PORTLAND, Maine- When we first began making plans to vacation in Maine, our search for accommodations started in Old Orchard Beach.

Very quickly, however, I realized that the offerings there were overpriced and lacking any of the name brand properties. It was then that someone from the tourism industry pointed me in the direction of Portland, only 20 minutes away and an excellent base. There were also some excellent hotels to choose from, with the Embassy Suites heading the list.

Portland (www.portlandmaine.com) is Maine’s business, financial and retail capital and the largest city in the state. Seascapes and cityscapes blend harmoniously in Portland, perched on a peninsula, jutting out into island-studded Casco Bay. The metropolitan hub of Maine’s south coast region, Portland is a progressive, lively city incorporating the character of yesteryear into a modern urban environment.

With a metro population of 230,000, the Greater Portland area is home to almost one quarter of Maine’s total population. The city itself has 64,000 residents. In the Old Port, great brick buildings, once warehouses for local merchants, now hold a myriad of original shops, galleries and restaurants.

Portland boasts a thriving arts scene and an exclusive Downtown Arts District. As one of the premier cultural centers in northern New England, Portland’s visual and performing arts rival those of regions much larger in size. Stroll through the world-class Portland Museum of Art, or wander the cobblestone streets in search of local galleries.

I highly recommend you make advanced accommodation reservations, especially, if you plan to visit between mid-June and mid-October. The Embassy Suites Portland, Maine hotel
recently completed phase two of a multi-million dollar renovation, with the construction of all new guest suites, a revitalized lobby/atrium and restaurant.

Centrally located and right next to the Portland Jetport, the Embassy Suites is just four miles from the famed Old Port, where a number of restaurants, shops, bars, and nightclubs provide endless entertainment – and a short drive from factory outlet shopping in Freeport, Maine. Moreover, the hotel is just a few miles from Maine’s beaches (try Crescent Beach) and scenic walking, hiking, and biking destinations. More importantly, it is an easy five minute drive to the beautiful Maine Mall, Border’s Bookstore and known chain restaurants such as Ruby Tuesday’s, IHOP, Friendly’s and even a Tim Horton’s.

All accommodations feature two flat screen televisions, a refrigerator, microwave oven and coffee maker, complimentary wireless high-speed Internet access, two telephones and a comfortable work area with desk While relaxing at the hotel, take advantage of the indoor swimming pool and whirlpool, a state-of-the-art hotel fitness center, a hotel business center, meeting rooms, onsite dining at Café Stroudwater, complimentary parking, a complimentary cooked-to-order breakfast, a nightly hotel manager’s reception and a complimentary shuttle to and from the Portland International Jetport. The hotel is located at 1050 Westbrook Street.

For several years, the Portland Lobster Company (www.portlandlobstercompany.com) has offered the very freshest Maine seafood, live entertainment and the best view in all of Portland. The restaurant was recommended to me and this place was a real surprise, the most unque “lobster” eating experience in my life for sure. When we arrived manager Ethan Morgan explained the procedure. He handed us small menus and pointed towards the specials of the day on a board. Inside you get in line cafeteria style and place your order. Once that is done you are given a larger beeper shaped like a lobster and asked to find a picnic table on the outdoor tented dock overlooking the Portland Harbor in the heart of the Old Port. It was not a long wait. The menu here includes “Maine’s Best Lobster Roll,” lobster dinners, steamers, fried claims and chowder, salads and wraps, appetizers and local desserts.

The lobsters were terrific and nicely cut up, served with fries. They also make a nice caesar salad and crispy fried Maine shrimp. The fried scallops are also highly recommended. Located on the waterfront on bustling Commercial Street, there is usually live music as well. Of course, this is mainly a warm weather destination, opened from May until late November.

Mike Cohen’s email address is [email protected]. Log on to his travel advice column at www.sandboxworld.com/travel