TASTE OF SEBASCO: CLASSIC RESORT IS TOAST OF MID-COAST MAINE

Ideal for Families, Weddings, Reunions, Corporate Groups

By Karen Rubin with
David Leiberman & Eric Leiberman

Can’t get enough. Must come back for more.

Like the most addictive treat, you simply can’t get enough of Sebasco Harbor Resort, classic in its tradition, making it novel today.

Sebasco Harbor Resort, on the craggy shore of mid-coast Maine, has that rarest of qualities: the ability to appeal to anyone, from the poshest sophisticate to the purist nature-lover, from the youngest to the oldest, from those seeking nothing more than a tranquil place to read beside the water, to those can’t sit still.

I am thinking this as we set out in kayaks on a velvety surface, the last rays of sun fading into orange and purple, and the moon just beginning to rise.

Setting out for the moonlight kayak expedition (© 2007 Karen Rubin).

I am thinking that no billionaire could have a better moment than this.

Our moonlight paddle was the perfect cap to a perfect day of golfing, massage, sailing, and a dinner to delight an epicurean.

I was hooked, as so many families before us have been, who have come year after year, generation after generation since Nate Cushman first opened the Sebasco Lodge in 1930. One family has held its annual family reunion here for 50 years, taking over the 10-room Early Bird cottage.

It was after midnight when we arrived at Sebasco Harbor Resort the night before – disappointed we had missed the Friday night lobsterbake. But minutes after registering and arriving at our room in the Lighthouse, a boxed dinner of delicious wraps arrived at our room.

And what a room! The Lighthouse was built in the 1940s to serve the Midcoast harbor, and now it beckons vacationers with comfortable accommodations in a spectacular setting. It is reportedly the only Lighthouse in America that offers hotel-style accommodations and resort amenities. Our room has a picture window and sitting area facing the marina. Though it was late and we had been traveling for hours, we couldn’t resist going down to the dock.

It takes about two minutes – the smokey smell from a fireplace mixing with the salty smell of the water, seeing the bright light of the moon reflected on the water, the quiet, rhythmic lapping of the water against the rocks, seeming to sparkle in the light, the silhouette of pine trees, the boats bobbing, the creaking sound of the dock, stars so bright you feel you can pluck them from the sky, the cool, fresh air – to know the feeling of perfect peace and feel all the hassle of everyday simply melt away.

We were back on the dock at daybreak – the pure light bringing out colors as it intensifies – with the boats in the harbor, fishing villages up and down the shore, islands, and you soon appreciated what has brought artists like Andrew Wyeth and Winslow Homer to these shores.

In the daylight, I could see what has been bringing back generations of families – 575 acres tucked at the western side of a peninsula facing Casco Bay (making for incredible sunsets), an enclave of cottages and lodges that make for an unusual variety of accommodations, set in a kind of campus compound, magnificently landscaped with gardens.

There is room to roam around – the self-contained compound is ideal for kids – and plenty of places to be together – in lovely lounges in the main (historic) 1929 hotel, a gazebo (equipped with Wi-Fi) on the croquet lawn, by the Olympic-sized saltwater pool (biggest in the state of Maine), a conference center, and in the Observatory of the Lighthouse – like a secret place with lounge chairs and window seats and 360-degree views.

There were three weddings and a family reunion going on the weekend we were there – the place was packed – and yet it did not feel crowded at all.

In the fall and spring, the focus turns to corporate groups – retreats, incentives, meetings. The resort is ideal – because of the activities (golf, a new full-service spa, sailboat, and excursion boat, even an indoor bowling alley), meeting venues, and abundant opportunities for themed events as well as team-building activities, geared to groups of 10 to 250 people. Imagine playing “costume golf” or night golf (the balls and tees are lighted).

And then we discovered the activities: a wonderful (and challenging) nine-hole golf course suitable for tournament play ($27/round); a three-hole lake golf course perfect for families ($10 for unlimited play), tennis courts, canoes on a lake; a fitness center; mountain bikes available for rent, and kayaking center. There are also hiking trails on Mt. Merritt and around the property. (Sebasco is within the town of Phippsburg that has some of the finest walking trails in Midcoast Maine.)

From the marina, there are delightful two-hour sailing excursions on the Magic, a magnificent Tartan 41 Sloop, and trips on the Ruth, a 38-foot vessel that was launched for Sebasco in 1935, making it one of the oldest continuously operating passenger vessels on the coast of Maine.

The Ruth offers nature cruises, a Maine lobstering experience (you follow a lobsterman along his trap hauling route and get to handle lobsters), and a pirate adventure (offered at least twice weekly, involving a hunt for lost treasure, and pirate Kevin and his parrot. The 24-passenger vessel is also available for private charters, for family trips, wedding parties and corporate groups.

Paddling in the moonlight (© 2007 Karen Rubin).

And then I discovered the Quarterdeck. Step across the portal and you feel you have stepped back to the 1940s. The piece de resistance is the vintage candlepin bowling a game that is distinctive to Maine – with four lanes (75 cents a string to play). There is also plus ping-pong tables, billiards, table shuffleboard, video games and (what could be better?) a juke box. The Quarterdeck is generally opened in the evening, 7:30 to 10 p.m. (or when it rains).

Similarly, The Clipper House – an old fashioned, woodsy looking theater with stage, which was famous for its theater productions, is used for staff shows and special functions (for much of this summer, there is an Elvis Impersonator – and not just any Elvis Impersonator, but a Mainer who was the 2002 “Best Elvis Impersonator in the World”. After that, there is a stand-up comic.

While parents are at the show, kids get to enjoy “Rock n’ Bowl” in the Quarterdeck.

New Fairwinds Spa

This summer, the resort “is harnessing the power of the sea and surf” to reinvigorate guests with an all new waterfront luxury spa.

The Fairwinds Spa offers traditional and leading edge spa services in a spectacular waterfront setting that enhance personal treatments with sea views, fresh salt air breezes and the relaxing rhythms of tide, plus a meditation deck and a Jacuzzi deck that overlook the harbor.

The Fairwinds Spa offers treatment rooms for massage, aromatic hydrotherapy, wraps, salon services, and personal training in Yoga, Pilates, lifestyle education. There is a luxurious Sea Breeze spa suite, for couples and private spa suite with a fireplace, large enough for an entire bridal party or gals getaway.

The spa consulting firm, WTS International, developed treatments in keeping with the resort’s natural setting, such as seastone massage, and Wild Beach Rose Hydrating Cocoon that takes advantage of the locally abundant Rugosa Roses, and a seasonal body buff that changes with the seasons.

In addition to the Spa, there are five all-season luxury suites in the Fairwinds “Cottage” created especially for guests who are seeking a spa-focused vacation experience, including complimentary upgrades to in-suite spa treatments.

“From brides and bridesmaids to wind-weary sailors, the Fairwinds Spa will be a haven of comfort and rejuvenation,” Smith says. “Today’s vacationer expects to have the opportunity to experience top quality spa services, and we will now offer the only full-service waterfront resort spa in Midcoast Maine.”

Kayaking in the Moonlight

Oh, to be at Sebasco Harbor when the moon is full.

We had been initially enticed to the resort by the idea of kayaking, and there are several excursions available each day including a sunset paddle, but we were fortunate enough to be at Sebasco Harbor for this very special moonlight kayaking trip.

We had gathered at 8 p.m. – I was pleased with the safety precautions and the preparations that Scott, who runs Seaspray Kayaking, provides. There are wetsuits available (it can get chilly on the water). We are each given an orange glow stick to attach to the port side of our paddles, and he has us counting off numbers and instructs us on what we should do in the unlikely event that somebody falls out of the kayak.

It is about 9 p.m. – the sun just about down, when we set out together, the darkness descending as the moon was rising. Our excitement builds as we make our way through the moored boats and into the open water, and then through a channel between two islands.

We come to a secluded island where Scott and his guides help us out of the water (we don’t even get feet wet). Within minutes, he has a bonfire going, and we settle around, sitting on lobster traps and rocks, cooking s’mores and telling stories. And I am thinking about all the people for whom this scene, with Scott, sitting around the campfire and paddling in the moonlight, becomes one of their favorite stories.

Seaspray Kayaking, which operates from the resort, offers numerous kayaking expeditions during the day – including new kayak fly-fishing (that trip departed at 4 a.m.). There is also a kayak school, including lessons in the saltwater pool, a smooth freshwater pond for practice and a protected harbor with access to Casco Bay (888-349-SPRAY, 207-443-3646, www.seaspraykayaking.cominfo@seaspraykayaking.com).

Golfing at Sebasco

David takes a shot on Sebasco Harbor Resort's signature #2 hole (© 2007 Karen Rubin).

The Sebasco nine-hole golf course is a delight with substantial challenge. The signature #2 hole uses the sheer beauty of the scene – looking out to the bay – to compensate for the extreme frustration. Not just short (only 145 yards from the black tee), narrow, not just hitting over water and calculating for wind, but the green is on a tiered elevation (more like a miniature golf hole), backed by woods.

The #3 hole, a par 5, 471 yards from the black tee, is a dogleg left but first you have to make it over the wetlands; then you have to aim your second shot toward the right of the fairway because everything slopes left towards the tree line. The par-4 #7 hole, 400 yards, also requires accuracy rather than power. You can certainly enjoy this course over and over ($27/nine holes, $10/cart but most people seem to use a hand cart; a Golf Plan allows for unlimited play, and includes breakfast and dinner, at $78 per person, per day).

The resort also has a beautiful three-hole Lake Course that is ideal for families. These holes are wide and therefore relatively forgiving (if you account for the fact you are playing around the water hazard). Unlimited play for $10/day.

The resort also makes available canoes on its lovely Wah-tah Lake.

In the afternoon, we embarked on a two-hour sailing excursion on “The Magic,” captained by Phil, who practically grew up on the dock because his father had worked at Sebasco, as well. This sleek ocean racer has been in the Bermuda race at least twice. Phil picks up on our questions to tell pleasant anecdotes and give interesting information.

Our two-hour sail takes us in and around the small islands, and into the nearby fishing village, where we spot a Bald Eagle in a tree and a seal. Neil takes the helm for a time and Phil helpfully gives him tips on sailing.

Phil isn’t the only one who has this passionate connection to Sebasco. Owen and John Totman, have been working at the resort for 49 & 50 years, and run the Repairatorium – the resort’s maintenance hub. When Smith wanted to replace The Clipper with The Pilot House on the waterfront and was faced with having to knock the vintage wooden building down, they said, “The Totman Brothers can move anything.”

They acquired Air Force surplus hydraulic lifters used to lift the Saturn Rocket, for two cents on the dollar, and them mounted on trailer rigs, and sure enough, moved the entire building to the center of the village, where today it provides this wonderfully atmospheric venue for stage productions and events (square dancing would be perfect).

Revered Tradition

Campfire on a deserted island, in the moonlight (© 2007 Karen Rubin).

Sebasco Harbor Resort has been welcoming the public since Nathan Cushman purchased the property from Freeman and Jenny Merritt who owned the Rock Gardens Inn (actually still functioning) in 1928. When he opened the resort in 1930, Cushman’s vision was to create a “village style resort” that encouraged recreation as opposed to the more sedentary resorts that were typical of that era. His model also included both modern and rustic accommodations; and it is a tribute to his vision that the resort continues to thrive as a recreation centered vacation destination with a diversity of architecture in a harbor village setting.

Two generations of Cushman ownership were followed by two generations of ownership by the Dana family; and in 1997 the resort was purchased by Bob Smith.

Smith, who began his career in hospitality in 1974 working as a porter for the Holiday Inn in Portland, clearly has a keen appreciation for Sebasco’s tradition. In the years since, he has spent $12 million in modernizing, upgrading, updating amenities, adding programming and extending the season of the resort into the spring and fall, but he has preserved the essence. He laughs that he would get flack from some of the regulars just for replacing a “ratty” couch, because it was part of what was familiar. But you can still find the grandfather clock in the Great Room of the Main Lodge, which dates from the 1930s.

And heaven forbid he end the Monday Night Bingo in the Clipper House or the Sunday afternoon cocktail reception or Wednesday tea.

The connection to history adds to the atmosphere – there is a wall of all the brochures that Sebasco has used over all these years, a veritable timeline of tourism promotion; the pro shop at the golf course has old photos and a plaque listing all those who have hit a hole in one, and there is a wonderful photo in the original hotel, from when people would harvest ice from Cornelius Pond (now called Wah-Tah Lake).

In 2006 the new Harbor Village Suites added 18 luxury units in the heart of the village, they blend in perfectly with the cottages and lodges, and are winterized. In all, about 33 units are now geared to year-round use. Smith notes that being 12 miles out to sea, Sebasco is cooler in summer and milder in winter than even Bath or Portland.

 

Activity Program

What makes Sebasco so special, though, are the program of activities that are reminiscent of the days when people would come to such resorts for the entire season.

Families are invited to join other families in “camp-style” activities such as nature programs, pirate cruises and crafts, evening campfire; there are also kids-only activities that allow parents to get in a round of golf or a spa treatment.

During July and August, Camp Merritt offers full-day programs for children ($4/child, and each day offers different activities that families can enjoy together, or separately.

Friday’s schedule starts with morning stretch and fitness, a kayak excursion, a round-robin tennis tournament, a “Birds of Prey – New England’s Majestic Raptors” program, presented by the Chewonki Foundation; a croquet clinic; a scenic van tour of Phippsburg; a scenic lunch cruise on the Ruth; a kayak excursion; ice cream making; an “exploring sealife” program with naturalist Ronnie Kamphausen; a lobsterbake and contra dancing.

Saturday’s activities include morning stretch and fitness, guided beach kayak excursion, make your own tie-dye t-shirt, cruising on the Ruth, sunset kayaking excursion, family campfire and sing along.

Sunday begins with morning stretch and fitness, a traditional Blueberry pancake breakfast on the pool lawn, a kayak rolling class in the pool, a scenic harbor and nature cruise on The Ruth, horseshoes, a golf clinic, a kayak excursion, a croquet clinic, a welcome reception (complimentary hors d’oeuves and cocktails); a grand buffet in the Cornelius Room. In the evening, the Quarterdeck recreation center is open from 7:30 to 10 p.m.

There is so much going on, in fact, that families find it hard to leave the property. A family we met from New York, for example, said they had spent 10 days here last year, and came back for seven more this year. “Did you get to the Farnsworth Museum in Rockland?” I ask, thinking this is a great excursion, about 1 1/2 hour away. No. “Did you visit Boothbay, such a charming village?” No. It turns out they never left the property last year – there was so much to do, but this year, they were resolved to go into Bath. And it is true, there is easily enough to keep you occupied.

Early morning light: Sebasco Harbor Resort's new waterfront spa in the trees (© 2007 Karen Rubin).

The best excursion is only a few miles from the resort, to Popham Beach State Park -a sprawling, scenic, three-mile long expansive sandy beach at the mouth of the Kennebec River, from which you can see small islands (two lighthouses), just off shore (when the tide is out, you can walk across to the island); seals gather here.

You can walk for miles, taking a turn and walking along the beach to the Civil War era Fort Popham (or, as we did, park at the fort, and walk up the beach, past the old Coast Guard station and around to the state beach because the parking lot did not open until 9 a.m.). The Fort was built to protect the shipbuilding industry upriver in Bath, and the state capital at Augusta. The fort, which gets about 100,000 visitors a year, is presently closed for renovation.

Indeed, there is rich history here: the Popham Colony was founded in 1607, 13 years before the Pilgrims landed in Plymouth. They built the 30-ton Virginia as the continent’s first ocean going ship, launching Maine’s shipbuilding tradition. However, the colony did not survive. Artifacts from archeological digs being conducted by Jeffrey Brain of the Essex Peabody Museum in Salem, sponsored by the Maine State Museum, are on display through October at the Maine Maritime Museum in Bath, where they are reconstructing the Virginia in public view (www.popham400.org).

There is a lot to do – with Rockland, picturesque Boothbay, and Bath so accessible from the resort. In Rockland, a must-see is the Farnsworth Museum, famous for its collection of Wyeth family artists, and the Maine Lighthouse Museum, and is a port for many of the historic Maine Windjammers (making Sebasco Harbor a great combination vacation with the three or six-day cruises, 800-807-WIND, www.sailmainecoast.com).

In Bath, just 20 minutes away, there is the Maine Maritime Museum (which is displaying an exhibition of artifacts from archeological digs at Popham Colony), and a historic district with captains’ homes. Wiscasset, named the “Prettiest Village in Maine,” and is on the National Register of Historic Places.

The resort is only 35 minutes from Freeport, a shopping mecca with L.L. Bean (open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year) and numerous outlets. Sebasco Harbor Resort is one hour from Portland, with the Portland Museum of Art and the Portland Observatory.

There is also a Coastal Maine scenic train ride, traveling between Bath & Wiscasset to Brunswick & Rockland, with a luxury dining car (also available for private charters). Sebasco has created a package, “Maine Coast Rail & Art Excursion” that combines the rail trip and four-hour visit to Rockland, with a two-night stay at the resort, breakfast, train fare, transportation to/from the Bath Depot and admission to the Farnsworth Art Museum (from $215).

The resort is also a superb combination with Bar Harbor and Acadia National Park, about 2 1/2 hours away.

Eleanor Roosevelt, in fact, would stay over at Sebasco Harbor Resort with her mother-in-law, en route to Campobello.

A Taste of Sebasco

Dining at Sebasco is designed with the multi-day vacationer in mind, and there is a surprising variety of dining venues and even themed dining events.

The Pilot House offers waterfront bistro dining with a “resort casual” atmosphere that belies the high level of service and the excellence of the menu. At night, the sunset views as you dine are unbelievable.

The Lighthouse (right), the Pilot House (left) and The Ruth, as seen from the deck of the Magic (© 2007 Karen Rubin).

The dining experience takes you completely by surprise – it is New England fare reinterpreted with more worldly and eclectic seasonings that only enhances the freshness of the seafood, meat, fruits and vegetables. Steamed mussel appetizer (an enormous portion), were succulent, served delectably simmered in white wine with onions and black pepper; the Pilot House Roasted Corn and Lobster Chowder and the Organic Carrot and Ginger Soup were pure perfection. Fire Roasted Sirloin Steak was served with a salsa of thyme-pimento-chutney. Lobster America’s Cup is an open shell lobster simmered with leeks, tomatoes and fresh tarragon. The Penobscot Bay Seafood Potpourri consists of shrimp, haddock and sea scallops, seasoned with tarragon, mushrooms, lobster cream sauce with dry sherry. There is also an extensive wine list

The Ledges, next door, offers seaside pub fare indoors or on the harborside patio, and is open until the wee hours.

The Pool Lawn is where there are the weekly lobsterbakes and traditional Blueberry Pancake Breakfasts; it also provides a lovely harborview setting for weddings and special functions.

The Cornelius Room is a grand dining room from the golden resort era that works well for weddings and special events.

The Clipper affords rustic charm for casual special events or themed parties (1940s, square dancing).

There is also a small Patio Caf for ice cream and snacks, right on the Village Green.

Sebasco Harbor Resort offers an MAP option, an inclusive breakfast and dinner program, at $48 per person, per day (no charge for children under 10 ordering from the children’s menu). This makes a lot of sense, since the resort is fairly isolated, and the food is absolutely superb (you can also pay as you go at the restaurants).

Moonlight, Magic & Romance

It is easy to see why Sebasco Harbor is so popular with weddings – it is absolutely idyllic, with endless possibilities for gatherings – from a lobsterbake rehearsal dinner, cocktail party, white linen formal dinner for up to 240 guests in the Cornelius room, a cruise on the Ruth, a round of golf, or a bridal party spa get-together. A wedding planner is available to assist in organizing the event, at no extra charge. (The pricing for a destination wedding is advantageous as well – the formal dinner might be $100 per person, compared to $250 to $300 in New York.)

A “Lighthouse Romance Package” brings together the elements of a romantic getaway starting with fresh flowers and a welcome gift, overnight accommodations in the Lighthouse, dinner for two at the Pilot House, and breakfast for two the following morning. Guests are encouraged to arrive early and make the most of the resort’s extensive grounds and amenities including the all-new Fairwinds Spa. The Lighthouse Romance Package starts at $275 per couple per day.

The Lighthouse offers 10 rooms. In addition, there are 23 cottages with one to 10 bedrooms (the largest cottage, Early Bird, is like a railroad car with 10 bedrooms, 10 bathrooms and a great room, which is ideal for family reunions); a traditional main lodge with 37 rooms; and 18 luxury suites in two Harborview View lodges, and five luxury waterfront suites in the Fairwind Spa.

Early morning light from Sebasco Harbor Resort's dock (© 2007 Karen Rubin).

Nightly summertime rates for accommodations range from $209 per guest room in the Main Lodge to $2,090 for the 10-bedroom room Early Bird cottage that sleeps 20.

A senior rate is available (age 60 and above) at 10% off the room portion for Main Lodge accommodations; there is also a 10 percent discount on lodging for stays of seven days or longer.

Sebasco Harbor Resort, in Sebasco Harbor Estates, is three hours by car from Boston (about 7 hours from New York’s metro), and less than an hour’s drive from Portland’s International Jetport which is served by major airlines including Jet Blue (the hotel provides shuttle transportation). For reservations or information, call 800-225-3819 or visitwww.sebasco.com.

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© 2007 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Send comments or travel questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com

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About Travel Features Syndicate

Karen Rubin is an eclectic travel writer who has been spanning the globe for more than 30 years reporting on interesting, intriguing people and places to explore for magazines, newspapers and online. She publishes Travel Features Syndicate in newspapers and online including examiner.com, Huffington Post and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate and blogs at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com. "Travel is a life-changing and an interactive experience that mutually benefits travelers and community." Contact Karen at FamTravLtr@aol.com. 'Like' us at www.facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

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