We faced new budget challenges in New Hampshire.
Occasionally in the shadow of its neighbors, Boston and Portland, Portsmouth had been described to me as a city with an actual working port, not just a waterfront attraction. A city where the shoulder season moves at a slow, leisurely pace. A city with loyal fans but also one that plenty of people haven't even heard of.
I was immediately drawn to this combination of seaside town, working city, and slowly emerging tourist magnet. I knew I would love Portsmouth - but would my budget? And could the $200 Challenge possible succeed in pricey New England?
There are some travel stories that read like urban legends, like business class tickets that cost less than an economy seat. But when it comes to the tall tale of getting a suite for less than the cost of a regular hotel room, I'm here to say that the rumors are true! Yes, we had a suite on a $200 Challenge!
Alright, it wasn't a TRUE suite - it was just a larger room divided into different sections. But it was a heck of a lot better than one basic room and we really appreciated having the extra space to stretch out and relax.
Detracting from all these positive points was the lackluster breakfast. There was a real lack of "real" food. The white bread was spongy and would clearly never mold or decompose. The yogurt was stripped of fat, sugar, fruit, and, well, anything yogurt-y at all. In lieu of actual cream there was brand name creamer. The juice was a juice-beverage. It. Was. Awful.
In fairness to the Microtel, it wasn't so much that their particular breakfast was so bad - it's more that we've had far too many inadequate budget hotel breakfasts and our cumulative frustration was keenly felt. It's time for all budget hotels to raise their standards!
Cost $137 for two nights, including "breakfast".
Lunch #1: Brewery brouhaha
Our research told us the brewery offered daily tours at 3:00 pm and their lower-level sister property, Lapanza Lounge, had a $1 daily PM special. Yep, you read that right! $1 cheesy fries, $1 tacos, and more. The combination of craft beer samples and ultra discounted appetizers was absolutely irresistible and we knew it would work into our budget perfectly - with some money leftover for some extra drinks in between!
We did stay for a round of drinks (incidentally, extremely hoppy, when we had specifically asked for something that wasn't hoppy) and a hot black bean nacho dip which was delicious. Our snack was tasty but the whole experience just left us with a bad taste in our mouth.
We recommend future visitors consider skipping this stop and instead check out Poco’s Bow Street Cantina for great Mexican food and the Spring Hill Tavern (below the Dolphin Striker) for free nightly live music.
Lunch #2: Our love for Oliver
Another great choice if you can't make it to Me & Ollie's is The Works Bakery Cafe. All day scrambled eggs-on-bagel sandwiches are about $3 (deal!) Other sandwiches are $7-$8.
Cost: About $15 (including drinks)
Dinner #1: Pizza by the pound
But why on earth were we in Ogunquit instead of Portsmouth? Staying in York, we were beautifully positioned to explore the entire area and a wonderful day of driving down the coast and exploring the beaches tempted us the charming Maine town of Oqunquit, which was previously the scene of my epic lobster roll crawl the year previous.
Cost: $40 (including drinks, of course!)
Dinner #2: Another brewery brouhaha
We had planned our entire trip - to Lake Placid, then Providence, then Portsmouth - around being at the Smuttynose Brewery to take advantage of their Monday menu, the tour, and the happy hour. We had grand plans to sample tons of beer before heading to the restaurant to split some appetizers and a bargain table d'hote for dinner.
Of course, when we arrived at the brewery at the appointed time, once again a staff member looked at us like we had three heads when we asked about the tour. She eventually shrugged and said that they didn't offer tours in their low season. And then, like a light bulb suddenly popping to life, she said that a lot of people showed up looking for the tour, as the brewery hadn't updated their website. No kidding! (A quick look through six months of their multiple social media channels didn't indicate that any public announcement of high season/low season tours had ever been made).
By this point, we had reached our limit of frustration with the team behind the Portsmouth and Smuttynose Breweries. There's absolutely no excuse for any company with a modern website and multiple social media channels not to have them updated, nor for staff to act so dismissively and rudely when customers show up for a regularly scheduled event that they failed to publicly cancel. We had zero interest in hanging around for happy hour, nor for spending our hard earned money at their restaurant, and we quickly came up with Plan B.
Cost: $50 (YIKES!)
Coffee, coffee, and more coffee.
But all that caffeine definitely adds up. And it doesn't hurt that I always order the most expensive concoction on the menu. Oh dear.
Explore the seashore.
I highly recommend loading up on lattes from the aforementioned coffee shops and heading out to see the beautiful oceanfront roads around the city.
Explore the towns of coastal Maine
Wander downtown Portsmouth
Unfortunately, during our trip to Portsmouth, it was still the low season so the museum was only open for special events but it is considered an absolute must-do during late spring, summer, and early fall. (Pro tip: Look for coupons for the museum and other Portsmouth attractions and shops in the handy tourist map that you can pick up at the bookstores, many restaurants, and visitors' bureau.)
Just a short walk down from the Flower Kiosk is the Portsmouth Harbor. It's a beautifully scenic spot for photos and along the way you'll pass more great shops and lots of tempting restaurants.
So how did we do?
We did have a good plan in place for free and happy-hour priced beer and appetizers-as-meals, as well as free entertainment and tours, but it all fell through due to the breweries we selected. But while I am reluctant to give them a second try (based on the lax attitude of the staff), I would still seek out other breweries in the area and use brewery visits as a key component of future $200 Challenges.
Other $200 Challenges include....