Fun at the Tea Party Museum, or Simba (King George III) and Scar (Samuel Adams) Visit Boston Harbor

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The Boston Tea Party Museum is a fun, entertaining, educational, hour-long historical extravaganza. It provides a good overview of Revolutionary-era Boston history, a climb-aboard visit to a recreated tea-ship (complete with simulated tea chest tossing), the chance to see one of two remaining tea chests from the fateful night (pretty cool), holographic-enhanced reenactments of key events and personalities, and a ten minute film of the events of April 18-19th, 1775 (Paul Revere’s Ride, the battles of Lexington & Concord, and the “Shot Heard ‘Round the World”). Good fun, but unless you crave Disney-style entertainment or are purchasing a package that includes the Museum, it is pricey.

Is it worth the time and expense? Does Boston need Disneyesque historical entertainment? Is the Tea Party “The single most important event leading up to the American Revolution?” Read on…

The Visit

Boston Tea Party Museum New Identity Card

Boston Tea Party Museum Identity Card

Once you arrive at the museum and have a ticket, you are invited to join the next available tour queue. Tours run every ½ hour and can be pretty full in the summer, so when it’s busy you may want to arrive ½ hour before your desired start. You are then ushered into the “Meeting House” and given a card by a colonial-garbed actor. The card holds the pseudo-identity of an actual revolutionary-era citizen (you may be asked to read a line from card later). Once the meeting starts, and in great in theatrical fashion, your guides explain events leading up to the Tea Party.

[Note that you are kept moving from station to station – there is not much time to linger or explore; virtually every step is choreographed. The guides are well trained, personable, and happy to answer questions, but they speak quickly; pay attention as it is easy to miss something.]

Boston Tea Party Museum Ramp

Boston Tea Party Museum Ramp

Leaving the Meeting House, you proceed down a gangplank to visit one of the replica tea ships. The replicas are close to the actual Tea Party ships and are amazing. On board, you learn more about the ships and their context, then go below deck to experience what life aboard was like – very tight quarters for the eight men who lived aboard, and these must have been awful in rough seas.

Boston Tea Party Museum Ship Deck

Boston Tea Party Museum Ship Deck

(Click for a wonderful Boston Globe video on the recreation of the ships.)

Boston Tea Party Museum Tea Toss

Boston Tea Party Museum Tea Toss

To make it more interactive for the kids, simulated chests of tea are heaved overboard. (A full tea chests weighed well over 300 pounds.)

Boston Tea Party Museum Ship Captains Quarters

Boston Tea Party Museum Ship Captains Quarters

On exiting the ships, and while waiting on the dock for your group’s turn to enter the museum, your guide provides additional context to the events and personalities.

Entering the museum, the first stop is a short holographic reenactment of a conversation between two colonial women – one with patriot, and the other with loyalist leanings. The technology is impressive, but the content seems more for show than substance.

The next room houses the Robinson Half Chest. This half chest (a half-chest contained about 100 pounds) was found by teenager John Robinson the morning after the Tea Party. It remained a Robinson family heirloom until it was purchased by the folks who run the museum. After viewing and learning about the chest, visitors turn around and view a holographic-enhanced conversation between the portraits of King George III and Samuel Adams. This is technically innovative and fun, but a little over the top. The pre-recorded reenactors are entertaining, and what they say is true to the history, but a lot is taken out of context.

The last room, the Minuteman Theater, shows a +/- 10 minute film, “Let it Begin Here,” that dramatizes the events of April 18 and 19, 1775. The film wraps around the audience and is complete with air puffs to simulate musket balls flying by. The tie in is that these events were directly as result of the Tea Party. The reenactments are good and historically accurate, the layout and feel of Lexington Green is particularly good; but the portrayal of the participants is overdone and stilted – the actor portraying John Hancock in Lexington is particularly amusing. (Click for an excerpt.)

After the film, you are encouraged to partake in refreshments at Abigail’s Tea Room & Terrace and visit the Gift Shop, which is stocked with every revolutionary-themed tchotchke imaginable. The only thing missing was the chance to purchase a photo of the visitors with a smiling Samuel Adams reenactor.

Historical Accuracy and Quality

Quite good. The Museum provides a solid and largely accurate overview of the events leading up to the Tea Party and the American Revolution as well as useful context of life in this period. The recreation of the tea ships alone is a marvel and worth the visit.

That being said, the events and people are simplified and hyperbolized – both for effect and to pump up the presentation of the Tea Party as “The single most important event leading up to the American Revolution.” No doubt, the Tea Party was a very key event. But it is not the entire story.

I realize that everyone loves a myth with a hero and a villain (Cinderella vs Evil Queen Grimhilde?) – here Samuel Adams vs King George III. But reality is always more nuanced, and the museum makes only anemic attempts to balance their presentation. While this is not necessarily bad, and perhaps even appropriate for a theatrically-themed venue, it is misleading. Suitable for Orlando or Las Vegas, I had hoped Boston might be more thoughtful, or visitors given time to ponder a counterpoint.


Normal admission is $25 for adults, $15 for children – which means a family of four would pay $80 for a one hour show, not including the encouraged refreshments and souvenirs.

Is it worth it? It depends how much you value this type of entertainment. If cash is tight, there are many better values in town – such as the free Freedom Trail Tours run by the National Park Service, a visit and climb through Old Ironsides, the modestly priced visits to the Old State House or Old South Meeting House, or the behind the scenes visits to King’s Chapel or Old North Church, just to name a few.

If you are considering a visit, a much better deal can be found bundled with the purchase of a ticket from the hop-on-off Old Town Trolley (, which includes admission to the Tea Party Museum. Historic Tours of America owns both the Tea Party Museum and Old Town Trolley, and they also offer packages with admission to the Aquarium, Fenway Park, and other Boston sites that might be on your short list. Check online as tickets are available at a discount.

The Verdict

I had fun and found it worth my time. My visit was fun, participative, educational, and entertaining.

Is it a “must see?” IMHO, it doesn’t fit that category as there are many other places where you will learn and experience more, are more authentic, and are much better values. If I was bringing children, I would weight it a little more positively as its technology and interactivity will hold a child’s attention and memory more than some other sites; but still not in the must see category.

But I had fun, Huzzah!

Most Romantic Place in North America

No matter what your definition of romance, Old Quebec City is easily the most romantic getaway destination in North America. It has plenty to do for lovers, families and singles.  Just a little north of New England (about a 7 hour drive from Boston, 4.5 from Burlington VT., or 5.5 hours from Portland ME), any trip to New England could easily include it in the itinerary.  Or, it makes for a great long weekend.

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Founded in 1608 and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Quebec City is as close to being in France as you can get in North America.  If you speak French, and so desire, you will never need to utter a word in English your entire visit.  Getting by with English, however, is not a problem.

It is full of history, quaint hotels and B&B’s, great restaurants, outdoor Parisian-style cafes, fabulous vistas, and wonderful museums for both art and history lovers.  Easy to tour by foot, it is simply one of the best places to spend a few days and a pleasure any time of year.  Be forewarned, it can be very cold in the winter.

Enjoying a Parisian-Style Cafe in Old Town Quebec

Old Town Quebec consists of Haute-Ville (Upper Town) and Basse-Ville (Lower Town), which also is the location of the old port. I’ll highlight a few of my favorite spots in each.

In Haute-Ville:

The best tour starts by simply walking around. It is small and self contained, beautiful, quaint, there are great places to eat, and is is just a wonderful place to be.  The entire city is surrounded by a stone wall built by both the French and British armies.  In fact it is the only North American city with fortress walls that still exist north of Mexico.  The views overlooking Basse-Ville and the St. Lawrence are excellent.

Château Frontenac & the St. Lawrence from the Citadel

Le Château Frontenac is probably the most photographed hotel in North America.  To stay there can be pricey and the property can feel a little stuffy (if you want high-end, as an alternative you may want to consider some of the more intimate, but superb boutique hotels in Basse-Ville like the Dominion or Aberge Saint-Antoine – and both of these are relative bargains), but a martini in the Frontenac’s bar and a guided hotel tour can make the Quebec experience complete.

Plains of Abraham and Citadel from near Musée National

The Plains of Abraham Battlefield Park is a great walk on a nice day. The Plains are the site of the 1759 battle between the French, under Montcalm, and the English, under Wolfe. (Both Montcalm and Wolfe died as a result of wounds received here.)  The battle was deciding moment in the conflict between France and Britain over the fate of New France, and resulted in the turning over of Quebec to the English. The park features beautiful gardens, historic exhibits and great views of the city and the St. Lawrence.  Be sure to visit the Discovery Pavilion for a great overview of the park and its history.  Check for music and festivals during the summer and bring a frisbee.

Le Musée National des Beaux-arts du Québec is a wonderful art museum in the Plains of Abraham Battlefield Park. Housed in three buildings, one of which was the 19th century city prison, it is a great way for art lovers to spend couple of hours. It is home to impressive permanent collections as well as traveling shows.

The Citadel, built between 1820 and 1850 is the largest British fortress built in North America. It features a museum, tours and has a well known changing of the guard ceremony. A must if traveling with children.

In Basse-Ville:

As with Haute-Ville, simply wandering around is a great way to experience the city.  To go between Haute and Basse-Ville, there is the Funiculaire that can be taken up or down if you do not want to navigate the stairs or winding streets, which are steep.  The 17th century architecture and French flavor sets a tone unequaled in North America. There are many places to shop, which range from high-end furs and art to pure kitsch – at your pleasure.  In nice weather, sit outside in a cafe, close your eyes, and when you open them, you are in a French village (truly). Superb!

Rue Souse-le-Fort just below the Frontenac

Musée de la Civilization is an impressive museum dedicated to the history of the world’s peoples. It houses excellent exhibits focused on the humanities, with a concentration on the Canadian people. It is enjoyable by both adults and children.  If it is inclement, this is the best place to spend the day.  The free tours are well done and very insightful.

Le Marché du Vieux-Port de Québec

Le Marché du Vieux-Port de Québec is a wonderful fresh market near the old port and off most tourist agendas.  It is  great place to wander around and pick up supplies for a picnic or to bring back to your hotel room.  Most everything comes from Quebec and the varous stalls specialize in fruits, vegetables, wine, cider, maple products, cheeses, pastries, breads, deli meats, and more.  This is a great place to find non-traditional souvenirs to bring home.

Place-Royale and the Notre Dame des Victoires church

The Place-Royale is where Samuel de Champlain landed in 1608 and founded the first French settlement in North America.  It is an absolutely beautiful square.  Visit the Centre d’Interpretation de Place-Royal for exhibits describing the challenges of setting up a town in the 17th century.  At the end of the square is the Notre Dame des Victoires church, built in 1688 and subsequently destroyed by the British bombardment of 1759.  It has been restored to it’s original character.


Cyrus E. Dallin Art Museum – Arlington

The Cyrus E. Dallin museum is in Arlington Center, just off of Mass Ave at the corner of Mystic Street (Route 60).  The museum houses a wonderful collection of Dallin’s work that spans his wide talents.  Housed in the Jefferson Cutter House, which was built in 1832, it is a great 1-2 hour visit and fascinating for seniors, children and adults alike.

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The Cutter house itself is worth seeing and is the last salt and pepper colonial in Arlington.  Originally owned by the Cutter family, owners of the Cutter Mills, it was moved from near the mill site two miles north of its current location in 1992.  It was made available to the museum by the town in 1998 and in addition to the museum, has some meeting space in the basement where art exhibits are occasionally offered.

Cyrus Dallin was an important sculptor that moved to Arlington when he was 32 and lived there until his death in 1944.  Well known and connected, many of his works feature Native Americans, but also include statesmen, generals, mythological figures and his family.  Especially worthwhile is a sculpture of his cat – created in a day in response to a taunt from his son.  His iconic “Appeal to the Great Spirit” has been in front of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston since 1912.   The “Paul Revere Monument” resides in Boston’s North End Paul Revere Mall was famous enough to be parodied by the Marx brothers in Duck Soup.  There is a wonderful sketch by John Singer Sargent of Dallin’s portico.

"Appeal to the Great Spirit" at Boston Muesum of Fine Arts

"Appeal to the Great Spirit" at Boston Museum of Fine Arts

The total collection of about 60 pieces is housed in four intimate rooms.  The docent / curators are superb and very patient and offer wonderful, insightful stories about the art and the man.  Admission is free, but donations are welcomed.  Hours are Wednesday through Sunday 12 to 4PM.

There is on street parking or a large town lot directly behind the museum.  Or, there is bus service from Harvard Square.  There are tons of great restaurants in Arlington well as other tourist sites within an easy walk.  Well worthwhile.  A hidden gem.  Their excellent web site can be accessed at

Great Arlington Haunts include:

Punjab Restaurant – Arlington
Thai Moon – Arlington

Isles of Shoals

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Visiting the Isles of Shoals makes a wonderful day trip out of Portsmouth harbor. Catch a ferry with the Isles of Shoals Steamship Company at 315 Market Street in downtown Portsmouth for the 9 mile ride out the Islands. The Steamship Company offers various excursions that include guided Portsmouth Harbor tours or stops for exploring the islands.

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The cruise out to the islands is a wonderful way to spend a few hours. The narrated ride passes through Portsmouth Harbor, which is beautiful and features history and sites galore. To port (on the Maine side of the Harbor – left on the way out to the islands), you will pass the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard and the abandoned Naval prison. Watch for submarine conning towers that may be visible as you pass by.

To starboard you will pass Fort Constitution at the mouth of the harbor. Fort Constitution is built on the site of Fort William and Mary, which was the site of the true first organized action by the Colonials against the British in 1774 – before Lexington and Concord! On December 13, 1774, Paul Revere (remember him from the Midnight Ride) rode 60 miles from Boston to Portsmouth and informed the The Portsmouth Committees of Safety and Correspondence that a British expedition that was in transit by sea to seize control of the powder and armaments stored at the fort. On the following day, a band of 400 New Hampshire militiamen assaulted the fort, which was manned by just 6 British soldiers. The British managed to fire three cannons at the Colonials, but were quickly overwhelmed. A large amount of gunpowder was captured along with some muskets and cannon. There were no serious injuries, but this was truly the first battle of the American Revolutionary War, a full four months before Concord and Lexington.

Site of Fort William and Mary - First Colonial Action Against British

The ferry will stop at Star IslandStar Island to drop off and pick up passengers. At the island, there is a retreat hotel run by the Unitarian Church. They offer day services including meals and it is possible to spend the night between mid-June and mid-September. The organization runs various retreats, workshops and conferences that run from photography to international affairs to family conferences. The facility is beautiful and a real throwback to the 19th century – Nathanial Hawthorne stayed here. Accommodations are pretty basic, but the location is fantastic. A beautiful and quite place to spend a day or a few nights.