us on this adventure), scoped out for me (thanks, Ellen!). If you’re okay with the sugar rush, it looks like it has a great selection of penny candy (although, I think it costs more than a penny these days).
As for us, we decided to grab a quick lunch at the nearby Pilot House roadside stand. It opens at 11:30, so the timing was perfect. Hamburgers, cheeseburgers, hot dogs (don’t forget the homemade relish), grilled cheese, milkshakes, etc. Mmmm. Hit the spot! Just note that it is CASH ONLY. (UPDATE 6/30/17: We had a reader tell us that upon a recent visit to the Pilot House, she found it closed. We’re not sure if that’s temporary or not, but if you’re looking for another similar option in the area you can try the nearby Higgies Food & Ice cream Stand.)
Also be aware that it really is a roadside stand. You are pretty close to a fairly busy road.
It was the perfect adventure for a beautiful summer morning. And the next time I am stuck in traffic trying to cross the river, I’ll just try to remember Boo’s smiling face as we cruised along.
How could I ever curse something that makes my son this happy? 🙂
All cruises depart from Eagle Landing State Park in Haddam, CT (located directly across the river from the Goodspeed Opera House.); get directions here.
The Pilot House Roadside Stand is located just a short drive from Eagle Landing State Park at 1364 Saybrook Road, Haddam, Connecticut
- The Kids Cruise is from 10:00 a.m. to 11:00 a.m. on select Saturday mornings. The remaining cruise dates for this summer (2015) are August 8th and August 15th. There is no online booking for this cruise and it is first come. first served.
- RiverQuest offers many other CT River expeditions as well. See a complete list here.
- Special pricing for the Kids Cruise (CASH ONLY):
- Under 2 is FREE
- Ages 2 to 12 are $5/each
- All others are $10/each
- Stroller Friendly: YES.
- Coffee Mug Friendly: YES.
- Restroom: YES. There is a porta-potty near the dock and a restroom on board the boat.
- Baby Changing Station: NO.
- Parking: YES.
- Food for Sale: NO.
- Outside Food Allowed: YES. You can bring food and beverage on the boat.
- Cash Required: YES. Tickets can be purchased with cash only.
- Dress Code: NO.
- Age Recommendations: All ages. Both my 2-year-old and my 5-year-old really enjoyed the cruise. We saw plenty of older and younger kids there as well. I would say that this cruise is particularly good for kiddos who are not ready to sit still through the regular 90-minute cruise. It’s also a little more laid back so parents don’t need to worry about their children being “disruptive” to those on the regular daytime cruises. (And by “disruptive” I really just mean not sitting still for long periods or failing to talk/make noise at a reasonable volume; you know, being kids.). It’s also great for new parents with infants who want to enjoy a cruise themselves but worry about the longer cruise time and/or the possibility that their baby will somehow disrupt other passengers on the regular daytime cruises.
- Evening/Weekend Hours: YES.
- Discounts: None that I know of.
- Connecticut Children’s Medical Center – The state’s only free-standing hospital that offers comprehensive, world-class health care to children. Based in Hartford, Connecticut Children’s also provides services at several locations throughout the state.
- Mandell JCC – The Mandell JCC, Zachs Campus, 335 Bloomfield Avenue, West Hartford, CT, welcomes and serves families and individuals of all ages, stages, backgrounds and faiths. Our fitness, wellness and recreation, arts and culture, camp, early childhood education programs, classes, clubs and services are open to all. You Belong Here!
- Musculoskeletal Health Centers – Located in Simsbury, CT, MSH Centers specializes in general chiropractic medicine with a focus on pediatric and prenatal chiropractic care. This fall, they will also offer the first all inclusive fitness center in Connecticut with personal training memberships starting at just $29.99/month for one session/week.
Interested in advertising opportunities with Out and About Mom? Get more info here.
Want to keep up with things to do with kids in Connecticut?
Check back every Tuesday and Thursday as we dish up more Momsense for getting out and about with your little ones. Don’t have time to check back in? Let us send you an automatic notification of new posts straight to your email inbox by signing up here. Also, you can like us on Facebook and Twitter to keep up with the latest posts and get some extra tidbits we share only through those sites.