MontaukFor spring break vacation this year we’d thought, probably like many others, that in light of the economy (and our lack of planning) we’d make it a staycation to remember. But for those willing to take a chance, there were some luxury bargain vacations to be had.

A mid-week Internet search lead to a potential deal in the Hamptons–Montauk, specifically. We know some people that “summer in the Hamptons,” but we’ve never done so. Now here was a last-minute opportunity to “spring in the Hamptons,” at $109-dollars a night for four people combined.

Yacht Clubbing

montauk-verandaThe place we’d be staying was The Montauk Yacht Club–named one of the Top Ten Marina Destinations in North America, Mexico, Bahamas, and the Caribbean by Yachting Magazine according to their website. I’ve never been yachting, but it sounded pretty swanky, so we decided to adopt a swanky attitude and book the room. After a two-and-a-half hour drive from New York City, a Starbucks pit stop and a chowder stop, we checked in on Wednesday with my daughter and a friend, as well as her “Flat Melissa,” in tow (part of her vacation homework).

Some online reviews had mentioned the rooms had been “recently remodeled,” and described the hotel as a once-Montauk gem. Our room had a small veranda off the back only steps away from the water. “Awesome,” was how our 7-year-olds described it, and I found “Flat Melissa” happily posing for portraits on the outdoor chaises. A small beach was right outside the reception area, although it was too cold to actually swim outside. Luckily, the indoor pool was open. One reviewer had said he wouldn’t allow his kids to swim in the pool there, but with a day of rain coming our way, that pool was a potential lifesaver. And evidently, the reviewer had never swum at our local YMCA pool. There wasn’t a band-aid floating anywhere in sight.

Montauk Point Lighthouse

montauk lighthouseWith some less-than desirable weather arriving, we looked for things to do no matter rain or shine. One of the first things we found was the Montauk Point Lighthouse. The Lighthouse is located at the very eastern end of Long Island.

A large sign announces it was commissioned by President George Washington and completed in 1796. It’s the first lighthouse built in New York State, and the fourth oldest lighthouse still active in the United States. But most importantly it provided a few key things our kids loved: 138 narrow, winding, steps to climb upward before reaching the top and watching a hail and rainstorm move in, and 138 narrow, winding steps to walk down before exploring the museum rooms at the base.

Once we made it back down, we learned it’s believed the “Spirit of Abigail” inhabits the lighthouse. We scored big points being able to tell a real-life ghost tale to kids who were starting to challenge us over how much history we were trying to get them to learn while on vacation. And as the lore goes, after her ship crashed on the rocks below, Abigail was able to climb to the top of the hill, but she only survived as far as the lighthouse. Now Abigail’s spirit “roams the tower” and will forevermore.

The Oldest Ranch

ranchA waitress had recommended we check out the miniature horses at a nearby farm, and as soon as the girls heard that, we were on our way. As it turned out, there were no “miniature horses,” but there was a small pony. And, we’d found it at the Deep Hollow Ranch-the oldest cattle ranch in the U.S established in 1658.

In addition to letting our girls pet some of the 48 horses currently on the ranch, we also let them take their first horseback trail ride. A ranch hand, Alicia, and the two of them rode for 30-minutes across the rolling hills of the estate. Following the ride, both girls decided they wanted to move out of the city to build, and then live on, their own horse dude ranches. My daughter offered up her father to build one for her, but her friend reminded her that by the time the work was done her father would “be a really old man.”

Which Way to the Beach

Montauk provided a harbor with marinas, charter and commercial fishing boats and boat rentals in addition to beaches that are rated among the best in the country with cliffs and rocks to climb and explore. We explored State Parks and trails that allowed us to see not only beautiful ocean views, but also old war bunkers and a view of Andy Warhol’s former estate. If we’d been there during swim season, Gin Beach is the choice for families as it has a roped-in swim area and a surf that’s typically calmer.

A Moment of Celebrity

We had breakfast at John’s Pancake House, not to be mixed up with Anthony’s pancake house across the street. (Anthony’s is also popular. We just didn’t make it there.) John’s is Montauk’s original pancake house, and in addition to waffles and crepes, they offer 17 varieties of pancakes. Because it was off-season, there were no lines for tables. For the girls, it was chocolate chip pancakes both days. Vacation life is good for 7-year-olds in Montauk, no question.

seinfeldWe had a unique celebrity sighting at John’s. Behind the counter was an unusual picture of comedian Jerry Seinfeld. It was not your average autographed fare; rather it was cut and mounted in a specialty frame. When I asked the waitress about it, she said Seinfeld was a regular at John’s—that he’d sat in the very chair I was sitting in.

Why the special picture I inquired? Her response, “We asked him for an autographed photo but he wouldn’t give us one. Don’t get me wrong, he’s a very nice and funny man, but he says he doesn’t drive around with photos to autograph. We asked him a few times but he always said no. So, the owner put him in a block of wood.” And there it was. An answer worthy of a sub-plot line in an old Seinfeld episode. And there he sits behind that counter. The waitress added that his wife appeared mortified the first time they saw it there. Jerry reportedly got a good laugh out of it.

If we’d had the time, we also could have golfed, biked, played tennis, and more. The Montauk Chamber of Commerce has plenty of information on these activities in the village. But by Friday night, the hotel was fully booked, the prices were on the rise and we had to head back to the city. Our bargain luxury vacation had come to a close, but there’s no telling what you may find for yourself if you search in your area and are willing to travel in the middle of the week in the off-season.