providence-placeAfter having been cooped up in the magic bus for a chunk of time we opted to stretch our legs and hike it over to the local mall for some dinner and a little sightseeing along the way.  As it turned out, only blocks away, is not only Brown University but also the state capital and an enormous mall. In a town that is becoming known more and more for its good restaurants, we decided to have our first dinner in Rhode Island at the Providence Place Mall.

Being a self-proclaimed and, in some company, respected foodie, I usually opt for a restaurant with local flair to help me get a beat on the city.   Local restaurants can tell you a lot about what’s going on in the city you’re visiting.  They can reflect the ethnicity of the neighborhood or simply showcase fresh local foods.  I’m always excited to visit a new town and eat at a new restaurant.  It may be the former food critic in me or just the person who appreciates how simple ingredients can be transformed into the sublime through the talent of a skilled chef.  It was with these thoughts in mind that I spotted an ideal choice for dinner on our walk to the mall.  It showcased locally grown, seasonal produce that was incorporated into an exciting menu.  I sadly realized that its local flavors and charm would be lost on my current company.  Still, I stopped, looked in the window at the menu, sighed and continued on my way to our dinner at the local Cheesecake Factory.  

Dinner was mostly what I expected.  We arrived and put our name on a wait list and were called quickly to a table.  I nervously abandoned my stroller downstairs in the lobby and walked up with my son, mother and daughter to our table.  My son happily sat in a high-chair while my daughter sat across from him and next to my mother.  My son proceeded to sing at the top of his lungs as if trying to be heard above the din.  We ordered and the waiter brought over a complimentary plate of food for the baby that consisted of sliced bananas and small slices of bread.  It’s a nice touch for those people with hungry little ones who can’t wait for their order to arrive.  I proceeded to mash up some bananas and fed them to my hungry, happy boy.  (For those of you with a weak stomach, you may wish to skip this part.)  My son gobbled up nearly all of the bananas and then gagged on the last small chunk which promptly brought up the entire contents of his tiny tummy all over our table.  What mother isn’t used to cleaning up a little spit-up or barf every once in a while?  So completely unfazed, I began the clean-up and then realized that I should probably check out our nearby diners.  The stench of vomit was fresh at our table but the diners in our immediate area had already finished eating.  I was silently grateful.  Non-baby people can get pretty uptight about dining in proximity to a small child as I’m sure most parents have experienced at one time or another.  I know that this can be particularly true of dining in finer establishments.  Not only are people beginning to demand baby or child sections on airplanes but these same people are also trying to cordon off areas in restaurants for families.  I was fortunate to be in good and forgiving company here.  No one even looked our way to see what the ruckus was about.  My son could sing with wild abandon and we laughed and talked about how gross his binge and purge episode was managed to continue our dinner.

The next morning left us a little tired.  One of the draws of this particular neighborhood is the arts district.  Either a concert or show had gotten out very late and awakened my mother and me with people shouting and loud music blaring from car radios.  Our room was on the street side and offered a lovely view of the church across the street. Of course this is not so lovely if a concert or show gets out late and you have sleeping children in the room.  I was thankful that the honking, hollering and loud music didn’t wake up the kids but it did keep me and my new bedmate up.  My mother couldn’t help but get up and peer out the curtains at the scene below.  Then there was the smoke.  We smelled some late night cigarettes in our room.  Since none of us smoked we knew that someone in another nearby room or in the hall was clearly smoking cigarettes.  Both my mother and I are rabid non-smokers, so we were extremely sensitive and ticked off about it.  My mother took the initiative, got up and stuffed one of those nice fluffy towels from the bathroom into the door crack on the floor.  Problem solved.  After an hour or so we did manage to get some rest on a great mattress.  

Pools rule but a good zoo will do.

After a quick in-room breakfast we checked-in with the local weather only to discover that this was to be one of the hottest days Rhode Island had seen all year.  The newscasters warned elderly people and those with heart conditions as well as small children to stay inside in air-conditioning and avoid outdoor activities.  My mother falls into both of those categories and I was traveling with my children.  Great, now where is the DVD player and hotel pool when I need it!  I thought maybe we could go out and see the town of Newport.  With it being on the coast I knew it would be cooler there.  Then I saw in the paper that President Bush had decided to visit the tall ships of Newport that day.  I was at a loss; no pool to entertain the kids, no way of seeing the tall ships with the President in town and a motorcade blocking all the streets.  What to do?  I meandered down to the concierge to ask for help.  He assured me that the kids loved both the Roger Williams Zoo and the Children’s Museum.  He also suggested the Mystic Aquarium back in my home state of Connecticut.  Since we’ve been there and done that, we risked heat stroke and headed off to the zoo.   

The helpful gentleman at the concierge desk steered us in the right direction.  There was shade for us to escape the heat and my daughter thought it was a very cool zoo.  My son enjoyed watching the people more than the animals and my mother stayed cool enough.  Disaster averted.  I’m sure that the Children’s Museum was nice as well but we were fried after being outside in the heat.  We managed to get back to the hotel without melting or meltdowns, packed it up and headed on our way back home.   

All-in-all I can say that The Hotel Providence is a great hotel, ideally located with a phenomenal restaurant.  It is not what I would consider kid-friendly as there is nothing for them to do within the hotel.  It would be better suited to tweens and teens as there is great history all around which would make for a great walking tour.  I would definitely recommend staying here if you were checking out Brown University, the Rhode Island School of Design or Johnson and Wales University as a college option for your child.  I would definitely stay here if my children grow up and go to school here but for now with little ones in tow I’ll have to keep looking.

Patty McCormick is a food & travel writer and mother of two who always packs her own kitchen knives for vacation.