The Slow Boat With Kids - 10 insider tips

steamship slow boat traveling to nantucket with kids

 steamship authority vessel eagle

Steamship Authority Vessel "Eagle" Photo courtesy of Steamship Auth

Or as I refer to it "The Bloated Tick"


 This is what happens when you aren't prepared. Makeshift seating. 

Ok I admit it, I HATE taking the slow boat. It is like torture. For years I would just fly back and forth and skip the two hour commute. Flying over the Steamship Authority vessel inching along it's journey and zooming past was satisfying. I still feel the same, but with a family of six it doesn't make any financial sense to fly. I'd rather invest in tickets to Florida! So now we take the boat.

  1. Make ADVANCED, ADVANCED, ADVANCED auto reservations, I am talking like 6 months in advance for the summer months. Ask to be on the email list that alerts you when the summer tickets become available for purchase.
  2. BE EARLY. There is nothing like missing the boat, literally.
  3. Pack Snacks. The prices indicate that they are aware that they have a very captive audience. Really, the only thing worth sampling is the chowder, it is actually super duper good. Whatever you do, don't order the pretzel, there is no cheese and it has probably crossed the sound on that twirly heater more times than you have.
  4. Make sure you have at least 4 hours worth of age appropriate activities packed.
  5. Bring a DVD player with earbuds - for when all other activities fail. Don't forget DVD's
  6. Growing up on Nantucket means that we don't have far to travel in our cars. The kids would go nuts sitting in the car for 2 hours. Maybe yours won't. Some families just stay in the car the whole time, but my kids are high octane.
  7. Spend at least some of the time on the boat outside. I suggest when approaching Nantucket. Have your camera ready, even for seasoned visitors it is breathtaking. Don't forget to throw two pennies overboard on your departure at Brant Point lighthouse to insure you will make a return visit.
  8. Have a clear set of rules discussed with your family beforehand. I may tend to err on the side of caution. Our boat rules are as follows. You have to stay seated at all times unless you are WALKING to the bathroom or snack bar. You have to be with an adult at all times - even for a twelve-year-old the doors can be really heavy and are uber dangerous. Sometimes when I am traveling with them all alone I make them wear diapers so we don't all have to go to the bathroom 100 times. Inside voices at all times. No earbuds, no device. There is free Wi-Fi on the boat so take advantage of it. Of course your family will have their own rules, but I thought it would help if we shared ours.
  9. If you have a child under 2 do yourself a favor and pack a stroller or carrier. Then you can explore the boat with the child safely anchored down.
  10. If it is a windy day, ask about the water conditions, you may want to, just in case, have some Dramamine on hand. If you do start to feel sick - go get in your car. The waves are felt less the lower you are in the vessel. The Purser can offer you a barf bag if you need it. I have only once taken a rocky ride and it was not worth it. Just pay to have the Steamship drive your car on and off the boat and take a cab to the airport. Most likely you won't have to deal with this if you are traveling in the summer months, but keep it in the back of your head.
  11. BONUS TIP Whatever you do - this is the most important piece of advice I can give you. Get there early and get up to the tables FAST. They go quickly and there is nothing more frustrating than trying to wrangle your four kids in seats while you watch six tables filled with greedy singletons who have no regard for how difficult it is to travel with children. It is even worth buying an extra ticket and having someone walk on ahead of when the cars load to secure a place.

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