Travelers have no shortage of options for upgrading their experience if they’re willing to dive a little deeper into their wallet. You might bump yourself up to business or first class on a flight, book a luxury hotel suite instead of a standard room, or even just invest in new luggage.
Yet we don’t often think about upgrades when it comes to staycations. While these outings are typically designed to save money by exploring nearby destinations, you might consider treating yourself to one of these high-end experiences in Connecticut or Rhode Island.
Stay and play
Both states have their share of luxury resorts and hotels, which offer tempting accommodations for a weekend stay. As an added incentive, you can look for a package deal that combines a room and an experience.
The Spicer Mansion in Mystic lets guests choose from a variety of “Spicer Moments,” which partner with local attractions to provide one-of-a-kind outings. For example, you can get a behind the scenes tour of Mystic Seaport or “throw a theatrical punch” by heading to the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center and learning about fight choreography. Dining experiences include a private dinner for two in the Belvedere, a room atop the mansion with panoramic views.
Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun casinos each offer hotel packages that pair a hotel stay with a show. Mohegan Sun recently opened Aspire, its “hotel within a hotel,” with a private lounge and personalized guest service. Visitors can even have parlor games sent upstairs to be played in private.
The Ocean House in Westerly provides plentiful dining experiences to overnight guests and visitors alike. The Fondue Village, which runs through March 31, treats you to a three-course meal served in a vintage ski gondola set up on the hotel premises. The Chef’s Counter Experience gives you a front-row seat to watch the kitchen staff prepare your meal. Traditional lobster boils are offered during the summer, while the Farm + Vine Series and Center for Wine and Culinary Arts events are routinely available.
Winvian Farm in the Litchfield Hills features an original 1775 homestead as well as 18 quirky cottages, including one with a restored Coast Guard helicopter that has been converted to a cocktail lounge, and a luxury treehouse suspended 35 feet off the ground. One package offered by the resort lets you train as a race car driver before taking a spin around Lime Rock Park.
At the Mayflower Inn and Spa in Washington, you can book a private guided hike with a naturalist to learn about Connecticut’s plants and wildlife. The inn also gives you the option of reserving the spa for private after-hours use.
In Essex, some accommodations encourage you to take advantage of nearby theatrical venues. The Copper Beech Inn offers a “Raise the Curtain” package, which includes a restaurant voucher and two tickets to a show at the Ivoryton Playhouse. The Griswold Inn has a similar package, as well as one paired with musicals at the Goodspeed Opera House.
Spas typically let you choose from a range of options, including day spa packages with services such as wellness classes, lunches, massages, and facials. However, many of them also include overnight packages to let you use the spa and take in some local attractions.
At the Spa at Norwich Inn, the Museum Package includes a visit to the Mashantucket Pequot Museum and Slater Museum. Other packages include golf games at nearby courses or a wine tasting at the Jonathan Edwards Winery.
Guests at the Saybrook Point Inn in Old Saybrook can pair their visit with a Riverquest cruise to spot bald eagles. At Water’s Edge in Westbrook, spa packages can include attractions such as a show at the inn or admission to its New Year’s Eve celebration.
Behind the scenes
The Gilded Age mansions of Newport are a popular tourist attraction in the city, and you can get an even better sense of their grandeur by taking a specialty tour or attending a prestigious event. The Beneath the Breakers tour lets you visit the seldom-seen boiler room, basement, and underground tunnel beneath the palatial Vanderbilt home.
Gourmands are sure to enjoy dinner events at the mansions. For example, the Vintner Dinner at the Rosecliff mansion serves caviar and champagne on the terrace before guests enjoy a three-course dinner with French wines in the ballroom.
At the Mystic Aquarium, several animal encounters are available. An animal care professional assists you with up-close visits to the aquarium’s beluga whales, penguins, and sea lions. Other encounters allow you to hold a canvas up for a beluga or seal, with the animal holding a brush in its mouth to help you create an aquatic masterpiece.
Take to the sky
Helicopter tours in the region can be as short as 12 minutes, but allow you to see the New England coastline from a whole new perspective. Newport Helicopter Tours offers trips such as aerial mansion tours or a flyover of the seasonal WaterFire event in Providence. Heliblock provides helicopter tours of Block Island, with one package offering dinner and a bottle of wine along with round-trip transportation to the island.
Thrill seekers might consider a trip with Chester Charter, which offers flights over the coastline, Connecticut River Valley, or custom trips in a vintage 1941 open cockpit biplane. The Warbird Experience out of Westerly conducts flights in a vintage AT-6 Texan trainer plane, with more expensive packages including 30 minutes of hands-on flying time.
If you don’t mind leaving the comfort of the airplane, consider a first-timer tandem skydive. This exhilarating experience is offered locally by Skydive Danielson and Skydive Newport.
Several hot air balloon companies take off from locations in central Connecticut and the Litchfield Hills, and can often be chartered for special occasions. For example, A Yankee Balloon and Aer Blarney Balloons each offer private charters for couples with champagne provided.
If you’re a fan of bicycling, you can get around on two — or more — wheels to explore your destination. Several companies offer bicycle tours of vineyards on the North Fork of Long Island, with East End Bike Tours providing a variety of options for individual and tandem bikes. The North Fork Wine Wagon uses a pedal-powered cart with seating for up to 15 people to visit wineries on half-day or full-day outings.
Cyclists can explore Martha’s Vineyard for a day by hopping the Seastreak ferry from New Bedford, Mass. or the Vineyard Fast Ferry from North Kingstown, R.I. Both vessels are passenger ferries that can take on bikes, allowing you to check out 44 miles of bike trails that wind through the island before boarding a return ferry at the end of the day.
For a different type of ride, check out Rail Explorers. This company uses pedal-powered vehicles to traverse a disused stretch of railroad track on Aquidneck Island, providing beautiful views of Narragansett Bay. Several specialty events are offered throughout the year, including sunset rides and Saturday brunches with mimosas.
Get out on the water
Seasonally departing from New London, the Mystic Whaler offers sunset cruises with a lobster dinner included. The boat also offers occasional three- to five-day outings for experiences such as Fourth of July fireworks and full moon evenings.
Numerous companies along the Connecticut and Rhode Island coastline offer charter voyages, both public and private. JB Sportfishing of Waterford offers 12-hour offshore expeditions for tuna and shark fishing, as well as overnight trips. Sunbeam Fleet and Petrel Fishing Charters also offer full-day private charters.
Charter sails out of Newport include the Hope San, a restored 1958 yacht offering cruises around Jamestown, Newport, and Narragansett Bay. America’s Cup Charters has a fleet of restored yachts that participated in this iconic competition, and its offerings include a three-hour racing experience.