U.S. Ports (In Alphabetical order)
Bar Harbor, Maine
Bar Harbor had its glory days in the early 20th century, when some of America’s wealthiest families built splendid “cottages” for their summer holidays. But there is still plenty of New England charm on display in the quaint little shops and restaurants. The must-see attraction is world-famous Acadia National Park, where Nature at her richest can be seen. (The tours offer plenty of history, as well as anecdotes about some of the area’s best-known visitors and part-time residents.)
As it dates back to the early 17th century, “Beantown” is a great walking city, with landmarks like historic Faneuil Hall, which offers a big food court, restaurants, bars, street performers and shopping all in one place. The charms of the North End, still an authentic Italian neighborhood, include colorful shops and restaurants and “Old North” Church,” where two lanterns were hung in the steeple on April 18, 1775, to warn that British troops were coming.
Among many excursions offered: A walking tour of the Freedom Trail, a visit to Lexington and Concord, harbor cruises, whale-watching and sightseeing on trolleys or on a Duck tour.
Newport, Rhode Island
So much history in one small port makes for terrific shore options. Walking tours offer an easy way to visit the beautifully preserved pre-Revolutionary War structures in the Historic District, while a driving tour is the best way to see the grand mansions of the Gilded Age, usually with a tour of one of these spectacular “cottages” built by wealthy families like the Vanderbilts and Astors. Active visitors can choose a cliff-top hike that also includes a mansion tour and free time to explore (or shop).
So much to see and never enough time. Several companies, including CitySights and the Gray Line offer Hop On-Hop city tours. Food tours featuring pizza, Chinatown delicacies, the Lower East Side and chocolate are available, as are pub crawls and various theme tours (literary, ghost, etc.); many can be found online at www.nycgo.com, the official guide to the city. Independent travelers may choose to visit the Statue of Liberty, take in a Broadway show (half-price tickets daily at the TKTS booth in Times Square) or visit one or two major attractions - for example, Rockefeller Center, the 9/11 Memorial, the Metropolitan Museum, the Empire State Building or Central Park.
With a vibrant waterfront, art districts, museums and parks, the city invites relaxed exploration on foot. Restaurants feature not-to-be-missed local lobsters, perhaps the best in the U.S. A big attraction for many visitors is nearby Freeport, home to hundreds of upscale outlets and designer boutiques - notably L.L. Bean’s flagship store, open round the clock, 365 days of the year.
(Canadian ports in alphabetical order)
Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island
Since the island’s greatest claim to fame relates to the 1908 classic, Anne of Green Gables, a number of tours include visits to the Green Gables homestead (one, with lunch at well-known island restaurant).
Historic tours can be taken by double-decker bus, bicycle, horse-drawn trolley or by amphibious “duck boat.” Nature lovers can experience the island’s eco-system and wildlife during a sea kayak excursion (a short class is given prior to the tour).
Corner Brook, Newfoundland
As this pretty foliage-rich port was charted and named by Captain James Cook, it’s no surprise that the James Cook Monument stands on a hill overlooking the sea, the city and the lush forests and mountains. The port has made itself cruise-friendly, with greeters and musicians welcoming passengers, free Wi-Fi at the new city hall and yellow buses providing free local transportation to shops, restaurants and galleries. For walkers, there are scenic trails and for golfers, there are opportunities not far from the port. Nearby Gros Morne National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site is a popular attraction, as is the Newfoundland Insectarium. Active visitors can raft down the Humber River or travel over Steady Brook Falls on the longest zip-line in Atlantic Canada.
Located in eastern Quebec, the Gaspé Peninsula is beloved by visitors who love the outdoors. Nature’s stunning landscapes - cliffs, mountains, natural parks - make for satisfying shore excursions. There are hikes in Forillon National Park, which encompasses sea bird habitats, dramatic rock formations, sandy beaches and soaring cliffs. Easy walking tours cover the history and architecture of the area and include views of the much-photographed Perce Rock. Cruises around Bonaventure Island include Perce Rock and the opportunity to see the gannet colony.
Halifax, Nova Scotia
As the most visited of Canada’s cruise ports, Halifax has options both for independent exploration and for guided tours. During leaf season, the 17-acre Halifax Public Gardens are a major attraction. The formal Victorian gardens house flower-adorned lampposts, historic statues, a stately fountain commemorating the 50th year of Queen Victoria’s monarchy and beds of rare flowers and colorful trees.
With its strong connection to the Titanic tragedy - many of the victims are buried in Halifax’s cemeteries - the city’s Maritime Museum houses a moving memorial that includes such poignant artifacts as a pair of tiny shoes that belonged to an 18-month-old infant who was posthumously “adopted” and buried by the city because he could not be identified. (Museum visitors discover a final chapter to this story, thanks to the science of DNA.)
Formal excursions include such outdoor activities as kayaking, biking and river rafting; food and wine tours and a tour of Peggy’s cove, featuring one of the world’s most photographed lighthouses.
Arriving at the Old Port in the heart of Old Montréal, visitors are welcomed by a city of Gallic charm and sensibility (it’s the only French-speaking metropolis in North America) and a vision of contrasts between the architectural beauty of the old city and the modern soaring skyscrapers downtown. It’s possible to spend a very pleasant day near the port in the old city, strolling the cobblestone streets, lunching at one of the charming cafés along Place Jacques-Cartier, browsing the boutiques or the Marche Bonsecours.
It’s also possible to easily explore the attractions of Old Montréal (which runs along the St. Lawrence River) on foot, with free maps at the tourist information bureau at 174 Notre-Dame Street East (corner of Place Jacques-Cartier). Guided tours are also available as well as culinary walking tours, ghost tours, and bicycle tours. For first-timers who want to see a lot, there are half-day bus tours that meander through streets housing 17th, 18th and 19th century buildings, with such landmarks as St. Joseph’s Oratory and Chinatown. A highlight is the lookout at Parc du Mont-Royal, which overlooks the city. During fall foliage season, Mount Royal offers an abundance of color, along with such activities as bicycling (rentals), hiking trails and pedal boats.
At this very popular port, the Old Town is a living museum, a United Nations World Heritage site offering many choices for walking tours and city tours. On their own, after a funicular ride to Upper Town, passengers can take a horse and carriage at the Governor’s Garden for a scenic meander along the Grande-Allé, the city’s Champs-Élysées, passing quaint shops, cafés, the Parliament Building, through the St. Louis Gate. The iconic and much-photographed castle-like Château Frontenac invites an exploration of the expensive boutiques in the lobby, followed by a stroll along Petit-Champlain Street.
A top tour is to the awe-inspiring Montmorency Falls (higher than Niagara Falls); this includes a drive through the scenic villages of the Beaupré Coast and a visit to the basilica of Saint Anne de Beaupré.
When cruise ships approach this port in the pre-dawn hours, balcony passengers are treated to stunningly beautiful views, with sunrise painting the fjords and water in shades of gold and orange. The modern cruise terminal houses a friendly tourism office, free Internet access, car rental and exceptional crafts and souvenirs. Hop-On/Hop-Off buses make a circuit of the town and some tourist attractions. Excursion options include a bus tour of the national park (outdoor activities are centered here), a kayaking excursion and helicopter tours of the fjords.
St. John New Brunswick
This charming harbor town, where cruise passengers are often greeted by local volunteers, is located where the Bay of Fundy meets the mouth of the St. John River and is known as “the Fundy City.” Renowned for its extreme tides (seawater rising and then falling more than 50 feet twice daily), the town’s most popular tours and attractions are related to this phenomenon. A must-see is a look at the Reversing Falls, where the tide overcomes the current and the water flows “the wrong way.”
Other attractions: The St. Martin sea caves, which have been carved out by centuries of waves crashing into the rocks; the Martello Tower, constructed for the war of 1812; the St. John City Market, the oldest working farmer’s market in Canada. Hop-On/ Hop-Off tours are available, as are 75-minute Trolley Tours. A good-size shopping mall is located within walking distance from the cruise terminal.
St. John’s, Newfoundland
The capital of Newfoundland and Labrador, St. John’s is the oldest city in North America, rich in history (Signal Hill is where Marconi got his first radio transmission) with an appealing bohemian air and walk-able downtown streets: George Street for clubs, restaurants and taverns and Water Street for shopping and fine dining. During fall foliage season a trail hike in Salmonier Nature Park offers not only an abundance of color, but also habitats for bald eagles, caribou, Canada lynx and geese, arctic fox, otters and moose.
Outside the city, the oldest house in St. John’s is in the picturesque harbor village of Quidi Vidi, which can be explored on foot or by bike. Various boat companies outside the city offer whale-, puffin- and iceberg-watching experiences.
Sydney, Nova Scotia
The most famous historical/cultural excursion offered here is the visit to the 18th century Fortress of Louisbourg, the largest historic reconstruction in North America, operated by Parks Canada as a living history museum. Visitors stroll the streets, watch soldiers drill and chat with (and photograph) costumed townspeople as they bake bread, care for their animals, make lace (the only activity available to high-born ladies) and prepare meals. Other options: the Alexander Graham Bell Historic Site, the Cape Breton Miner’s Museum - or the drop-dead-gorgeous scenery along the Cabot Trail, one of Canada’s most photogenic drives.