Just 7 miles off the Massachusetts coast, the island of Martha's Vineyard may be known as an enclave of the nation's elite (the Clintons and Obamas have summered here, as have prepsters, celebrities and wealthy African-American families for generations). But the island's quiet is part of the appeal; authentic charm and history abound.
Cruise ships dock at Vineyard Haven or Oak Bluffs, two of Martha's Vineyard's six communities. From the dock in Vineyard Haven, it's about a half-mile walk to the heart of town. A visitor information kiosk at the base of Union Street across from the Steam Ship Authority Terminal dispenses tourist information. A stroll along Main Street, with its upscale shops, cafes, bookstores and art galleries is a pleasant way to spend a few hours.
More touristy -- but no worse for wear -- is Oak Bluffs, 3 miles east of Vineyard Haven. The island's first summer resort got its start as a religious retreat in 1835. Tent sites evolved into rustic cabins that were gradually embellished. The result is a community of colorful, gingerbread cottages built in a style dubbed Carpenter Gothic Revival. Hundreds of these fanciful structures are in a 34-acre enclave that's now a National Historic Landmark. At the center is the Tabernacle, a 100-foot-tall wrought iron open-air structure built in 1879 for revivals. If you're lucky enough to be in town on a Wednesday night, you can join in the community sing.
The island's bus system is cheap ($1.25 per town) and easy to use. You can even flag down a bus on the roadside. For shorter hauls, rent a bike. The island's network of bike lanes makes cycling a pleasure.
--By Jayne Clark, Cruise Critic contributor