Rhode Island Breaks the Mold

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Rose Island House in Newport. (Photo credit: Discover Newport.)
Rose Island House in Newport. (Photo credit: Discover Newport.)

Rhode Island—the smallest state in the U.S.—seems to constantly break the mold: it was one of the first original colonies; one of thirteen colonies to declare independence from British rule; and now one of the first states to perform same-sex marriages. But that’s not all that’s going on in the “The Ocean State”—there’s plenty of culture, historical mansions, quaint new boutique hotels, fall festivals, and a vast foodie scene, too.

“Travel agents provide the human perspective that an Internet site never will. They can interact with a traveler and give him or her exactly the type of information they are looking for. And when they are travel agents who know Rhode Island well, they furnish the traveler with crucial tips and information that can make all the difference,” says Mark Brodeur, director of the Rhode Island Division of Tourism.

Here’s what you need to know about Rhode Island, from its LGBT scene to its fall happenings.

ame-sex marriage at the Providence Biltmore Hotel. (Photo credit:  Sam Henry Photography.)
Same-sex marriage at the Providence Biltmore Hotel. (Photo credit: Sam Henry Photography.)

LGBT Weddings
As the 10th state in the U.S. to perform same-sex marriages, Rhode Island has become a wedding destination for LGBT couples. Classic yachts, beach ceremonies, and romantic inns add to the allure of an LGBT Rhode Island wedding. In Providence, couples can enlist the official “glambassador,” Haley Star, to officiate at weddings. According to Brodeur, “a ‘glambassador’ is a fabulous and vocal representative of the LGBT community. His or her job is to bring awareness, education and entertainment to members of the community as a whole. And to do so while fabulously attired!”

Providence, considered to have one of the most vibrant and lively LGBT nightlife scenes, has also been rated No.3 “Best Foodie Destination in the Country” by Travel + Leisure magazine; and in Newport, historic streets are lined with many LGBT-owned B&B accommodations and restaurants.

Rhode Island offers wedding locales fit for any budget or wedding style, from mirrored ballrooms in one of Newport’s mansions to a picturesque garden overlooking the ocean—the possibilities are endless. “Hotels and event spaces across the state are delighted to welcome LGBT weddings and events,” says Brodeur.

Built in 1902, Rosecliff, located in Newport, is a mansion modeled after the Grand Trianon in Versailles featuring one of the largest ballrooms in Newport—with a quaint heart-shaped staircase. Also in Newport, the 100-year-old The Inn at Castle Hill, is located on its own 400-acre peninsula offering ceremonies in its Chalet lawn overlooking Narragansett Bay. Over in Providence, couples in search of a more urban wedding can check out The Dorrance offering a grand space and high ceilings with ornate detailing fit for celebrations of more than 300 guests.

Navigating Rhode Island
Only a 2-hour drive from the NYC-tristate area, Rhode Island offers an ideal weekend getaway for family and friends—and speaking of traveling to Rhode Island, train travel is a romantic and scenic option. Amtrak services Rhode Island via two routes—the high-speed Acela traveling daily between Boston, New Haven, New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Washington D.C., and the Northeast Regional, which includes routes to major cities, as well as smaller stations in Kingston and to the beaches in Newport.

After arriving in Rhode Island, the local transit system offers trolly and bus routes that makes maneuvering throughout the state quite simple. The local transit hub is located in Kennedy Plaza, in the center of downtown Providence, and only a five-minute walk from the train station. If choosing to visit Newport, travelers can hop on a bus that runs between Providence, Kennedy Plaza, and Newport’s Gateway Center, leaving every 30 minutes. There is also a trolly and bus service to attractions throughout Newport including the area’s mansions, beaches, Cliff Walk, Fort Adams, Downtown Newport, the Gateway Center, and more. Riders can buy a day pass or pay the driver as they go.

WaterFire event takes place in Providence this fall. (Photo credit: Sam Henry Photography.)
WaterFire event takes place in Providence this fall. (Photo credit: Sam Henry Photography.)

Rhode Island in the Fall
For clients looking to get away for an after-summer vacation, the state’s fall events make visiting at this time of year perfect for the whole family. “There’s just so much to do in such a small space. We feature top-notch arts—from the RISD Museum to Trinity Rep, to the stunning WaterFire, some of the nation’s best food and drink, from burgers to pasta to craft cocktails, and a wealth of historically and architecturally-significant sites—the Newport Mansions, Benefit Street, and so on. Place all of that alongside stunning natural beauty and a cosmopolitan feel, and you’re got a winning destination,” says Brodeur.

WaterFireheld in Providence on Sept. 27 and Oct. 11 & 25, is an artistic installation featuring braziers placed along the middle of the Providence River that are set aflame. The event also highlights live music, artistic performers, and food vendors. Brodeur says it’s a must-do activity. “Take in a WaterFire. It’s unique to Rhode Island and is truly a sensual experience. You see it, hear it, smell it, even taste it. It has truly set our city apart.”

The annual Jack O Lantern Spectacular takes place at Roger Williams Park Zoo from Oct. 2 to Nov. 2 showcasing 5,000 artistically carved pumpkins, in all shapes and themes, set along the pathways throughout the zoo. Newport’s International October Fest, held Oct. 11-12, is filled with yodeling and folk dance performances; a kid-friendly kindergarten area; and flavorful cuisine held along the waterfront at the Newport Yachting Center. Other activities coming up include Bowen’s Wharf Seafood Festival (Oct. 18-19), and Blackstone Valley Fall Foliage Tour (Oct. 22)—a day-long train excursion to Putnam, Connecticut for antique shopping and dining.

The King Suite at The Dean.
The King Suite at The Dean.

New Hotels in Rhode Island
The Urban Beach House at The Attwater in Newport is a boutique hotel with a chic and modern edge that’s unusual for historic Newport. The rooms feature outdoor style showers, in-room iPads featuring local attractions; and an Apple TV. The property offers guests beach bags and chairs, and a sand lounge gathering spot in the front yard of the property. Rates start at $159 a night. For more information, call (401) 846-7444 or visit theattwater.com.

The Dean, in Providence, once a former brothel, but now a boutique hotel, features 52 rooms with a Brooklyn-style vibe. Guestrooms offer bunk beds (book The Kin and The Classmates room for groups) and a local aesthetic with many of the furnishings and accessories crafted by local artists. Rates start at $89 per night. For more information, call (401) 455-3326 or visit thedeanhotel.com.

For more information about Rhode Island, visit visitrhodeisland.com. For related stories check out, Rhode Island Wineries and Riveting Rhode Island, from our March issue.