Events INSIDER is the most popular events blog in New England! We hand pick the most worthy interactive, weird, outdoorsy, and creative events that will transform your view of New England and inspire you to travel to all its corners.
Much like the 4th of July is the day Americans celebrate ridding themselves of kingly control, so too do the French celebrate their independence on Bastille Day. On this day in 1789, French patriots stormed a prison, seized arms and began the French Revolution. The many Franco-Americans living in Boston head to French Cultural Center in Back Bay for a block party in commemoration of this day.
This event wants you to go home with new memories, ones that infuse French culture from food to drink to music. The block party has two ways to enjoy the festival. The first is through general admission which will get you into the main attraction area with the stage, vendors and other areas. However, if you want the full experience, VIP access to the French Cultural Center’s private Garden Party is the way to go. You get unlimited beer and wine as well as samples of various French cuisines from sandwiches to appetizers to desserts.
Among the authentic French food were several versions of crepes both savory — with filling including ham and cheese — and sweet for dessert with strawberry and Nutella, courtesy of Mr. Crepe, a well known restaurant in Davis Square. We sampled sandwiches, pate, macaroons, Belgium waffles and steak tartare.
The selection of French wines included Monticello, a wine tasted by Thomas Jefferson when he came to France, a white Sauvignon Blanc, and a red Merlot. There was even a French beer, Koeningburg, for more bourgeois drinkers. And of course they had the most famous of French potables – champagne! You can try something unique with their bubbly by flavoring it with syrups like peach flavoring.
The highlight of the party was the live music. Despite a flight cancellation, the band, Bon Bon Vivant from New Orleans, flew to New York and drove the rest of the way to play their brand of modern gypsy music. They were a lively cross of jazz, funk and rock. They were truly worth checking out.
The second act was Shamarr Allen and the Underdawgs, also from New Orleans. Shamarr worked the crowd by constantly engaging everyone with lively cover tunes and original songs. The weather was excellent most of the day until a major down pour occurred. Rain didn’t stop the dancing. The staff handed out ponchos and people got under wraps and continued to jam out to the tunes. It is a testament to how good the music was that they kept the crowd until the very end despite a near deluge.
Like all fundraisers, expect to pay more for Bastille Day than for an event of similar size. There are an abundance of street festivals in the Boston area, many of them free, and they are often over loaded with entertainment and activities. I would love to have seen more vendors, food, music, and space — the event is delimited by a fence so they can sell admission and because of laws about serving alcohol in public. Besides face painting there was not much else for kids that I saw. For this event I bet many people would love to have seen a mime!
Overall, the Bastille Day block party was a great experience that satisfied the Francophiles of Boston with food, drink and music. The best aspect was the New Orleans music that kept the crowds dancing even in the rain. With a VIP experience, you truly get a revolutionary good time as well. Vive la France! 4.5 stars.
Coming up in 2019 at the French Cultural Center, which by the way is a local non-profit, not a French embassy: join a book club, or take a class to learn French culture or to speak French. And their library houses the second largest private collection of French books, periodicals, DVDs, and CDs in the United States.
Have you been to Newport, Rhode Island? It’s a New England destination that’s both impressive but also uniquely ours, like Salem and Plymouth. There you can see the International Tennis Hall of Fame, visit Fort Adams with its many tours and events, and the Newport Art Museum and Newport Vineyards. But the main attraction is the mansions, the 11 historic properties managed by The Preservation Society of Newport County, 7 of which are National Historic Landmarks. The mansions along Bellevue Avenue mainly date from 1885 to 1905, a time when the richest of the rich would summer in Newport as a retreat from Rhode Island. In their competition to live the high life of the Great Gatsby, their houses became both striking and symbolic of an age of overconsumption. When Mark Twain called it the “Gilded Age”, he did not mean it as a compliment.
Newport makes a good day trip from Boston, but you could easily spend an entire weekend. For this single day review, we visited three ticketed locations, the Green Animals Topiary Garden, The Breakers, and Rosecliff, and strolled for free along the free Newport Cliff Walk towards Newport Beach. Our entire day was spent exploring and making discoveries in the small details.
Green Animals Topiary Garden
First we visited Green Animals, which takes just 30 to 60 minutes and is technically not in Newport, but it’s on the way in Portsmouth, Rhode Island. It’s a 7-acre estate with a historic home, whose gardens have bushes in the shapes of animals! There’s nothing else like it in New England; it is the oldest and most northern topiary garden in the United States.
You can see how hard they’re working to make the shapes. Look closely and you’ll see scaffolding inside the bushes that direct growth. It’s both decorative and creative! You’ll find a giraffe, elephant, camel, bear, lion, and much more. In addition to the shaped topiaries, the grounds have gardens lines with short hedges in rows. Search and you’ll find some shade under the trellises with ivy, a fountain, a vegetable gardens, and plenty of benches including one picnic table in the shade. Try even harder and you’ll see an actual pet cemetery with headstones — surely built before Stephen King’s novel — and a tyrannosaurus rex dinosaur on the grounds, that’s a challenge to find. Look carefully and you’ll see signs giving the names of the flowers and bushes, including Japanese holly in shape of an urn or teacup.
Pro tip: come early and you’ll still see dew from the previous night glistening on daffodils and on spiderwebs. We saw an actual rabbit in the garden, and lots of butterflies. The first time I visited Green Animals, I didn’t realize that you can stroll the grounds all the way down to the water. And they have a historic home tour that is mercifully freeing. It’s just a 5-minute introduction and then you can wander through the roped-off rooms seeing the 1872 estate.
Pro tip: cool down in the gift shop, which has chairs by its air conditioner. There you can buy jam, sea salt caramel, salad dressing, cute ceramic table settings, sun hats, fridge magnets, soaps, kids’ books, refrigerated drinks including lemonade, and more.
Next we visited The Breakers, the largest and most opulent of the mansions, and the most visited tourist destination in Rhode Island. You’ll often find their parking lot full — they should station a guard there to spare visitors the torment of driving through and through it. The secret is to just park on the street nearby. Drive around and park where other cars are parked. That way you need only park your car once to visit The Breakers, Rosecliff, and the Newport Cliff Walk to the east. Pro tip: to make this work, you’ll need to bring a picnic lunch, since there aren’t nearby restaurants and the cafe at the Breakers, while a welcome new addition, is pricey and limited in its offerings. More pro tips: cell service can be spotty, so get a physical map of Newport, and leave your kid’s stroller in the car, because you can’t bring it in.
Built in 1895, The Breakers is the old-time home of the Vanderbilt family, who are still famous for their railroad empire. It’s called “The Breakers”, because you can look out over the water, where waves break against the shore. The place has been updated with air conditioning, as was Rosecliff, so is a good destination on even hot days. There you’ll pick up headphones and a smart tablet for a self-guided tour. Pro tip: we realized too late that the Beneath the Breakers Tour, the wonderful “underground” tour of the boiler room, basement, and tunnels, is ticketed separately and you must pick a specific starting time. Pro tip: buy those tickets in advance because tours fill up on a summer weekend.
However, we found just the self-guided tour to be remarkably well done. The tour is intellectual enough that it’s genuinely educational, while not being overloaded with facts. They have versions in many foreign languages, and also a kids’ version! Unlike at Rosecliff, you can adjust the volume to suit. In every room, you have an opportunity to click for more information, or to simply continue into the next room. The directions were flawless; someone has worked hard so that even weary tourists who aren’t thinking straight won’t get lost in the mansion.
You may be fatigued of politics that glorify the billionaire lifestyle or reality shows about rich celebrities. But visiting The Breakers really was not like that. As much as you can be awestruck by the displays of wealth, such as Spanish leather embossed with gold, the place is as ugly as it is magnificent, and the tour doesn’t glorify the Gilded Age or its billionaires as much as it simply explains its place in history. You’ll see carved limestone ceilings with angels and dragons, and a fountain under the stairwell dolphins and scallop shells. You’ll see a billiard room with mosaic tiles.
Taken as a whole, the mansion is overdone and garish. However, pay attention and look carefully, and you will find little delights in every nook, “Easter Egg” surprises to look for. You’ll see a secret turtle and train worked into the designs. You’ll see that, because electricity was not reliable back then, that the house was also piped for gas lighting. There are hidden doors cut into the walls, old timey crank telephones, and speaking tubes. Going both upstairs and downstairs, you’ll wander through bedrooms, bathrooms, and a giant kitchen for throwing parties. The self-guided tour says much about women’s history, and at the end of the tour, just remove the headphones if you don’t want to listen to the request for a donation.
My only complaint is that the tour lacks places for visitors to sit, except two small benches. Going to Newport, especially if you take in more than one mansion and do the Cliff Walk, involves a lot of walking on a hot day, and you may get tired of standing. There’s plenty of room for the occasional chair or bench to be placed, as one sees at Rosecliff. You can do the tour is only 40 minutes, or cue your device to give you details and background, staying for 90 minutes. We would have stayed longer if we could have rested. My favorite room was the ‘upper loggia’, a porch that looks out over the ocean. You can also stroll the grounds and look out over the water, which I believe can be done free of admission. The tour of course ends with a gift shop that goes beyond the usual baseball caps and stuffed toys to include lollipops, jello / cake molds, ceramic dishware, kids’ books, salad dressings, marinades, chocolate chip cookies, and cookie cutters. You can rest your feet at the brand-new welcome center, the same place where you buy tickets if you didn’t get them online, but the cafe didn’t have the pricing or breadth of options to interest us for lunch.
Not having the sense to bring a picnic lunch, we went to the Bellevue Gardens Shopping Center, because it offers free parking for two hours. Then we returned to the same area for Rosecliff.
Rosecliff is another of the Newport mansions, built in 1902 and used in movies including The Great Gatsby, True Lies, and Amistad. We preferred it to The Breakers, because Rosecliff is elegant but not garish or crazy overdone. Instead it’s just beautiful. They also have a self-guided tour with a smart device and headphones. I confirmed that they sanitize the headphones after every use, but unlike at The Breakers there was no way to adjust the volume, which was slightly too quiet for me.
Rosecliff also has air conditioning, and thankfully for tired visitors on their feet all day, it comes with seating available throughout the tour. Pro tip: look for the air conditioning vents at floor level and stand in front of them to cool off.
It’s a 30-minute tour. You’ll see a remarkable grand ballroom and rooms with wood-paneled walls. Musician Cole Porter was a frequent guest in the 1920s and 1930s, and, tales tell, reworked his musical Anything Goes there. Just at the tipping point where you’ve had enough mansion viewing, you’ll be delighted to find that the second floor has been turned into a museum! On exhibit is John James Audubon: Obsession, about the naturalist and artist who fancied birds and gave us the Audubon Society and its many parks.
You’ll see museum section with hand-colored engravings by James Audubon, taxidermy of birds, and even a plaster mask casting of Audubon’s face. You’ll also see ladies’ hats of the 1910s and feather fans. The gift shop sells ceramic vases and bowls, Audubon paintings and books, tote bags, sun hats, candy dishes, napkins, books, women’s silk scarves, ties, kids’ books, tea, cookie cutters, incense, salad dressing, flavored popcorn and candy treats, and even lawn ornaments and Christmas tree ornaments.
After the tour, stroll through the rose garden, the magnificent lawn that leads down to a stunning ocean view. Rosecliff is available for weddings and on weekends you’ll see chairs being set up near the end of day. Once an Indian couple having their wedding arrived by elephant. Another couple arrived by hot air balloon. Having reviewed some of the highest end wedding locations in New England, I can vouch that Rosecliff is possibly the best looking!
Like The Breakers, the aging Rosecliff mansion became impossible to maintain and was donated to a preservation society.
Going back and forth to your car, the mansions, lunch, and then the beach and cliff walk can be exhausting. We walked more than six miles on our trip! So another pro tip is to use the #67 bus that runs between the mansions and the cliff walk. We couldn’t quite figure it out, but I’m sure it’s on Google Maps in public transit mode.
The Newport Cliff Walk is made possible by some law that says that nobody can own the ocean. So these elegant mansions don’t actually run all the way down to the water. Instead they end, leaving a strip of land between oceans and mansion grounds. That strip of land is the Newport Cliff Walk. It’s a 3.5-mile public walkway that has a fence on the ocean side to keep you from falling 50 feet to the water. Almost everywhere, it’s wide enough for you to stop and take photos without feeling pushed from behind. Parts are handicapped access, but there are stairs everywhere.
Pro tip: Start from Marine Avenue or Ruggles Avenue, the access roads next to Rosecliff or the Breakers, and work your way north. To the south the path is too rocky and doesn’t give any different views. Another pro tip: bring a blanket and a picnic lunch! There’s no need for a scenic view stop, because the entire thing is a scenic view, with mansions on one side and the beautiful water on the other. But there are a few scenic stop points, including one (the end of Narragansett Ave) with public restrooms and where you can drink or fill your water bottle at a water fountains, which locals call bubblers!
Thankfully, there are plenty of benches to just sit and relax. Look carefully and you’ll also find QR codes, bar codes that you can scan to get more information about the mansions you’re seeing. Or just bring up Google Maps and click on what you can see. Everywhere you’ll get a nice breeze and see butterflies. Another pro tip: go on a day that is threatening (but only threatening) to rain, and the hot sun won’t compete with your enjoyment. There is no shade. You’ll end up at the beach, but you may choose to do what we did, which is to turn back and return to our car. The beach to the north is the obvious place to park, and so you may find it full. Instead, park as we did to the south among the street parking near the mansions.
A Beautiful, but Cautionary Tale
New England has so many historic homes from the early 18th and 19th centuries, so it’s a treat to see old timey homes from the 1890s and 1900s. Visiting the Newport Mansions is both a visual spectacle and it also makes you think. We learned delightful facts, such as the party at The Breakers where guests slid down the staircase on trays. We also heard cautionary tales. Though built as monuments, the Newport Mansions were each so complex and expensive to maintain. For example, one bathtub carved from a single block of marble looks good but, because stone drains heat away quickly, needed to be filled several times with hot water to stay heated. Ultimately the descendants gave away the “white elephants” to the preservation society. (However, there is a secret third floor closed to the public that family members still use.)
Also, as technology advances, what once was rich is now commonplace. Speaking for myself, while I might like to have a fountain or two, I wouldn’t trade living the rich lifestyle of 1895 for today’s modern air conditioning, transportation, and healthcare. Cornelius Vanderbilt built The Breakers, but died at 55, shortly after investing so much of his wealth in building the place, and his oldest child Alice died at the age of 21 from typhoid, which today is easily treated. So in a sense today we are all living lifestyles of the rich and famous from 1900. We did love all the marble and gold though!
There’s no better place in Rhode Island to go for a sunny walk and learn some history in an entertaining fashion. I’ll give the Newport Mansions my rare 5 stars PLUS, making it a must-see. Really you have no business calling yourself a Yankee if you have not visited the Newport Mansions.
The Charles Riverboat Company hosts regular cruises of Boston Harbor including sunset and twilight cruises, uniquely, architecture tours where you’ll learn about the field and how Boston’s skyline was built over centuries. They launch from Rowes Wharf, the World Trade Center, and the CambridgeSide Galleria in Boston and Cambridge. Once a year they host a special tour to witness the USS Constitution, which you may know as Old Ironsides.
The USS Constitution is an old-timey military ship. Launched in 1797, it was active in the War of 1812, never lost a battle, and is the oldest technically still commissioned warship in the United States. Once a year, on July 4th, it sails the short distance from the Charlestown Navy Yard to Castle Island to fire a 21-gun salute at noon and receive a salute from the fort in return. This is given the awkward name, the ‘turnaround’ cruise, sparking the false idea that the Constitution needs to be turned around to stay in service or for preservation. The Charles Riverboat Company tour accompanies this trip both out and back on two ships: the Lexington and the Valiant.
The Valiant is the most luxurious vessel in the fleet, but we were delighted to be aboard the Lexington, because it is a real paddle wheel boat! The Lexington is upscale and colorful, with two levels. Up top, the rug seems new, and comfortable seats arranged theatre style. There’s no lunch, but a full bar, made of dark wood. There’s plenty of shade from the sun, and it’s a nice environment just to sit, relax, and enjoy the water. Or you can go out to the bow and stand there to get some sunlight and better views of Boston Harbor. The idea of a harbor like Boston Harbor is to shield boats from ocean waves, so the water was perfectly still except for the wakes of the boats around us.
Built in 1987, the paddleboat runs on diesel, not steam. Interestingly, you can see the giant paddle wheels as you board, or view them through windows. On the upper level, the windows are in the floor, to the left and right. On the lower level, the windows are in the walls, and you’ll find an old-timey compass as well. If you visit the captain you’ll see that the ship is navigated with separate levers giving power to the left or right paddlewheel. Pro tip: Most people flock to the upper level, so try visiting the bow on the lower level for an intimate moment with your significant other or friends.
You stay remarkably close to the USS Constitution for its entire trek there and back.
Cruising through Boston Harbor is attractive. Dozens of boats jockey for a good view of the Constitution as it sails, both small private yachts and large tour boats. It’s painted starkly in black and white with three sailing masts. Our captain did well in this friendly competition, keeping us within a few hundred feet of the Constitution the entire way out to Castle Island and back. That was enough to get a good view of the ship but not make out the people on board. Pro tip: bring binoculars. (Apparently the USS Constitution has a lottery, announced on their Facebook page, to come on board for July 4th, but I hear that it’s packed shoulder-to-shoulder and you can’t see much over the gun deck.)
The cruise does not go far, and we could still see Rowes Wharf throughout the trip. But you’ll pass dozens of landmarks. You’ll see fire rescue boats spewing water out of every firehose in celebration. You’ll pass the Moakley courthouse, the World Trade Center, the Institute of Contemporary Art, and the airport. Planes are prevented from landing during the ceremony, but beforehand and afterwards, planes came in for landing within 500 feet of us! Wonderfully, we also visited the drydock at 88 Black Falcon Avenue. It’s a working dock where you’ll see dozens of giant metal “container” boxes, with the cranes that work them off and onto ships. Some are damaged, and I’d never been so close before.
At noon, having arrived at Castle Island, the Constitution fired its cannons. Of course you hear the shot with a delay, a moment after seeing the blast and smoke. Then Castle Island returned the salute, which we could hear but not see. Afterwards, all the ships present for the ceremony sounded their horns. Then a guide came on the public address system and gave us a few minutes of facts. I was pleased to find that I could hear him clearly, and was grateful that he paused to let what he was saying sink in.
The trip wasn’t as educational as hoped. The narration was too brief, should have come at the start of our tour, and included that paranormal investigators ‘look for ghosts’ on the Constitution, which is anti-intellectual. The music wasn’t intrusively loud, so it didn’t mask conversation, but the easy listening and island music (including ‘My Bodyguard’ and ‘Margaritaville’) was generic rather than edgy, and wasn’t turned off during the ceremony. The USS Constitution did not raise sails; it was just towed by a tugboat, with its three masts bare. The ceremony was short. There was no way that we could safely have gotten closer to the Constitution, but as such we weren’t quite close enough to see details or form interesting questions.
Sailing Boston Harbor with the Charles Riverboat Company, which you can do any day from Memorial Day to Labor Day, is a remarkable experience worth seeing. Their cruises feature beautiful, amazing views of the buildings, wharf, container cranes, cruise ships, airplanes landing, and old time and modern boats, with the Constitution adding a touch of history. I’ll give 4.5 stars to the Charles Riverboat’s USS Constitution Turnaround Cruise.
The Spirit of Boston is a small, upscale cruise ship that gives tours of Boston Harbor. It’s a party on the water where you alternate between standing on the deck admiring the view to going indoors for dinner and dancing. They offer lunch cruises and sunset dinner cruises as late in the season as November, and we got invited to review a very special cruise with fireworks from Boston’s Harborfest.
The ship itself is magnificent, an upscale vessel of three floors, each with a bar and service for serving a buffet meal. The first two floors also have dance floors! It is spacious and classy — guests are asked to dress up, too — and the elegant tables have real water glasses and cloth napkins.
Have dinner first before you go out to view the sunset. At your table you’ll get a server to bring you drinks and specialty desserts, or go straight to the bar. One trick to most buffet meals is that with variety it’s easy to hide ordinary food such as pasta. But the food aboard The Spirit of Boston delighted and impressed us.
Pro tip: At any buffet, look at the choices instead of just loading up on the first dishes you see, which are often the least interesting. At the Spirit of Boston’s buffet, there’s plenty of variety! They offer bread and butter rolls, which were pleasantly soft, roasted broccoli florets, a creamed corn and cheddar cheese casserole, baked ziti pasta, and mashed potatoes. For the health-conscious, they offer six types of salad: mixed greens, a spinach & kale salad, a green bean salad, and kidney and chickpea salad, a red beetroot salad, and a bow tie pasta salad. Find the entrees in the back: flounder fillet, honey and sesame chicken with scallions, Italian beef meatballs in a mushroom cream sauce, and a chef carving station serving prime rib. The prime rib just falls apart in your mouth, without hardly chewing, delicious though with some fat. And the chicken was perfectly cooked. It’s quite a high-quality buffet, and although you can go back for another serving, you won’t need to. One plate is satisfying and hearty, not oily.
Skip dessert or find coconut cake, carrot cake, brownies, fruit salad that’s mostly melon, a vanilla mousse, and pound cake. You’ll want to visit the coffee station and bar, too. Drinks are not included, but you can buy an upgrade that includes alcohol and a guaranteed window seat. You’ll also find self-serve free water jugs by each bar. Thankfully, during dinner the music wasn’t too loud for conversation. The below deck space seemed spacious, with plenty of room to mingle and dance. Dinner music was crowd-pleasing, easy-listening music from the 80s and 90s that was perhaps too ‘wedding’ for us, a bit generic, but the mood eventually switched to dance music. The bathrooms were large, clean, and modern.
Of course, on a cruise, you’ll want to spend most of your time out on the decks. As the sun sets, the day cools off and the wind is pleasant and warm. Even for a Boston resident this is a view worth seeing, a view of Boston that you’ve only ever seen in photos. Stunning views are all around you, and you’ll see tons of other boats and Boston landmarks. (This not being a historic cruise, there’s no one to tell you what you’re seeing, but bring a Bostonian on your trip to point things out.) The dinner cruise route takes you east past Boston’s financial district and wharf area, and then south down the inner harbor.
You’ll sail close enough to shore to get a good view of everything, and for a feeling of progress as the buildings go by. You’ll also see all the other tour boats and yachts, some very elegant, and some old-timey with sails.
The music is not overwhelming, so you’ll be able to find a quiet, intimate moment to pretend that you have the boat and the whole harbor to yourself with your significant other or friends. Because this was a special fireworks night, we got into a lighted boat parade, but from our vantage point we couldn’t really tell that we were in a line of ships. The fireworks were spectacular, though of course for safety reasons you see them from the side, not just underneath, which makes it similar to seeing fireworks from land.
The whole idea of a harbor is that it shields you from ocean waves, and the Spirit of Boston only rocks minimally because of the wakes of passing boats. So you shouldn’t get seasick, but if you feel uneasy, go out on the deck and fix your eyes on buildings in the distance. That will help you feel stabilized. They do that thing where they politely force you to take a photo as you board the ship, and then surprise you with asking to buy your photo on the way out. Of course the better photos to take are while the ship is underway.
The Spirit of Boston Dinner Cruise is a significant expense, but it’s a classy, romantic night out on a well-maintained ship with great food and even better views. Of course you can rent out their ships for corporate events and group functions. The fireworks made it an especially magical experience, but I sense that any dinner cruise would be a night to remember. I’m glad to give the Spirit of Boston a full 5 stars.
Let me go back a few years to my college days in the 90s when I first tried virtual reality. I put a giant helmet on, one which required cables to be connected to an overhead support to keep it from causing your neck to drop due to the weight. I then awkwardly aimed at my opponent from across a near barren digital landscape to try and hit him with a crude bullet type weapon. I left with a headache and a stiff neck and never once wondered why virtual reality never caught on.
That was then, this is now. Virtual reality has truly come into its own. You strap on your backpack, put on your helmet and ear phones and you are now immersed completely into a 3D environment that I thought I would only see on Star Trek’s holodeck.
You pick up your rifles and choose your teammates. We had three games in which we blast away at each other, trying to score objectives like moving a giant power core to the winning side. Later we have doors to open and data canisters to capture. But don’t try too hard on these objectives or you’ll get blasted, unless you blast away first.
The rifles you are given have two modes, single shot and charged shot gun that fires a spread of bullets for close up damage like a shot gun. Some of the stages see you in close quarter combat in which you almost trip over your opponents as you try and blast away. On another stage, you take an elevator up to a different location to try and retrieve a core, but beware, the other team might be trying to snipe you from a distance.
I must say the level of realism is incredibly immersive. You never once feel like you are out of the game. You dodge and hide behind walls. You fire at your opponents. You open doors. You ride elevators. And it’s pretty safe. At one point, I bumped into one of my opposing teammates. The game master paused the games then made sure we were OK and then the game went on. We were only startled and nothing more.
So how did I do? I was pretty much smoked by my teenage teammates. I was expecting that. They are half my age and play video games all day. But I think I held my own in this game. And if I had a group closer to my age, I might have a few more wins. The important thing is we had a blast.
I would like to see another scenario which would be more like a team working on a common goal. Like escaping an alien invasion or killing a zombie horde. It was all PvP or player versus player. That way I could bring my less gamer friends or better yet, a date who isn’t into gaming as much. One other annoying thing was at one point, there was a ramp in the VR world which I kept trying to step up on. It made me almost trip and is a potential hazard, but I got used to it. Maybe that is a sign the game is a little too real.
Mindtrek VR is a great experience. I left feeling exuberant from it all. I had no headache from choppy graphics or a massive helmet jerking my neck around. It was a fun exhaustive process that left me sweaty and tired from running for 40 minutes straight battling teenage boys. After we had our games guide Carl show us our scores and our performance report. The nice thing, they email you these as a souvenir.
If you are into battling your friends, shooting up the place and running around until tired, Mindtrek VR is a fun experience you should not miss. They have two locations, Woburn and Marlborough.
Here’s our video review!
Mindtrek VR - Virtual Reality Battle Video Game! - YouTube
Every year the Roger Williams Park Zoo, in Providence RI not far from downtown, opens at night for a food festival! Called Zoobilee, you get to stroll throughout the zoo while the sun goes down. There you’ll find animals in their enclosures, volunteers (‘docents’) giving live animal presentations, dozens of food vendors, and a live band and dance floor. It’s great fun and a good cause, a fundraiser for the zoo.
Because it’s summer, most of the zoo exhibits were open. Our favorites were the elephants. The zoo hangs a hay bale far above them, so you can see them use their amazing trunks to reach up and grab a bite. Their enclosure is an unattractive dirt field, but to one side is a lovely waterfall and wading pool for them.
Nearby, you’ll see giraffes. They move slowly but with the authority of their powerful size. You’ll see a harbor seal swimming in a two-level pool, so you can view them from above or see them underwater through a large window. One area is a ‘farm yard’ with a donkey, llama, and goats. We saw goat head-butting! One rises up on two legs and then lets its head fall as hard as it can onto another goat’s head. They seemed to be just playing around, not actually fighting. Everyone’s got to have a hobby. Some displays are interactive, such as a phone booth sized enclosure where you can step in and feel what the winds of a hurricane would be like.
Throughout the zoo grounds, all paved pathways, some 45 restaurants have set up a booth to give out free samples. That number is larger than you expect. Pro tip: pace yourself by only sampling a third of the restaurants, or you’ll end up like us. We tried to sample every single booth — so many delicious offerings — and got to the point where we couldn’t walk and couldn’t possibly have eaten more. Fortunately, there are tables and chairs for setting down your food and relaxing, everywhere. The environment is set up so that you walk a single route through the zoo, from its front to its back, where you’ll find desserts, a live band, and dance floor.
Pro tip: within an hour many vendors will run out of food and close up shop. So arrive early. And because the booths are spread throughout the grounds, if you walk past ones out front, going all the way back, you’ll find shorter lines.
You’ll also find the Roger Williams Park Zoo’s brand-new rainforest building. The glass-walled, two-story building is one giant room that’s been decorated with the trees and rushing water of a rainforest. That makes it a natural, attractive environment to see toucans, blue parrots, monkeys, agouti (a kind of big rodent), and more. Outside, the building has plenty of grounds for strolling including a field of flamingos.
Roaming from booth to booth was a delight. There was plenty of variety in the food, and you’ll make discoveries everywhere of a restaurant or catering service that you might want to try later. Unlike most vendor fairs, once you paid admission, everything was free, so the marketing wasn’t overwhelming. Only one booth — and we did feel sorry for them, salad-makers set at the back when we were already so stuffed — got pushy about giving us literature to take home.
They sell drink tickets and have bars throughout the zoo, with $2.50 for water or soda, or $5 for half a glass of alcohol. It was a classy event where no one came to get drunk, but it was accessible, not just for the wealthy, with some dressing up but most casual.
Events INSIDER receives dozens of press releases and post requests a year for benefits, and we usually reject them for lack of creativity. A mainstream audience doesn’t care about a niche charity enough to spend $100 for an event that’s only cocktails and a DJ. It’s just not newsworthy. That’s why I’m so delighted to recommend the Roger Williams Park Zoo’s Zoobilee. It’s a fun evening outdoors, welcoming to everyone, where you make discoveries both animal and culinary, and get to stroll with your friends or significant other in a party that spans the length of the entire zoo and ends with a live band, which this year was World Premier Band.
And I haven’t even mentioned the best part. Zoobilee is packed with what must be 200 staff and volunteers. Their crew were everywhere, picking up trash to keep the zoo clean, helping you find your way, and showing off animals in live, up close demonstrations. They had on display ugly bugs, cute tenrecs (a kind of hedgehog), snakes, and a white lizard on a leash, an Argentinian tegu named Max. Of course you can take photos.
On your way out, you’ll pass through a more forested area of the zoo, making it more natural-looking. Many of the animals were resting up, hidden away, but we saw buffalo, tortoises, and bald and golden eagles, which are unable to fly because of wing injuries, and therefore there’s no netting. And there are pronghorn, which look like deer and apparently are wild in the American Midwest. Who would have thought that? They even have animal paintings on display. These aren’t paintings of animals. They are paintings by the animals. Most are pretty abstract.
Elsewhere in the zoo, but not part of Zoobilee, is a carousel, and a pond where you can rent a paddle boat. Zoobilee is meant as a fundraiser, so tickets are expensive, but it’s a charitable tax deduction and they have a discounted option for you to attend just the dessert and dancing. I’m glad to give it a full 5 stars. And make sure to come in the fall for their Jack-O-Lantern Spectacular (4.5 stars).
Locals have another reason to be proud of Massachusetts. The brand new entertainment complex, Supercharged Entertainment, in Wrentham, is now the largest indoor multi-level karting track in the world. I checked this claim online and the nearest rivals are the sister site SuperCharged Go Kart Racing, which is in Eastern Connecticut near Mohegan Sun and the Mystic Seaport Museum, and Kart Kountry in Kentucky, a 1.5-mile track that’s outdoors. They have an arcade, a restaurant and bar, trampolines, and other bouncing games including the “Ninja Wipeout” challenge, and two go kart tracks, each a quarter-mile in length.
Supercharged compares well to X1 Boston in Braintree, Massachusetts and R1 Indoor Karting in Lincoln, Rhode Island, where they treat the racing like a sport, so you need a driver’s license and to learn a lot of rules about lights and flags. Although there’s something to be said about living out a NASCAR fantasy, most of us will appreciate the simpler, videogame-like Supercharged experience. The cars are electric, so they’re quieter and expel no fumes. There’s a simple button to reverse if you get stuck and need to back up. It’s all computerized, so if someone’s driving erratically, instead of needing to flag you down (though they also have flag wavers), they can just press a button to slow that car.
It’s all less complicated at Supercharged. There’s no membership fee, and while pre-booking is a good idea, you can always just walk in, anytime. With up to 14 cars racing on each of two tracks, there’s plenty of capacity to keep waiting times low. And there’s no fee or signup needed just to walk in and look around. Get a drink or a meal and just sit to watch the races from the observation area.
It all takes place in a giant warehouse space in Wrentham. Out front, they make you sign a waiver, but it’s quick. Then you get a helmet and neck brace, climb into a car, and buckle in. Guests wear a “head sock” to keep their hair and the helmet from getting too friendly, and staff spray-sanitize the helmets after each use. Then you drive the course with simple accelerator and brake pedals. Pro tip: wear a full top that covers your shoulders, so that the seat belt doesn’t chafe you if you crash.
Another pro tip: if you are a wide person, don’t try to ride sitting on top of the chair’s raised sides. Your butt needs to get wedged fully into the chair, between the raised sides, or else you won’t have good back support — something that’s vital for safety. My being tall wasn’t an issue, but if you’re especially short it will take you some leg stretching to fully press the pedals, a factor as you’re making split-second decisions on the track. There’s no age limit, but you must be 4’10” to drive, though passengers can be as short as 4′. (It wasn’t clear to me where a passenger would sit and be safe, but presumably in the lap of the driver, with the seat belt going over both of you?)
The racetrack is remarkably fun, especially as it takes place on two levels! So you are going up and down as well as turning around. Try to outpace your friends but without bumping the other cars, which can get you waved off the track. As a reward for good driving your “boost” button gets activated, giving you an extra rush of power when you need to overtake another car! Pro tip: Wear a very unusually colored shirt if you want friends or family to spot you from the observation deck. The cars must have numbers, but are also painted decoratively and you may have trouble reading them. Closed-toe shoes are required for karting, but they have spare shoes on hand if you forget.
Then head to the Ninja Wipeout area, which is actually a dozen different moonbounce-themed obstacle courses inspired by that TV show. There are giant foam balls to hop across, a swing where you can leap onto an airbag, a trampoline on an incline that enables you to do a forward flip, a free trampoline zone just for jumping, trampolines with basketball hoops for that epic basketball dunk, a dodgeball area, and more. Pro tip: along the side is a pizza shop if lines are long at the restaurant.
The Ninja Wipeout is wonderfully fun and safe. Everything is soft, so falling over, and throwing yourself around is harmless. You and your friends will laugh when you wipe out and cheer when you make it through. Some of the challenges are kid-sized but nearly everything is adult-appropriate, and Supercharged serves both groups with kids and those without, including bachelor and bachelorette parties. Of course they serve birthday parties and corporate events, too, with 10 private function rooms.
Falling into a mountain of foam cubes may leave you struggling a bit to get out, because the foam cubes are squishy so there’s nothing to push off of, but that’s just part of the challenge! (Staff kindly can come over with a foam pad that’s far easier to crawl on. May I suggest just throwing guests a knotted thick rope. The faster we clear the way, the less waiting for everyone.) Thankfully, they make guests wear socks, to keep the wipeout courses cleaner.
You can also visit the Thirsty Beaver Hometown Pub & Grub, a pub that has seating for 200 people. They serve craft beers and presumably full meals, but I didn’t get a menu and didn’t get to sample the food. They don’t bake cakes on site but bring in caterers for big functions. Their restaurant even has a mascot, someone in a beaver suit.
There’s also a large arcade with dozens of premium games. You’ll find air hockey, a piano game, bean bag toss, ring toss, bowling, and basketball games. They also have partially-enclosed games including Tomb Raider, Halo, Jurassic Park, and others, where sometimes you wear a VR headset to play, and sometimes you’re sitting in a chair to drive a virtual car or fire guns. They have an extensive “redemption center”, where you bring the tickets you’ve won to get items from silly putty, a water bottle, and a desk lamp, up to a drone (35,000 tickets).
Supercharged Entertainment does a good service being a place where teens can hang out. Teens are too young for bars and nightclubs, and they can’t just linger at a restaurant or in a mall all night. The go karting tracks and wipeout arenas are great for adults, too! They’re also a good mix for adults who just want to get a drink and watch their kids. It’s a good value, with a single race being only $25, and you can try the Ninja Wipeout field (including buying clean socks) for only $21 for an hour of fun. One of my friends crashed full-on in the racetrack, but was fine. I epically wiped out in the ninja arenas, and was fine.
A few rough edges are sure to be polished soon, especially given all the experience that Supercharged has with their existing go kart site in Eastern Connecticut. The interior is too dark, although out front they do have windows.
These games may legally count as games of skill, but at their heart they are gambling games, because of the addictive rapid-repeat play deliberately built into how the game works, their lack of any real theming, and the lack of any real skill to play them. At best these games are boring and not very classy, a touch of casino in a theme park. At worst, deliberately addictive gaming is wrong for adults, and especially for kids.
Despite these concerns, I’m glad to give Supercharged Entertainment a full 5 stars. The racetracks are giant and modern, with deep thought given to getting you through with a minimum of fuss. The function rooms give you great privacy and views, and there’s nothing like their Ninja Wipeout arenas to bond friends into friends for life. It is truly unique and a must-see destination for everyone.
Cody Browning, General Manager, kindly agreed to an interview.
Events INSIDER: This is an amazing facility. The two tracks look like one, but they intertwine, don’t they?
Cody Browning: They do. It’s actually two distinct, uniquely designed tracks. Each one is a quarter-mile long, multi-level, and occasionally we can combine them into what we call supertrack, a half-mile long track.
Events INSIDER: What is the ‘boost’ you get for being a good driver?
Cody Browning: The computer measures your driving performance using key metrics of the cart. If you’re driving consistently, maintaining a constant speed level, the cart will reward you with a speed boost.
Events INSIDER: Other go kart places make a big deal about being “real” racing, a sport. Supercharged seems different.
Cody Browning: We’re less of a racetrack and more of an entertainment venue. Your general family is not coming in to drive race cars. They want to have fun.
Events INSIDER: And it’s nice that the electric cars have no stink.
Cody Browning: The entire facility is climate controlled, fume free, so you never get that noxious headache from the gasoline, or worry about combustion issues. You don’t get that smell, and don’t have to smell like it when you leave.
Events INSIDER: It’s also dead quiet here in Party Room 7, even though we have a great view of the track.
Cody Browning: We have 10 party rooms, and each one gives you that private feeling, and each one’s tailored to different sizes, for different groups. We want you to have a great view, and enjoy everything, but have privacy.
Events INSIDER: How do you handle scheduling?
Cody Browning: You don’t need to have a reservation. Even if you’re not into racing, you can just walk in, go to the arcade, come to the ninja wipeout center, and have dinner and a drink, and just walk the racing.
Events INSIDER: Some of the games, the claw games and token games, seem not like games to me.
Cody Browning: I have to avoid those myself. If you’ve been to a casino, you know you can get into a bad habit of standing there at the machine too long.
Events INSIDER: Are the games basically gambling? Kids come here.
Cody Browning: No, they’re just arcade.
Steve Sangermano, the owner, also kindly spoke with us.
Events INSIDER: It’s nice to have a facility like this because older kids, under 21, can’t go to nightclubs or bars. But they can hang out here.
Steve Sangermano: So those are the tweeners, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, those people, we have a tremendous… We have the arcade and the dodgeball, which those kids absolutely love. You’re welcome to drop off your kids here, but we have stuff for adults too, so the moms and dads often stay, have a drink. They actually enjoy watching their kids, because we give them so much viewing.
Events INSIDER: Will you have special events like tournaments or theme parties? A karaoke night?
Steve Sangermano: Right now we specialize in birthday parties, so we’re going to have 20, 30, or 40 birthday parties on a Saturday or Sunday. People are a little bored right now. They’re bored with bowling, and they’re bored with the movies. We give everybody the next level, one-stop shopping, a better product, at affordable prices.
Steve Sangermano: We’ll have all kinds of special events. The Thirsty Beaver has a place for bands down there, a trivia night. We’ll do a Halloween contest, we’ll give away free stuff, events like that.
Scare-A-Con New England returns for it’s third year. This time they show case two of the most well known and beloved film franchises, A Nightmare on Elm Street and Phantasm. All this plus much more all in the horror genre.
Like all fan conventions there is merchants galore. So take your pick of your favorite medium to consume horror with. There are comic books, posters, movies and more. You can find your favorite horror monsters or look at the numerous independent horror enterprises to find new ones. Do you want a pillow with Pennywise the clown? They got it! How a Coffin with The Munsters? They got that too!
This year two big film franchises are featured. First there is Phantasm. Six actors from the numerous movies have all assembled for you to meet. Not far, you can take home one of the razor-filled flying death spheres inspired by the movie.
Next up is the Nightmare on Elm Street reunion. Among those here is Amanda Wyss, one of Freddy Krueger’s first victims. And from the later movies, Lisa Wilcox. But the most well-known is Heather Lagenkamp. She was the first to fight back against Freddy and went on to battle him in two more of the films. If you are lucky you can catch these folks with one of the Freddy Krueger Cosplayers and get a true fan feature – a picture of the actresses and the man himself.
Rounding out the experience is a number of other celebrities including Terry Kiser from Friday the 13th though most known as the dead guy from Weekend at Bernie’s. Jason Lively from Night of the Creeps and Nation Lampoons Vacation. And Billy Zane, most famous for his roles in Titanic and The Phantom he also hit the horror world with the movie Demon Knight.
Returning for her second year is Elvira – Mistress of the Darkness! Cassandra Peterson, the actress who portrays Elvira, appears to meet and greet fans and sign autographs. She is easily one of the most popular stars there and a true horror icon.
Compared to other fan conventions, Scare-A-Con is small. However it delivers quite a bit. And should you also attend the numerous seminars, events and movie screenings, you can easily make a weekend out of it. Since I began to cover this event, it has slowly made itself better and better. The small size means intimacy, so you get to know the vendors and celebrities here. It is not rushed like at many other cons in which you are a part of mill churning out customers.
Overall, Scare-A Con is a fun convention just outside Boston. With easy access from the Mass Pike, this is a quick trip for most people in Massachusetts. So come check out the fun and horrors at this years convention!
If you’re a Bostonian, you know about the Duck Tours. You’ll often see the amphibious vehicles riding through the streets of downtown Boston and in the Boston Common area, or cruising on the water between the Longfellow Bridge and the Museum of Science.
Boston draws visitors because of its deep history, especially from the Revolutionary War era, and its high tech. We have the future and the past. We draw visitors because of our arts and our colleges. We have some of the most creative minds in the world. Our celebrities don’t act in movies; they change the world. It turns out that the Duck Tours are fun for locals, too.
The Duck Tour takes 80 minutes, with boats leaving from your choice of three different pick-up spots around Boston: The New England Aquarium, Museum of Science, and the Prudential Center. Inside the “boat”, the seats are comfortable but leg room is tight. The roof is a canopy where members of the military are invited to leave a signature, a classy idea. The roof offers plenty of shade from the hot sun, and holds flotation vests, which the Duck Tours have never needed.
Your guide makes the tour, and I would bet that you could ask for one who matches your personality, if you have some flexibility on when you take the tour. Although every guide must cover core topics, they are otherwise left to make up their own patter. Some will be more erudite and others may engage more with visitors. Ours offered a lot of dad jokes, calling himself our “Con-DUCK-tor”, and using many puns.
Personally, I have zero interest in the spot where the TV show “Cheers” was filmed, so was glad to find that the tour was mainly substantive. Even as a Boston native who takes an interest in history, I learned a lot. We saw the statue of Mary Dyer, who was hung in 1660 on Boston Common for demanding religious freedom. (Holy moley, where exactly?) We saw a piece of the Berlin Wall that came down in 1989, foretelling the end of the subjugation of the Soviet Union. We even saw real gas lamps, historic artifacts that still burn.
We also learned a lot about common Boston landmarks that I’d long gotten used to. The Longfellow bridge has sculpture representing Viking ships, on the scientifically unsubstantiated theory that Vikings made it to Boston before Christopher Columbus. Anesthetic was invited at MGH at the “Ether Dome”. Harriet Beecher Stowe and John Kennedy had homes in Boston. And we heard about the recent Edgar Allan Poe statue just off Boston Common. I had no idea there were police and firefighter sculptural displays in Boston. New York built America’s first subway car, but Boston had America’s first subway system.
We also saw a lot of things that, as a Bostonian, I already knew about: the Prudential Tower, the Holocaust Memorial, the Museum of Science, Boston Common itself, and Faneuil Hall. We learned that Boston has America’s cleanest urban waterway, the Charles River, and that the Big Dig is America’s deepest highway tunnel.
Our trip was fun as well as educational. The tour goes in a circle all around Boston Common and the Park Gardens, and then up to the Museum of Science, where you launch into the water. I finally got a really good look at that Boston skateboard park that you can see whizzing by on the commuter rail. Sailing through the water was a treat. Our guide called up every kid on the tour to take a tour piloting the boat. It was cool to see a drawbridge lift up with its giant cement counterbalance weights.
A few nitpicks are possible. One disappointment was we never went into depth on any one site. Of course, the tour is only 80 minutes, and there’s hardly room for a duck boat to pull over. But our guide filled idle time with jokes that surely came from a bit of on-the-job boredom, giving us just a short line instead of a full minute or two of background on many of the landmarks. The Boston Massacre, old burial ground, TD Garden, Zakim Bridge, and Park Street Church could have used more time.
More importantly, the tour didn’t gel into a big picture of how Boston is unique, historically interesting, and a cause for pride. We were fed a flow of consciousness of disconnected facts with pauses to let us digest what had just been said, or feel comfortable asking a question. The time when the guide was focused on kids driving the boat was the only down time that we had.
However, there were some genuinely humorous moments, and our guide altered his patter to connect it to the regions of the country and the world that his guests were from. Our guide interacted with guests but didn’t pressure them into responding.
Not forming a “story” as a whole, and with some of the humor not landing, the Boston Duck Tour was not the best historical tour that I’ve ever been on. But you’re bound to have a different experience with your different guide, so who can say? If you only have 80 minutes to zip around Boston, it is a real thrill to go into the water, and you’ll see highlights that may inspire you to walk the Freedom Trail or visit local museums. It’s an excellent starting place, more cerebral than expected, and I was pleased and surprised that even as an amateur expert on Boston, I learned a lot. It’s part spectacle, part education, and your kid gets to drive a boat.
I’ve been on a lot of historical walking tours and one does get tired of walking and standing for so long. Riding in a seat in the Boston Duck Tours is easy, comfortable, and fun. I’m glad to give the Boston Duck Tours 4.5 stars. Make sure to pick up their coupons for many other tourist attractions and activities.
It is truly the age of superheroes! Now, more than ever, superheroes have reached peak popularity in movies, in comics and now at amusement parks. Six Flags New England has opened its newest thrill ride, CYBORG Hyper Drive this June. For those following the blockbusters, Cyborg had a prominent role in the recent movie Justice League, where he fought alongside Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, and the Flash. Cyborg is part man and part machine, a half human, half robot hybrid put together by brilliant scientists.
And so is the ride Hyper Drive! It’s an all-indoor attraction. As we entered its building, we walked right past a larger-than-life figure of Cyborg himself. We then walked into a dark room where our cue line continued past various objects of wonder in the DC Universe. Among them was the Mother Cube – an item that Cyborg battled villains over in his recent Hollywood movie. Another was the Phantom Zone – the prison like dimension that banished super villains are imprisoned in. All this helped get the atmosphere right as you walk into an entirely enclosed dome and strap yourself in for the ride.
So what to expect with the new Cyborg ride? The lights go down, the room begins to spin and you take off in multiple directions. Not just back and forth, but up and down as the ride spins and tilts going faster and faster. Just as you think it’s slowing down, you begin to experience more speed. Lights dance and flash as you try to catch a glimpse of a nearby video featuring the hero Cyborg as he manipulates the machine that you are strapped onto. And then it finally slows down to the news that your journey through the multiverse is complete.
One nice thing about the ride is that is not quite as intense as last year’s addition, Harley Quinn’s Spinsanity. So you don’t have to be so daring to experience this one. It makes it ideal for young adults to give it a whirl. Also, it does go up and down, but not quite as high as a roller coaster, nor as fast. You still experience a lot of movement and thrills, but this one is in-between the kiddie rides and the big coasters.
Kudos must be given to the kind of atmosphere Six Flags generates around its superhero themed areas. You can meet many superheroes such as The Flash, Wonder Woman, and Supergirl as they wander the park greeting guests and posing for pictures. If you are into the bad guys, then don’t be shy when you meet The Joker and Harley Quinn. The Joker encapsulates the fun campy style of 60s Batman TV series, making him family friendly. The actor playing the Joker is by far one of the best interactive performers in New England, taking the time to greet and make small talk with nearly everyone he encounters. That added touch is what creates memorable moments.
So head over to Six Flags New England in Agawam, Massachusetts, just 90 minutes from Boston, to experience their newest ride: CYBORG Hyper Drive. The ride officially opened June 1st.