What do Oahu, Majorca, Fiji, and Mount Desert Island have in common? Well, discerning travelers have just ranked them among their favorite islands in Travel + Leisure’s 18th annual poll to identify the “World’s Best.”
This much-anticipated publishing event occurs every August and fuels bucket lists for avid travelers worldwide. It provides rankings not only of destinations, including cities, but also hotels, cruises, and airlines that “define the very best in travel.” Travel + Leisure boasts 4.8 million readers, who were invited to participate in the poll from December 1, 2012, to April 1, 2013.
Mount Desert Island has appeared on every list of Top Islands in the Continental U.S and Canada during the last five years, with the exception of 2011. In 2008 it was also ranked fifth among the Top 10 Islands in the World.
So, how did the Travel + Leisure editors organize their survey to uncover the “World’s Best”? Islands were evaluated on five characteristics: natural attractions/beaches, activities/sights, restaurants/food, people, value. Romance was optional!
Natural Attractions: Where the Mountains Meet the Sea
The natural attractions of Mount Desert Island are so great that Congress protected it as a national park in 1919, the first one east of the Mississippi. Today the park occupies about half of the entire island, which is about the size of Martha’s Vineyard. Within its boundaries, marked by an iconic rocky New England coastline, are 24 mountain peaks, rich boreal forests, glacial lakes, rolling meadows, wetlands, and dramatic rock formations. In 1877 Clara Barnes Martin wrote the first guidebook for Mount Desert Island, describing its unique beauty as “the only neighborhood of mountain and sea on all our Atlantic coast. These cliffs look down not on bay or lake, but upon broad ocean.”
Activities: From Rock Climbing to Curling Up with a Good Book
The national park challenges travelers with an array of activities and sights. From ranger-led lectures to sunset cruises in historic sailing sloops, days can be packed. Travelers usually start with visits to Cadillac Mountain, the tallest mountain on the eastern seaboard, as well as other top sights: the Park Loop Road, Sand Beach, Thunder Hole, Jordan Pond, Eagle Lake, and the Bass Harbor Head Light. But then Acadia quickly lures hikers, bikers, climbers, and kayakers to explore more deeply. A variety of competent guides and outfitters are available to lead the way. Activities also include museums, galleries, local crafts fairs, and many settings just right for curling up with a good book.
Restaurants: Fresh from Maine’s Fishermen and Farmers
Maine is the state of fishermen and farmers. So, it is no surprise that Mount Desert Island delights foodies with fresh, seasonal menus from innovative local chefs. An exciting array of restaurants has cropped up in Mount Desert Island’s villages from Bar Harbor to Otter Creek to Southwest Harbor. In addition, traditional lobster pounds attract everyone to sample steamers, Maine shrimp, chowders of many varieties, lobster rolls, and, of course, steamed lobster. And whether it’s on a fresh white table cloth or knotty old picnic table, everyone has the blueberry pie.
People in DownEast Maine
Maine’s state motto is: “The way life should be.” That means that on a trip to Mount Desert Island you’re going to encounter folks who are genuine, trustworthy, hardworking, and value-oriented. As the joke goes, you know you’re in Maine, if you leave your keys in the car, and the car is still there in the morning. People are also ruthlessly practical. There’s also a joke that you know you’re in Maine when what you expect for Valentine’s is new snow tires. So, anticipate straightforward, calm, good-natured people who aren’t necessarily going to adjust their schedule to yours. And you may discover that the highlight of your trip may well be a visit to the hardware store.
It’s a core value of locals that you need to get the right proportion of quality and quantity of goods and services for the price. And, depending on your own personal value system, Mount Desert Island is there to deliver. Whether you choose to stay in an ocean-side hotel in Bar Harbor or one of the campgrounds operated by the National Park Service, you can enjoy great value. This extends to the island’s restaurants, tours, and shopping. Best of all is the value—in terms of unique visual beauty–visitors receive for their $20 entrance fee to Acadia National Park.
Romance Is Never Optional
In recent years Mount Desert Island has become a popular spot for destination weddings. But sunset cruises and harbor-side dinners don’t have to be reserved exclusively for newlyweds. Especially in autumn the island seems full of hand-holding couples strolling down carriage rounds or exploring the quaint villages. Charming inns beckon visitors to relax on their porches in summertime and read in front of the fire in chillier seasons. Mount Desert Island is an appealing getaway for couples of all ages.