Passengers wishing to cruise New England and Eastern Canada have a variety of options. Traditionally, cruise lines scheduled these visits during the autumn months to coincide with fall foliage season. (Note that the exact timing of the peak colors is unpredictable from year to year.) Many lines have since discovered that Canada and New England are also prime summertime destinations. There are several itineraries during both seasons, including 7- to 11-night round trips from New York, Boston, or Baltimore; 7- to 10-night one-way trips between Montreal and New York or Boston; and 4- or 5-night round-trip cruises from New York to Halifax and/or St. John.
What follows is a quick synopsis of the most common ports of call on Canada/New England cruise itineraries. (Note: These are organized in alphabetical order by state or province.)
NEW ENGLAND PORTSBar Harbor, Maine. The main attraction in Bar Harbor is Acadia National Park, consisting of 35,000 acres of forests, lakes, and mountains. Most shore excursions pay a visit to Acadia, whether by tour bus, bike, or horse-drawn carriage. Weather permitting, you may visit the summit of Cadillac Mountain, the highest peak on the Northeastern seaboard, offering spectacular views of the rocky Atlantic coastline. Downtown Bar Harbor is filled with numerous shops, restaurants, and Victorian-style B&Bs. When in Maine, definitely treat yourself to an authentic Maine lobster fest. Take it from one who lives in New England - this is not to be missed.
Portland, Maine. A gateway to a myriad of day trips, Portland is a lovely port of call on its own. Many passengers take a shore excursion to the shopping hub of Freeport, home of L.L. Bean and other factory outlets. Others opt for a visit to Kennebunkport, the quaint village that is summer residence of former President George Bush and family. Beach excursions are also available during the summer months. Several tours featuring coastal Maine's lighthouses are typically offered. Also available are tours of Portland by bus, horse-drawn wagon, or amphibious vehicle. Portland may be explored by local bus (day passes are available for approximately $5 per person), and highlights include the bustling, indoor Public Market and the historic Old Port area. I advise anyone visiting Portland by ship to be on deck at least an hour prior to docking, as the entrance to the harbor is one of the prettiest I've ever seen.
Boston, Massachusetts. Get out your American history books - this is where much of it happened. Boston is home to many historical sites from the American Revolution, including the Old North Church, the Old South Meeting House, and Bunker Hill, which are just several stops on the 3-mile walking tour dubbed the Freedom Trail. Other points of interest include the USS Constitution (Old Ironsides), the Public Garden (where you may ride one of the Swan Boats), and Faneuil Hall/Quincy Market. Shore excursions usually include a walking tour of the Freedom Trail, motorcoach tours of Boston and Cambridge (home of Harvard and MIT), or trips to the battlefields of Lexington/Concord or the witch museum in Salem. Downtown Boston is easily explored independently. Stop by any visitors center for a free map of the Freedom Trail, which is marked on the sidewalk with a bright red line. Note that your cruise ship will be docked a couple of miles from downtown, and Boston traffic can be horrendous due to road construction, so leave a lot of time to return to the ship if you are exploring on your own.
Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts. A favorite summer vacation spot of many locals and celebrities, this 100-square-mile island has everything from charming gingerbread cottages to chic shops to nature preserves. Your ship will likely offer an Island Sightseeing Tour, which transports passengers through four of the island's main towns, including an hour at leisure in the former whaling village of Edgartown. Another tour option combines a visit to Edgartown with a 2-hour catamaran sail around the island. There are also numerous ways to enjoy Martha's Vineyard independently by local bus (day passes are currently available for $5) or by bicycle. As with most tender ports, leave plenty of time to return to the ship. The tender dock in Oak Bluffs is rather small, and priority is given to the numerous ferries that call on the island.
Newport, Rhode Island. Newport is famous for its 19th century mansions, and most tours will include a visit to at least one of these "summer cottages" of the elite. My personal favorite is Astor's Beechwood, in which the clock is turned back to the 1890s as guests take on the role of applicants for servants' jobs while touring the grounds with staff members who explain the lifestyle and habits of the Astor family. The most spectacular mansion is the Breakers, the 70-room summer home of the Vanderbilts. Also popular is the Cliff Walk, a 3 ½ mile trail along the Atlantic coast adjacent to many of the mansions. Downtown Newport offers a variety of attractions, such as the Tennis Hall of Fame, Touro Synagogue (oldest surviving synagogue in the U.S.), the White Horse Tavern (oldest tavern in the U.S.), and the Museum of Newport History. Your ship will anchor in the harbor, requiring the use of tenders, something to keep in mind if exploring Newport on your own.
CANADIAN PORTSSt. John, New Brunswick. One of our favorite ports of call, St. John offers something for everyone. A variety of shore excursions are offered, most of which include a stop at the Reversing Falls Rapids, where the high tides of the Bay of Fundy actually cause the St. John River to reverse its course. Organized tour options typically include several tours of the downtown area, the charming town of St. Martins on the Fundy Shoreline (including a stop at the Sea Caves), the Moosehead Brewery (Canada's oldest independent brewery), or the Cherry Brook Zoo (great if you are traveling with kids). Braver folk may "ride the rapids" in small jet boats.
For those wishing a quieter experience, downtown St. John can easily be explored independently by foot. The two main areas, Market Square and the Old City Market, were restored by the city several years ago. Today's Market Square building contains offices and restaurants, and devotes a section to the area's history. The Old City Market, which is connected to Market Square via covered walkway, houses many vendor stands at which one can buy anything from produce to fish to crafts. Also available is seaweed gum, a local delicacy. (Note: St. John is often confused with St. John's, a city on the Canadian island province of Newfoundland. While St. John's is an occasional port of call for some cruise lines, most Canada/New England itineraries feature St. John, New Brunswick as a regular port of call.)
Halifax, Nova Scotia. With a warm welcome from local bagpipers, your ship will most likely dock at Pier 21, a National Historic Site that served as a gateway to immigrants from the 1920s through the 1970s. This "Ellis Island of Eastern Canada" now houses a museum of immigration, visitor center, and several shops and pushcart vendors. Many passengers head to the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic, an easy 15-minute walk from the pier along the waterfront. The museum includes fabulous exhibits on classic ocean liners, including the Titanic, as well as a most moving exhibit recounting the story of the 1917 Halifax explosion and its aftermath. Located nearby, but at the top of a steep hill, is the Citadel, a star-shaped fort built in 1856, also a National Historic Site. Another popular attraction is the small fishing village of Peggy's Cove, located approximately 45 minutes from Halifax. There is not much here - a few gift shops, a restaurant, and a lighthouse that doubles as a post office - but the lichen-covered rocks and rugged shoreline offer excellent photo opportunities. Organized shore excursions may combine a visit to Peggy's Cove with a salmon bake or lobster bake; other options closer to town typically include walking tours of historic Halifax and a tour highlighting the role of Halifax in the Titanic recovery.
Sydney, Nova Scotia. Located on the eastern tip of Nova Scotia's Cape Breton Island, Sydney offers historic sites, scenic drives, and one of the largest collections honoring Alexander Graham Bell. Old Sydney may be explored by foot on either an organized walking tour or on your own. Other tours typically include the Fortress of Louisbourg (1745), and motorcoach rides along the Cabot Trail to one of several villages (including Baddeck, approximately one hour from Sydney, home of the Bell Museum).
Montreal, Quebec. If you are on a one-way cruise through the Canadian Maritimes, your cruise will either start or end in Montreal. As one of Canada's major cities, Montreal offers visitors a wide variety of activities. Its most unique attribute, however, is its Underground City, a network of indoor pedestrian corridors that provides access to shopping malls, restaurants, office buildings, and the Metro subway system, without having to step outside. There is a lot to see outdoors, as well, including Mount Royal Park, which offers glorious views of downtown Montreal and the St. Lawrence River.
Quebec City, Quebec. The center of French culture in North America, Quebec City consists of both a large modern city as well as a small walled city hundreds of years old. The old city is a mix of quaint shops, churches, restaurants, and historical sites. The city's most recognizable landmark, the castle-like Chateau Frontenac Hotel, sits atop the old walled city, and is easily accessible by tramway (Funicular). Below the walled city is Place-Royale, the site of the earliest French settlement in the Americas, as well as Quartier Petit-Champlain, the oldest commercial neighborhood in North America, where you can stroll on pedestrian-only streets and enjoy cafes and art galleries. Ship tours generally include numerous city tours (by foot or bus), and trips to surrounding villages and towns along the St. Lawrence River.
OTHER HIGHLIGHTSSaguenay Fjord. The Saguenay is the largest of Eastern Canada's fjords and is bordered by the steep cliffs of the St. Lawrence-Saguenay National Park. It is home to a variety of whales during the summer and early autumn, including white belugas, minkes, finbacks, and blue whales. During our visit a few years ago, a nature lecturer came on board to point out sights - and whale sightings - along the way. There is no port stop; the ship simply enters the fjord, turns around two hours later, and comes back out. The scenery is beautiful, and it is a very peaceful way to spend a few hours.
Cape Cod Canal. Some, but not all, cruises to or from New York transit the Cape Cod Canal, one of the largest sea level canals in the world. (The alternative is to travel around the tip of Cape Cod, which adds approximately 135 miles and several hours onto the trip.) There are no locks, and the 17.5-mile canal passes several towns, bridges, and recreation areas. If your transit is during the daytime hours, you will see many fishermen as well as visitors stopping by to view the cruise ship and other vessels.
Lisa Plotnick, a writer who lives in Massachusetts with her husband, Neil, and young son, has written many SeaLetter Cruise Magazine articles, cruise ship reviews and book reviews. Lisa is a fan of the classic liners, unfortunately a dying breed in the early 21st century. The Plotnicks have cruised once or twice a year for the past twelve years and have been on most of the major cruise lines as well as several lesser-known lines.
Lisa recently joined our staff of SeaLetter Columnists and also assists in the management of the SeaLetter Cruise Forum. She may be reached for questions or comment at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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