Nantucket Clipper Maritime Provinces, Bay of Fundy and Coastal Maine, August 1997
I began cruising many years ago and have been dismayed at the ever increasing size of the ships. I sailed around the world on a little ship, although not quite so small as the Nantucket Clipper, which weighs in at 99 tons. I decided to book a Clipper cruise because I liked the emphasis on an intensive learning experience, friendly crew and outstanding food. I also loved the small number of passengers on board. I felt there would be more camaraderie, as I would be traveling by myself.
After a day of flying and hanging around airports, I arrived at Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island. Charlottetown is where the Canadian federation was founded.. From the airport, where I met up with fellow passengers, we transferred to our ship in double decker London busses . Embarkation was a very different experience from standard cruising. Rather than standing in endless lines, we all just walked on the ship, were guided to the observation lounge where we put on name tags and had a drink or an horss d'oeuvres. One by one we were taken to the cruise director to surrender tickets and passports, then taken to our cabins.
Despite my cabin's small size, there was an abundance of storage space and plenty of light. And the beds were comfortable. One of the nicer cabin features was a night light in the bathroom, so there was no blinding-light-in-the-middle-of-the-night situations that are faced on most cruise ships. I'm going to travel with one from now on.
After we unpacked, we all returned to the Observation Lounge, one of only two public rooms on the ship. There we discovered one of Clipper's more yummy traditions. Every afternoon at 4:00 p.m., the pastry chef passes out cookies fresh from the oven, including the line's famous Clipper Chippers, which are laced with chocolate, nuts, and two different liqueurs. At 5:30 p.m., out come the hors d'oeurves, hot and cold. Given the size of the ship, there's only one seating for dinner and all the food is cooked to order. Of the four chefs on the ship, two are graduates of the Culinary Institute of America (the popular CIA). The food was outstanding, just like eating at a fine restaurant. Every night there were choices of seafood, meat or poultry as well as a pasta or a vegetarian dish, usually vegan vegetarian (no animal product). Low cholesterol, low fat and low salt diets are always available. If you have any dietary restrictions, let the line know in advance. When I booked the cruise, I mentioned that there was a delicious sugar-free syrup that I used at home, and had not seen on any ship. Without having to ask, they offered to have it on the ship for me.
The first night on the ship, other then suffering from terminal exhaustion, was perfect. Unfortunately, since we had to sign up for our first set of shore excursions that same day and I slept through the sign-up, I missed everything in Charlottetown and the excursion to the Alexander Graham Bell Museum in Baddeck, Nova Scotia. The second day, however, we were offered the option of a tour to the re-creation of Fortress Louisbourg or a tour to Cape Breton National Park. Leaving Charlottetown, we sailed through St. Peter's Canal and lock, a narrow nineteenth century lock (let's see M/V Mega Giant do that) and entered into Bras d'Or lake, an almost entirely land locked arm of the sea. At the end of the lake there was Baddeck and my first shore excursion.
St. Peter's Canal
My favorite entertainment was the lectures given by the naturalist and historian they have on board to teach passengers about the areas and wildlife they are cruising through, along with videos of the areas we were to visit. The teaching was filled with such enthusiasm and love of subject that it was all fascinating. On the Cape Breton tour, we had Alex Wilson, our naturalist on with us. Although he is a botanist, he works closely with zoologists, geologists, etc., so he knows an incredible amount about the natural history of the various ports we visited. In Cape Breton the two things I loved were, one, the wildlife - pilot whales, black bear, the biggest bald eagle I've ever seen and a gaggle of Canada geese fattening up in a salt marsh before their long flight south. Second, the scenery. These are gentler hills than Alaska's rugged crags, but no less beautiful.
Cape Breton National Park
After our stay in Baddeck, we sailed to Halifax, the capitol of Nova Scotia. Halifax is a delightful city, with a lot of Titanic history. Since the Titanic is a passionate interest of mine, I bypassed the shore excursions there and went on my own to the Maritime Museum and to Fairview cemetery, where 121 recovered bodies from the Titanic lie.
Titanic gravesites at Fairview Cemetery
Our first night in Halifax, the captain informed us that they were expecting 16 foot seas out of the harbor. Clipper off loaded all the passengers and put us up in the Westin Halifax, provided our meals and took us to our next port as a motor coach excursion. Our next port was to have been Lunenburg, a UNESCO world heritage site. It is a perfectly beautiful old Nova Scotian fishing village, I loved it.
After a night in Halifax we were taken by motor coach to Digby, on the Bay of Fundy, and two more excursions were given us free of charge. First to the estate of a nineteenth century gentleman who created a beautiful estate in what was then, the wilderness. The other to the Acadian village of Grand Pre, Evangeline's village. Except Evangeline wasn't real. Still, the town was real and a beautiful church and gardens remain. Then we were off to Digby and our ship. When we saw her, the whole bus started to cheer. I didn't mind being off the ship for a day except the Captain spotted a North Atlantic Right Whale, the world's rarest whale species, as the ship entered the Bay of Fundy. There are less than 300 of these animals in the world, all living in and around the Bay of Fundy.
In Digby, we visited Annapolis Royal, the site of the earliest French settlement in the new world, dating back to 1604. Samuel Champlain started the Order of Good Cheer while he was there. The first winter, almost half of the men died. The second year they moved their settlement to a more sheltered area. Champlain appointed a gentleman to organize the food and drink and they had a party. At the end of the evening, the torch would be passed to another gentleman, and so on. This kept the men interested in living in these harsh conditions. We also visited a fort with a dry moat (try and climb up the sides of the moat) and a beautiful botanical garden. Our naturalist Alex, was part of a team that planned that garden.
Gardens at Annapolis Royal
That night on the ship, we were given a cocktail party on the sun deck, where we were all inducted into the Order of Good Cheer. It was lots of fun watching Alex and our cruise director Matt making total fools of themselves.
Enroute to St. Andrews, New Brunswick, we stopped for a brief visit at Campobello Island for a brief visit to the Roosevelt cottage. It was fascinating to see how simply this wealthy and powerful family lived.
Roosevelt Cottage, Campobello Island
While we were ashore our kitchen staff was busy preparing a champagne brunch for us. It was glorious, champagne, mimosas, smoked salmon, eggs Benedict and so much more. We sailed on to St. Andrews, New Brunswick. This was a simply beautiful little town, with plenty for tourists to do and a strong maritime heritage. I took an excursion to an Atlantic salmon hatchery. All Atlantic salmon is now farm raised. West coast purists swear they can tell the difference in taste, but I don't believe it. We went on to an aquarium, where the stars of the show were a family of 3 harbor seals, mom and dad and their adorable pup. It was feeding time, which was hilarious to see. I wish we'd had more time in St. Andrews, as I didn't get much time to see the town itself, which was beautiful.
We next sailed on to Bar Harbor, Maine. Although I went to school in New England I'd never been to Maine before. What a mistake! How beautiful it is, with it's rugged rocky coastline. We took a tour into Acadia National Park, but couldn't see a thing because it was raining so hard. Still, it looked like a wonderful place for a longer visit and I would love to go back. They brought live Maine lobsters aboard in Bar Harbor. No frozen lobster tails for Clipper.
The next port of call was Camden, Maine. Camden has one of the loveliest harbors I have ever seen. The harbor is filled to the brim with sailing vessels, all immaculately maintained, mostly large schooners. In Camden, our whale expert came on board and we started learning all the wonderful things about whales we never knew before this. Did you know that unlike us, whales are voluntary breathers? And that they need sleep too? So, how do they manage to breathe and sleep at the same time? They shut down one half of their brain at a time and while one half of the brain is sleeping, the other half is alert, breathing and moving. Fascinating.
We sailed down the beautiful Maine coast. Our historian, Bill Fowler, is an avid sailor and knew every inch of the coastline. That afternoon we arrived at Stellenbach Bank, our whale watching site. Boy, did we ever see them. We saw humpbacks bubble feeding, a finback and minke's, cetacean speed demons. I wonder if anyone ever gets their fill of whale watching. However, it was time to sail into Boston. First we sailed around the harbor, learning all about the many Boston land marks, then sadly, we docked. We stayed the night on board for the captain's farewell cocktail party and dinner. Normally, at the end of a cruise, I'm ready to get off. Not this time. I badly wanted to stay on for their cruise to New York. During the captain's cocktail party, the entire crew is honored, then the repeat passengers. I would say that about half the people on board were repeat cruisers, one couple, who were staying on for the New York cruise, had just completed their 10th voyage with Clipper.
At age 58, I was one of the youngest passengers on board. Age was totally irrelevant on this Clipper ship. So many of the passengers were movers and shakers in the worlds of medicine, law and academics and they were fascinating people. I enjoyed meeting them. We had only one pessimist on board and his negativity was drowned in the sea of positive attitudes.
So, what is missing on a Clipper ship? No bar around the pool and no pool for that matter, although there is a platform you can swim from on the warm weather cruises. No casino, no nightclub. Day life was far too interesting to care about nightlife. Entertainment consisted of a series of lectures by our naturalist and historian, plus other scientists and naturalists who happened to be sailing with us. Three nights out of 15 we had a movie (shown in the dining room after dinner). Sometimes we had videos about what we would see. The Bay of Fundy video was the most interesting to me. Then, when we were in port at night, we had local entertainers come on board.
So I loved the ship, the food, the itinerary and shore excursions, but I've saved the best for last. This is the finest crew I have ever shared a ship with. I took my first cruise in 1959, and have been cruising ever since, so have sailed with lots of crews. This was the friendliest and most service-oriented crew I have ever encountered. Once I needed a light bulb changed in my cabin. I thought if I found someone and told them about it, it would be changed sometime that day. It was changed immediately. I never signed a bar chit. After the first day, all the bar waitresses knew who I was. The captain liked to sing (and tell groaner jokes). He and his wife, who was on board too, set the tone for this delightful crew.
Who would not like a Clipper cruise? Disabled passengers would find it impossible, since there is no elevator. Anyone who puts a premium on nightlife and casinos would be disappointed. Honeymooners and other romantics would find twin bedded cabins whose beds are bolted to the deck and the wall, no moving them together. However, if you have a sense of adventure about your ports and want to learn something about the part of the world you are in, then Clipper is for you. The ship is totally informal except the Captain's welcome and farewell parties, where men wear a suit and tie and women dress up a little more. For me, I wore makeup and fancier earrings! First time I've ever gone to the Captain's cocktail party in my bare feet. (The ship was rocking and I could hang onto the floor with my toes.)
As of this writing, I have three more cruises booked, two for mega ships and one cruise on the Paul Gauguin, then I can return to Clipper, which owns my heart.
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Carole Dunham's first cruise was a college graduation present around the world in 108 days on the late Cunard Caronia. Although she majored in biology with the intention of going to Vet school, it became goodbye to more school and hello travel agent. Carole worked for several agencies in the Chicago area for a number of years, moved to New York and did the same. During that time, she managed to get married and rear a daughter, before giving up the travel business to become a free lance writer. Currently retired, Carole practices and teaches Reiki hands-on-healing and takes cruises. She can be reached for questions or comment at: Cruzdiva@aol.com.
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