Ok, I admit it. I might have a little bit of #momguilt for riding on a fire truck without my two boys. But when I saw this unique Portland sightseeing tour, I just couldn’t pass it up!
This post was written by family travel expert Marcie Cheung and contains affiliate links, which means if you purchase something from one of my affiliate links, I may earn a small commission that goes back into maintaining this blog.
If you are a regular reader of my blog, you know I’m all about activities with a special element you can’t find everywhere. And that includes the Portland Maine Cruise.
The one that jumped right out at me was this Portland Fire Tour! I found it on Viator and was all ready to book when I was invited to join the tour as part of the Women in Travel Summit. Score!
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A Unique Portland Sightseeing Tour Aboard a Vintage Fire Truck
The tour started out with everyone meeting at the retrofitted 1971 fire engine. Many of us took selfies in front of the fire truck before climbing aboard and picking a seat.
The truck has a canopy to shield some rain and sunlight, but it’s mostly an open-air vehicle.
There were benches around the truck’s sides, and our tour guide, Glenn, sat at the front, where he had a headset and a large screen.
Our driver, Pete, sat at the steering wheel and would hop out at some of the stops to say hi!
The day we took this Portland sightseeing tour, it was so cold, and there was a bit of rain.
So, when Glenn asked if any of us would like to wear a firefighter jacket for the duration of the tour, we jumped at the opportunity to put on another layer!
He also passed out some fireball candy to help warm us up, and then we hit the road!
Since it’s located in the middle of Casco Bay and we were far away, Glenn pulled up a video so we could all see what the fort looked like up close.
Even though Fort Gorges was built for the Civil War, it was never used as a real fort because it took too long to build.
What I thought was especially cool is that the video showed us angles we wouldn’t be able to see in person, like what it looks like from a bird’s eye view!
Another stop on this Portland sightseeing tour was the Portland Observatory.
Now, a lot of people think this is some lighthouse. That’s why you need to go on the tour!
The Portland Observatory is actually a signal tower and was immensely important.
When ships came into port, people at the Portland Observatory would raise flags so the workers knew which ships were arriving and could rush down to the docks to unload.
This saved time and money and was an efficient system.
When we were there in early May, the Portland Observatory wasn’t open to the public.
But, if you visit from the end of May to the middle of October, be sure to set aside some time to go inside and learn all about it.
We also drove through Portland’s Arts District. It’s a lot larger than I expected.
This is where you’ll find the Portland Museum of Art, Children’s Museum and Theatre of Maine, Museum of African Culture, Portland Stage Company, and more.
We saw a lot of art galleries, ethnic restaurants, and music venues.
But, it also has a ton of historic buildings, like the Wadsworth-Longfellow House, Portland High School (the oldest standing high school in the country,) and the First Parish Church (which has an original Revolutionary War cannonball as their chandelier.)
It’s a cool and eclectic part of Portland, Maine!
Insider tip: We stayed at the Holiday Inn by the Bay, across the street from the Portland Museum of Art and the rest of the Arts District.
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HENRY WADSWORTH LONGFELLOW STATUE
Even if you aren’t a big poetry fan, it’s cool to see what a big deal Henry Wadsworth Longfellow is in Portland.
That’s where he was born and became one of America’s most famous poets.
There’s even a statue dedicated to him.
What makes this statue special is that school kids raised the money to erect this statue. They collected pennies, nickels, and dimes with help from members of the Longfellow Statue Association.
Their names are in a sealed container in the pedestal’s base.
I’m always interested in seeing historic mansions when I’m traveling. I think it’s because my first job was in a historic home.
While Portland, Maine, has many beautiful homes, this one takes the cake!
Victoria Mansion was owned by a hotelier who built a big mansion with just two bedrooms so no one would stay with him!
Isn’t that brilliant?
It was built in the mid-1800s and was one of the first homes to have hot and cold running water, flush toilets, central heating, wall-to-wall carpeting, and even a 25-foot-long stained glass skylight!
While there isn’t time to stop and explore it on this tour, you can come back and check it out on your own.
We also saw colorful row houses of Stratton Place in Portland’s West End neighborhood, just across the street from Victoria Mansion.
The row houses were built in the 1840s, and a nice grassy field is right in front.
The West End is also where you’ll find the Portland Fire Museum, which has its own tour.
That was basically the end of our tour! Glenn gave a few general travel tips for the area and talked about some of his favorite places to eat.
I left the tour feeling like I had a solid overview of the city and knew where I wanted to return later in my trip to explore further.
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What You Need to Know about this Portland Sightseeing Tour:
HOW MANY WILL FIT?
The Portland Fire Engine tour can accommodate 13 people per ride.
IS IT HARD TO CLIMB UP?
Nope! There’s a little ladder with five steps with large handrails attached. It’s easy to get up and down.
HOW TO GET TICKETS FOR THIS PORTLAND SIGHTSEEING TOUR:
If this 50-minute, narrated Portland sightseeing tour on a real fire truck sounds like a good fit for you and your family, I’d suggest getting tickets ahead of time.
Tickets are just $27; you can buy your Portland Fire Tour tickets here.
Your tour will start and end at 180 Commercial St. They board in front of the Portland Lobster Co. Restaurant.
WHERE TO PARK
Downtown Portland can be a tricky place to find parking. Make sure to leave extra early so you don’t feel rushed.
There is 2-hour metered parking available, or you can find a local parking garage.
WHAT TO WEAR FOR THIS PORTLAND SIGHTSEEING TOUR
No matter what time of the year you go, it will be windy. That’s just the nature of being on a peninsula and driving on hills.
So, I’d definitely wear a few layers and make sure your outer layer is wind-resistant.
Unlike many tours in Portland, Maine, this one has authentic firefighter jackets you can wear during the tour, and they shield the wind and chill very well!
CAN I BRING A STROLLER?
They have storage on the fire engine for strollers and belongings. This is awesome for families with babies who want to stroll around before or after the tour.
IS IT KID-FRIENDLY?
Completely! I mean, what kid doesn’t want an excuse to ride on a fire truck?
This Portland sightseeing tour is shorter than the trolley tour, which makes it even better for families with young children.
The guides are very professional and don’t say anything little ears shouldn’t hear.
ARE THERE PHOTO OPS?
OMG yes! There are tons of photo ops with fire helmets and decommissioned coats and they will take your photo on and in front of the fire truck.
Plus, they let you wear the coats during the tour, so you can get cute photos of your friends and family.
And the truck pulled over a few times at some of the stops so we could stand up in the truck and take photos of the attractions.
If you go:
BEST PLACES TO STAY IN PORTLAND, MAINE
For a Portland boutique hotel and spa, The Francis is a quaint 15-room inn.
They have family rooms and suites available, free parking, and they have a restaurant and bar on the property.
For Portland’s only AAA rated 4 diamond hotel in Old Port, check out the Portland Harbor Hotel.
They have 24-hour room service, valet, spa, restaurant, and an Instagram-worthy lobby!
If you are looking for a Portland, Maine vacation rental, this one is in the heart of Old Port.
It can sleep up to 6 people and is great for families with little kids. Easy walk to restaurants, attractions, and activities.
WHAT TO BRING ON THIS UNIQUE PORTLAND SIGHTSEEING TOUR
You’ll definitely want to have a camera because this tour showcases the city of Portland well. Plus, you’ll want to take advantage of all the photo ops!
If you want to use your cell phone for video, I highly recommend a gimbal to help stabilize your phone during the bumpy parts of the ride.
The wind is no joke!
Because this is an open-air tour vehicle, it will be cooler on board than if you were inside a tour bus.
But this tour also goes to some spots that are extra windy!
In case you were wondering, yes, gratuities are appreciated.
When I was there, they had a little rubber boot where you could put cash tips. Super cute!
OTHER THINGS TO DO IN PORTLAND, MAINE
Have you ever wanted to learn how to catch lobsters? Hop aboard this fun, hands-on boat ride into Casco Bay, where you’ll learn the ins and outs of lobster fishing.
Plus, you’ll get to wear a real apron and gloves. And they have little lobster pants for kids!
Reserve your Lucky Catch ticket here.
You can’t come to Portland, Maine, and not try the food! And it’s so much more than lobster rolls!
Maine Foodie Tours offers several different walking tours featuring some of the many incredible restaurants all over Portland. Bring your appetite!
Reserve your Maine Foodie Tour ticket here.
Want to see the most photographed lighthouse in Maine? Take a ride inside an air-conditioned van as you explore Portland’s famous lighthouses.
And you’ll also get a brief city tour. They have water and umbrellas available.
Reserve your Portland Explorer Tour tickets here.
Looking for other cool places or things to do in the Pacific Northwest? Check out Incredible Pacific Northwest Family Vacation Spots, Portland with Toddlers, Waterways Cruises, and other Affordable Spring Break Trips for Families!