If you are looking for a relaxing, wheelchair-friendly weekend on the Connecticut shoreline then look no further than Mystic Seaport. Mystic is a classic family vacation spot, but it also makes a wonderful weekend getaway.. Just a short drive from both Boston and New York City, it is conveniently located and much more economical than some of the other waterfront destinations in the area.
It’s tough to beat the ADA accommodations at national chains such as the Holiday Inn Express. This is where we opted to stay, having experienced some questionably “accessible” rooms at bed and breakfasts in the past. However, if you are set on having a true New England inn or B&B experience, there are plenty of wheelchair-accessible options in the area, such as the Steamboat Inn and the Inn at Mystic. Be sure to book well in advance and be prepared for a steeper price.
One of the area’s main attractions is the Mystic Aquarium, widely considered to be the best Aquarium in New England. Tickets cost $21 to $30 and are good for several days, great for young children with short attention spans. The aquarium is very easily navigable by wheelchair. Mystic Aquarium is especially known for its sea lions and there is sea lion show three times per day that is very corny but a big hit with kids.
A drive or stroll along “Captain’s Row” lends unique perspective into the life of a ship captain in the days when Mystic was a bustling seaport. You can even experience the thrill of setting sail aboard an Argia Cruises harbor tour. The tour lasts about two and a half hours as the sailboat travels down Mystic River, into the Long Island Sound and back. Included is some commentary on the colorful local history and gorgeous panoramas of the Connecticut coastline. The crew was more than accommodating helping me aboard and clearly had experience handling wheelchairs.
We had some fantastic meals on our trip – trying local seafood and pizza is a must while in Mystic. I wouldn’t blame you if you wanted to experience the iconic Mystic Pizza, of 1980s Julia Roberts fame, but locals overwhelmingly prefer the pizza down the street at Pizzetta. We ordered an Italian sausage, spinach and roasted pepper pizza that came on a thin, chewy and slightly charred crust in perfect New Haven style. Eating indoors requires climbing a steep set of stairs, so wheelchair-usiersshould definitely opt for patio seating.
The S+P Oyster Company was by far our favorite restaurant we tried. Situated in the heart of Old Mystic, it offers a stunning vista of the harbor and Captain’s Row. Often restaurants with such pleasant views offer overpriced menus that leave you wanting more. While this restaurant was by no means a cheap date, the food and drink was deserving of its cost. We started with a grilled apple and goat cheese salad and white wine sangria with mango and apricot. The sangria was crisp, refreshing, and definitely worth the $30 for a pitcher. For my main course, I had a seafood mac and cheese filled with huge, luscious chunks of lobster, swordfish and salmon bathed in a delicate poblano cheese sauce. The meal was outstanding and I’m already fantasizing about going back next summer and ordering that mac-and-cheese again. S&P has a wheelchair ramp leading into the restaurant.
One evening we ventured to the neighboring hamlet of Stonington to eat dinner at a quirky little Mexican café called Milagro. Located in an old house, only the outdoor patio was wheelchair accessible. After sunset, it got pretty dark and tacos are a little messy to eat by candlelight. However, the food was authentic and delicious. I ordered tuna and avocado ceviche, carne asada tacos and a margarita on the rocks, all prepared to perfection. Reservations are highly recommended, as the wait for a table was nearly an hour. Staff was friendly and accommodating, though somewhat frazzled and overworked. However, the Mexican food at Milagro’s was worth the hassle.
In another neighboring old port town called Noank we happened upon a legendary lobster shack named Abbot’s. This picnic-style seafood joint was packed and for good reason. Like most customers in line, we opted to try the Connecticut-style lobster roll, consisting of huge chunks of lobster drenched in butter and piled onto a griddled hamburger bun with a side of coleslaw and potato chips. Every bite was buttery, salty and heavenly. Eating a lobster roll at Abbot’s is a must while on vacation in Mystic. Additionally, wandering through the quaint old town centers of Noank and Stonington are worth the five-minute drive from Mystic, especially if you are in the market for antiques or local crafts.
Accessibility as a whole was definitely acceptable. There were a few spots (especially the stone sidewalks in Stonington and the old buildings in Mystic) that were a little tricky. Also, finding handicap parking was not always easy in the height of tourist season. However the areas of interests are fairly self-contained and small enough, so pushing around really wasn’t much of a problem. Our hotel offered a lift into the pool that was a welcome sight. Overall I give accessibility in Mystic a solid B, and the seaport’s quant New England charm outweighs any minor inconveniences I experienced.