November 25, 2017
My son Christian and his wife Liz invited us to their home in Connecticut for Thanksgiving. We are very grateful. But – you know there’s always a but – the ride up is usually a hellish nightmare of traffic – the Merritt Parkway or Interstate 95 – both are disasters for traffic. Not this time. Chris suggested a new way for us to make the trip. We would turn the ride into a mini vacation. Travel from South Jersey to Long Island, take the north fork, which we have never done, all the way to Orient Point, where you find the Cross Sound Ferry for the 80 minute trip to New London, Connecticut.
The first thing I did was make sure the ferry would take recreational vehicles – it does. It’s pretty crazy that this ferry holds about 76 cars, trucks, and/or RVs and trailers.
Are there RV parks close to the ferry? Check – there are. But alas, the two parks closest to the ferry were closed for the season – as was just about everything else. But when you’re handed a lemon, you make lemonade – right? So I’ll tell you a little bit about our trip, as well as info about the campgrounds (that we didn’t stay in).
It was a beautiful day for a long drive – not a cloud in the sunny, pale blue sky. Long Island is a sprawling suburb, with a dizzying array of shopping centers and strip malls. Once we arrived at the point where Long Island splits into the north and south forks, it’s a different world. For those of you who are used to the lifestyles of the rich and famous, think Martha Stewart, Jimmy Buffett, and Steven Spielberg, living on the south fork. On the north fork, think farms and vineyards.
The first place we stopped was a little town called Mattituck. It is a sweet little town with an awesome main street. All of the shops are one-of-a-kind, special and creative – no big names – which I particularly like. We stopped in The Village Cheese Shop, a tiny little place with a huge waiting line, and amazing cheeses from all over the world. Though the line was long, each customer received the cheese monger’s full attention. Suggestions and tastings were the order of the day. We walked away with a bag full of wonderful tastes and aromas.
The South Fork is home to the sandy beaches of the Hamptons. It’s also home to three of the island’s wineries. That number probably won’t increase anytime soon; land there costs $500,000 an acre, compared with $30,000 an acre on the North Fork, home to more than 33 wineries. Choosing a winery for a tasting was an easy choice, because we wanted something festive for the holiday. Sparkling Pointe Vineyards and Winery was the answer. Sparkling Pointe encompasses 40 acres of vineyards planted only with the classic Champagne grape varietals—Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier, and Chardonnay. Using strictly the traditional Méthode Champenoise process, Sparkling Pointe is the only winery on the North Fork to produce exclusively sparkling wines. Ready for a little lesson? As the holidays move in, we’ll hear plenty of corks popping, as bottles of sparkling wine and champagne are opened to celebrate the season. What’s the difference between “Sparkling Wine” and “Champagne”? The easy answer is that sparkling wine can only be called Champagne if it comes from the Champagne region of France, and is made with Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier grapes (Sparkling Point’s got that covered). To clarify, all champagne is sparkling wine, but not all sparkling wine is champagne. Think of Champagne in terms of a geographical place as opposed to a winemaking style.
The Sparkling Pointe tasting experience is pretty spectacular. We were seated in front of a blazing fireplace, on a black velvet couch. Each of the four tastings was delivered to us in clean, fresh glasses. The tasting was a bit spendy, but if you buy a two or more bottles, the $20 tasting fee is subtracted from the total. Sparkling Pointe is one of the few wineries where you can sit, relax, and enjoy table service inside the elegant Tasting House, VIP Bubble Room Lounge, or outside on the Terrace and great lawn overlooking exquisite views of the vineyard. The large crystal chandeliers are lovely. Of course, we walked away with a few delightful bottles of bubbly.
We then found our way to our hotel, Harborfront Inn at Greenpoint.
After checking in, we ate dinner at the Front Street Station, which was directly across the street from our hotel.
We just had burgers, but they were admittedly delish! There are many wonderful restaurants with fresh oysters and the like, but not in November. Unfortunately, they are all closed – just like ,well, most everything. Even the ice cream shop was closed. A word to the wise, if you really want to experience this little slice of heaven, it’s best to go in season when everything is open (and the prices are sky high). The room was pretty spacious, complete with a balcony, although the view was limited. I guess the rooms with total water view were a bit (read a lot) more expensive. Our view also included the carousel, which we later found to be the Jess Owen Carousel. It is 100 years old, and was a gift from the Grumman Aircraft Corporation. Why does an Aircraft Corp. have a carousel? “Northrop Grumman has cloaked its carousel in a mantle of mystery befitting a military secret”. Why? It is said that children would be offered rides during company picnics. Doesn’t sound like a mystery to me, but what do I know. When Grumman was decommissioned, Greenport lobbied for and received the carousel, as a part of a revitalization project for it’s downtown.
There are two campgrounds on the north arm, close to the ferry. Eastern Long Island Campground, and McCann Campgrounds.
They were both closed for the season, and that’s why we stayed in a hotel. However, they both were a bit rustic (read rundown) looking. Maybe in season they’re freshly painted and more welcoming. Checkout the campground reviews, where I’ve provided what little information I was able to gather. if you want to visit this area, camping is certainly a less expensive alternative to a hotel room.
We woke up the next morning and checked out Orient Beach Park. It was very pretty, and very cool to be at the easternmost point of the island, right on the ocean. As an aside, the ocean here tends to be of a lighter shade, reminiscent of the Carolinas. Of course you know most towns on Long Island are accessible to water. There are marinas everywhere. I’m sure it’s a beautiful sight in summer. Unfortunately, this was one boat we caught sight of on the way to the beach, and wow, was it picked clean!
It was time to drive to Orient Point and the Cross Sound Ferry. When we arrived at the ferry dock we found quite a long line of cars waiting to get on. It was interesting to watch the loading of the cars, trucks, and trailers. It’s kind of crazy that this ferry holds about 76 vehicles, on two levels.
Mind you, this is no ordinary ferry ride. I mean the boat itself was just an old clunker, but the amenities were very “Long Island’. For example, there was an enclosed lounge with a bar.
A cafeteria sold food, but not a hot dog to be found. The soups were butternut squash with apple, and clam chowder. Paninis and wraps of all kinds were available, as well as a few flavors of cappucino. Although it rained for most of the crossing, the water and ship remained smooth and stable. We disembarked in New London, Connecticut, with only a one hour drive to my son’s home. Wait people – is that Foxwoods Casino ???
If you’ve been following along on my posts, you know I can’t resist a casino. So we made a pit stop and offered what I like to call a “contribution”. As we entered, I was surprised they had a security person checking purses for guns and knives before you entered the casino. I’ve never seen that before – have you?
About an hour later we arrived at Christian and Elizabeth’s home. Thanksgiving was a traditional and delicious day and meal, spent with family and friends. It was a beautiful holiday and unplanned mini vacation. It’s the only way to go…. If we ever go again, we would go in spring or summer to take advantage of all that Long Island has to offer.
We may be headed south and west right after the Christmas holiday. We’re not true friends of winter, and will probably plan an escape. Stay tuned to find out where the cold weather and Casita, take us.