Port and Shore Excursions
Bar Harbor Maine was completely opposite of Portland, in terms of hospitality. The stores were all opening several hours early and many had signs welcoming ship passengers in port. Everyone we encountered was friendly and helpful. The stores were in easy walking distance of the ship. There were many stores which were filled with low quality typical gifts but we got a kick out of The Christmas Vacation Shop which had hundreds of wood cut outs that you could combine on a plaque to commemorate your vacation. We picked out ones which were personalized for our dog sitter at home.
Our tour was Acadia National Park Tours and they took us into Acadia National Park. We went to the summit of Cadillac Mountain. The whole area is gorgeous. The tours only allow 20 minutes at each stop, again, it would be nice to have more time but it was enough time to enjoy the area and take some photographs.
We ate lunch at Testa's Restaurant mostly because it was affiliated with the tour (it's where we picked up the Acadia National Park tickets at). I had a lobster roll which was good. My s/o had a bacon cheeseburger, nothing special or over the top. For the prices we paid and the simplicity of the lunch, I would not eat there again.
A day is enough time to spend in delightful Bar Harbor, but I could easily spend more time in Acadia National Park.
Halifax was a wonderful city. We enjoyed a sunny day and had an easy walk down along the waterfront on a brick pathway. It was early and most of the stores were closed. We stopped at Rum Runners and ordered several rum cakes and a couple books on rum running in Canada and had them all shipped home for friends. The staff was over the top friendly and the rum cake samples made my morning. We visited the Atlantic Maritime Museum which we could have easily spent hours in. But because we had a tour booked we hit the main spots (Titanic exhibit, Halifax Explosion, Hello Sailor) and skimmed the rest. This was the only tour I had booked directly thru the cruise ship (due to price and the 2 stops it made, the price was comparable to other excursions).
We boarded a tour bus and made our way to the Fairlawn Cemetery to see the graves of the Titanic victim's. I have always appreciated the history of the Titanic and learned so much more from this excursion. Our guide was wonderful and she sported a kilt adorned in the colors of Halifax. We then ventured for a short drive to Peggy's Cove, a working fishing village. The lighthouse and rocks are picturesque, there was a gift shop and restaurant, and a working artist studio. The little cove is walkable and we had plenty of time (1 hr) to get a cup of coffee, use the bathroom, photograph the lighthouse, talk to the artist and walk around the cove. This is a serene and enchanting place which I would most certainly wish to go back to.
We later ate lunch at a nice shack on the boardwalk called The Battered Fish. Outside tables only but the view is awesome. There was an old man playing a sax for tips. He wasn't all that great, but he was so into it and so lively, you couldn't help but appreciate his tune. There was also a mentally ill man who was begging for change, having worked with people of similar impairments I was sad to see him down there. He would only ask once and then leave without problems but I think it would be frightening to a child or person who was unaccustomed to this type of personality. The fish was wonderful and I had Poutine with it (french fries covered with cheese curds and brown gravy) which is a French Canadian favorite.
The day went fast and I would love to return to Halifax.
Our first port was Portland, Maine. We arrived in port and were off the ship by 8am. Although it was a Sunday I was surprised the stores were closed. Being one of the last ships in port for the year and the economy being sluggish, I thought store owners would take advantage of 2,000+ people flooding into town.
We walked town and took some photographs of the wharf but by the time an hour had gone by we were getting board. We were able to check in with Portland Discovery for our Land & Sea tours, both of which were greatly enjoyed. In between the trolley and boat tour we ate at Gilbert's Chowder House. It was good, we had fish, clams, onion rings, french fries & clam chowder, but the batter was very plain and it seems everything was fried in the same tasteless grease. I would recommend dining elsewhere.
We had more time in the afternoon to explore the shops. The shops are a couple blocks up and in, not sure we would have found them if we hadn't passed them on our bus tour. One shop, which I would recommend, is on Fisherman's Wharf. Even though I had looked it up before hand it took awhile to find because it just looked like the end of a worn down alley. Sea Bags is the business and they make assorted bags from recycled sails. They happily accommodated custom orders from us and we had them shipped home. There were a lot of typical tourist stores, but we were impressed with Lovell Designs. We purchased several high quality Christmas ornaments for friends (around $20-25 each)which came in a nice box and bagged with a nice Maine gift bag.
With the exception of the 2 business's mentioned above, we did not encounter any other friendly store clerks. Some were down right rude even though we were purchasing items in their store. The town itself is all brick and not very architecturally charming. We did encounter one homeless person sitting outside a corner Starbucks. He kept to himself and did not bother anyone. I watched one lady buy him a coffee and give it to him. A short time later another lady took out a danish. The man then got up and left. The town is dog friendly, so I give it credit for loving animals. There was even a pug in the Starbucks. Overall I would book a longer excursion and skip walking around town.
Port Head Lighthouse was the highlight of our tours and is a must for your trip. Our trolley only allowed us 20 minutes to see the lighthouse which is not enough by the time you get thru the other tour bus's of people. In retrospect, I would have tried to find a tour to allow us more time at the lighthouse.
We arrived in Saint John on a cloudy day with light sprinkles of rain. We brought our umbrella's so it wasn't really a problem. There was a nice wooden boardwalk along the water from the boat that leads to city hall and a mini mall. Everything was closed except the mall downtown which we ducked into and got a cup of hot coffee/donut. I had researched the bus system and it left from the front of the mall. I had the bus number but never saw it. After about 20 minutes I asked a bus driver and he nicely gave me the new number for the bus we needed. We had booked Saint John Zip Lining Adventures which was at the Reversing Falls area. The bus took and dropped us off just over a bridge. The only thing around was a tourist info building so we went in. The advised us the zipline adventure was still a ways away. We had to walk over and under the bridge, then back on the sidewalk, down a few blocks, turn left, walk a few more blocks and we'd see it.
He wanted us to go under the bridge so we didn't have to try to get thru traffic. Under the bridge was only a small foot trail, not marked or landscaped, and strewn with graffiti and trash. The walk down 2 blocks and over 2 blocks was depressing and bleak. The houses were run down, and had it been night time, I'm not sure this would have been a safe place for anyone to walk thru. By the time we arrived at the Zip lining we were tired and wet from the rain.
The zip lining adventure itself was awesome. The family owned business was professional and warm, they made the whole experience enjoyable and I would highly recommend them.
After zip lining it was raining harder but we walked down to the Reversing Falls area which was only across a large parking lot. I was surprised by the lack of advertising or landscaping. There were no big signs that said "Reverse Falls here" and the attractions all seemed to operate out of trailers. The whole area was over hyped and under-whelming. With nothing to do but watch the tide slowly coming in, we found a taxi driver who had been commissioned for the day by his clients. They graciously allowed him to transfer us back to the mall downtown.
Once downtown we walked the main street and admired the buildings but other than an old book store and coffee shop there wasn't much to go inside to see or shop in. We went back in the small mall and took a pedestrian walkway which was a short cut (inside) to the Farmer's Market. The Farmer's Market was packed but it was fun to look at the local produce, some of which is unique, and buy some favorites to take back home. We returned to the mini mall via the same interior walkway.
We actually went back to the ship earlier than our departure time. Because we had a coffee/donut for breakfast and a slice of pizza at the farmers market, we did not actually sit down to eat and waited till we returned to the boat.
I would recommend the zip lining and the Farmers Market. We did not go to the Citadel but I would want to on my next trip after catching a glimpse of it's walls from downtown. I would make sure I book an excursion for this town as it gets boring quick trying to find something to entertain yourself with all day.
Even though some signs were in French and English, everyone around us spoke French. They would all take American cash but if you had change it was returned in Canadian currency. They also accepted Visa, MC, etc.