Trip Review: A Weekend In Portland, Maine

Portland Head Light

This past weekend, the hubby and I crossed one more destination off our domestic travel bucket list, thanks in no small part to our Southwest Companion Pass: beautiful Portland, Maine.

To get there, we redeemed around 17,500 Southwest Rapid Reward points for a round-trip flight directly into Portland via Baltimore for the hubby. Then, using my Southwest Companion Pass that we earned with the help of two Southwest credit cards, I booked my companion flights for free.

And while Maine is know for their quaint B&Bs, we decided we wanted to be in the thick of the action, and instead transferred 36,000 Chase Ultimate reward points to Hyatt, which we used to book three nights at the Hyatt Place Old Port hotel.

A standard King room in the Hyatt Place Old Port.

A standard King room in the Hyatt Place Old Port

This turned out to be a fantastic choice – we were right on Fore Street (essentially the Bourbon street of Maine) among shops and restaurants, and only a couple blocks from Casco Bay. Moreover, the complimentary breakfast saved us a few extra dollars each morning.  So, if you’re keeping track, that means our flights, hotel, and breakfast each day: totally free.

So what did we spend all that money on, since we didn’t use it for travel expenses?  One word: seafood.  Lots, and lots, and lots of seafood.

Image (4)

As soon as we arrived, we headed over to the Portland Lobster Company for our first lobster roll of the trip, plus some fried clam strips and local beer.  It would turn out that this would be the best lobster roll we had all trip – not surprising, I mean, just look at all that claw meat!  The atmosphere was fun too, with picnic tables and high-top bar tables located on a floating wooden barge, right on the water. A fantastic way to start the trip.

Then, that evening, we headed to what is probably Portland’s most decorated restaurant, Vinland, for an 8-course chef’s tasting menu. Chef David Levi, who trained at Noma in Copenhagen, cooks in a similar new Nordic style but with only (yes, only) Maine ingredients – meaning you won’t find things like pepper, olive oil, or lemon in his dishes.  Moreover, since he’s gluten free, the entirety of his menu is too.

The meticulous preparation of a dish at Vinland

The meticulous preparation of a dish at Vinland

With meticulous attention to detail, we got to watch the Chef and his team crank out each course – the standout of which was a raw beef dish with pickled onions, cranberry, and horseradish.  Still, the privilege of this carefully orchestrated dinner sets you back a pretty penny – $150 per person for the tasting, and an additional $75 per person for wine pairings. While we were glad we did the dinner, we thought an edited 5-course tasting would have been more than sufficient.

Our second day in Maine, we headed down the coast to Freeport, Maine, home to LL Bean, and more importantly for our purposes, the LL Bean Discovery School.

The giant boot at the LL Bean Flagship.

The giant boot at the LL Bean Flagship.

The school offers all sorts of classes – some free, some paid – in things like fly casting, kayaking, backpacking, and our object that day: skeet shooting.  We got the chance to try pulls from two different traps using a 20-gauge shotgun, and we actually did pretty good!  More than that though, it was a fun outdoor excursion and chance to meet other travelers – I’d highly recommend the Discovery school.

We spent the rest of the day exploring the town of Freeport and driving up and down the coast, before enjoying Sicilian style pizza at Slab for dinner, followed by local beers at biergartens Novare Res and the Thirsty Pig.

The oyster bar at Eventide Oyster Company.

The oyster bar at Eventide Oyster Company.

For our final day in Portland, we took to the water for a Lighthouse Lovers Cruise around Casco Bay, then lunch at Eventide Oyster Company.  Here, we had our third lobster roll of the trip, but unlike the mayonnaise-and-garlic-bread affairs we’d previously experienced, this one was marinated in brown butter and served in a steamed bun – different, but still good.

Finally, it was time for our final meal in Portland, so we headed just across the street from our hotel to Portland raw institution, Miyake.

Uni, oyster with foam, and sashimi plate from Miyake

Uni, oyster with foam, and sashimi plate from Miyake

Here, we did the omakase (chef’s choice) menu and were treated to some of the best seafood dishes we’ve ever had. Fair warning though: if you’re going here planning on filling up on countless spicy tuna rolls, you may be in for a disappointment.  Sushi is part of the offering here, but the real highlights are their unique preparations of both raw and cooked local seafood.

The next morning, we headed back to reality, but thoroughly loved our weekend adventure in Portland.  Soaking up the cool 70-degree weather while Austin sizzled in triple digits made this a perfect summer getaway.

Where did you go on your summer vacation?  Tell us in the comments. Header image by Flickr user binkley27, under a creative commons license.

Whitney