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Saint John (New Brunswick) Overview
Located on Canada's Southeastern Atlantic Seaboard, where the Bay of Fundy meets the mouth of the Saint John River, Saint John is a quaint harbor town of 122,000 residents. A 90-minute drive from the U.S. border in Maine, "the Fundy City" offers 400 years of history, exciting nature excursions and Canadian hospitality, with British and French influences. Cruise ship passengers, in particular, are made to feel welcome as they dock. A "greeting committee" of volunteers dressed in traditional costumes hands out Canadian flags, stickers and buttons.
Saint John is Canada's first incorporated city, a celebrated wooden shipbuilding center with a colorful history. A great fire in 1877 destroyed almost the entire city center. Today, the quaint "Uptown" area is laden with Victorian-influenced architecture, brick walkways, historic churches, town squares and flowers blooming around old-fashioned lamp posts. There's a storybook quality about the town that's a nice respite from bustling, overly touristy cruise ports. Saint John also has a bohemian flair, with lots of street musicians, funky galleries and independent record stores.
But the town is best known for its Bay of Fundy-related attractions. The Bay of Fundy is world-renowned for its extreme tides -- twice daily seawater rises (and then falls) about four stories high! As a result of the tides, the region is incredibly rich in scenic vistas (cascading waterfalls and cliffs carved out by water) and in sea-life, the latter of which draws folks interested in spotting rare whales and interesting shore birds.
The most exotic -- and fabulous -- experience that you shouldn't miss in this port of call is a look at the Reversing Falls. At low tide, the rapids are turbulent and there's a bottleneck gorge at the falls; at high tide the waters are pushed upstream -- and so the river runs in reverse.
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Other Canada & New England Cruise Ports:
Bar Harbor • Bayonne (Cape Liberty) • Boston • Charlottetown (Prince Edward Island) • Halifax • Montreal • New York (Manhattan) • Newport • Portland (Maine) • Quebec City • Saint John (New Brunswick) • St. John's (Newfoundland) • Sydney (Nova Scotia)
Stroll down side streets in uptown Saint John to find one-of-a-kind art, books and vintage items. For the beer-lover in your life, snag a memento from Moosehead Brewery. Or, if you prefer more Canada-themed souvenirs, try Java Moose Coffee Roasters, where you can also grab some java.
English is spoken in Saint John, although you will find signage in both English and in French. Saint John is the only officially bilingual province in Canada.
Currency & Best Way to Get Money
The Canadian dollar is the official currency of Canada. Many of the shops and restaurants near the pier take American dollars, though they will give you back change in Canadian dollars. There's an ATM at the Marco Polo Cruise Terminal that dispenses Canadian currency.
Where You're Docked
Cruise ships dock at Port Saint John in the heart of the city, which is known as uptown Saint John to the locals. The port is home to two terminals: Marco Polo and the newer Diamond Jubilee. On days when three ships are in port, a tent is erected at Long Wharf Terminal, also in the heart of the city.
Most shore excursions in Saint John take no more than four hours, so there's time to explore the town on your own before the ship departs. Pick up a map at the Welcome Kiosk in the ship terminal, or the Visitor Information Centre a few blocks away, at Market Square. There are over 100 retail shops within a 10-minute walk of the terminal, including Market Square and Brunswick Square, which are modern, indoor malls linked by a pedestrian walkway. The King Street area is lined with quaint shops, cafes and galleries. Germain Street and Prince William Street are known for historic churches and architecturally significant buildings. But you may get no further than Water Street, across from the terminal, which is home to a few inviting pubs.
Saint John is very pedestrian-friendly, with most of the tourist spots and historic uptown Saint John no more than a 15-minute walk from the ship terminal. Taxis are available for trips to the Reversing Falls, though nearly every shore excursion includes a stop there, so you don't have to worry about getting there on your own if you don't want to go independently. For sightseeing fun, it's hard to beat a horse-drawn trolley. You'll find them near the terminal, waiting to take passengers past town landmarks, such as the Old Country Courthouse, the Loyalist Burial Grounds, Loyalist House and King's Square.
Watch Out For
Saint John is a relatively safe city, but it's always smart to be aware of your surroundings, and be sure to leave any unnecessary valuables in your stateroom's safe.
Uptown Saint John, just steps from the cruise terminals, is bustling with activity. If you're looking for souvenirs, you have two major shopping options: Brunswick Square and market Square. For boutique shopping, venture down most side streets to score vintage items, record stores, and used books, among other finds.
The Reversing Rapids is an amazing natural phenomenon that results from a confluence of two distinct forces: the highest tides in the world, courtesy of the Bay of Fundy, and the origination point of the Saint John River. When the two meet in a rocky gorge, the high tides overpower the river, causing it to reverse its flow twice a day. Fallsview Park, as its name implies, is the lookout point to observe the churning waters below. You can experience the falls by jetboat or simply watch from the observation point.
The Saint John City Market on Charlotte Street is the oldest farmer's market in Canada. The market's roof is shaped like an inverted hull of a ship, a testament to the city's shipbuilding history. A stroll through the market is a true sensory experience, with stalls of produce, fresh fish, meats, cheeses, flowers and prepared foods lining the building. There's also a stand selling a local specialty, dried seaweed, called dulse.
The King's Square Bandstand is located in picturesque King Square at the top of King Street. Drenched in history, it occasionally hosts musicians and street performers, who entertain during the lunch hour. Stop by to check it out and snap a photo or two.
Been There, Done That
If you've already experienced the town's highlights, visit Moosehead Brewery, Canada's oldest independent brewery. It's also the home of Moosehead Beer, and it has a great country store that's filled with one-of-a-kind souvenirs.
Step outside the heart of the city, and take a walk on the ocean floor at Hopewell Rocks or St. Martin's Sea Caves, where you can actually see the world's highest tides in action.
If you're a lover of art or history, the New Brunswick Museum, near the terminal, is worth a visit. If independent galleries are more your speed, you'll find a host of them throughout Saint John, featuring local art.
To satisfy your sweet tooth, wander over to Barbour's General Store, which carries Victorian-era delicacies like dulse and molasses. You can also find local information in this authentic building, circa the 1800s.
The Saint John Police Museum offers a look at the city's past through the eyes of a police officer. This venue is ideal for history buffs who want to learn more about the force's 164-year history.
Steamer's Lobster Company couldn't be more convenient. It's on Water Street, across from the ship terminal. You'll get an authentic seaboard spread, served outdoors on picnic-style tables with umbrellas. Lobster is the house specialty, but don't miss the bucket o' mussels, served with a platter of lemon wedges and drawn butter. There's even a "lounge singer" that serenades customers during their meal.
If you really want some traditional food, peruse the stalls at the Saint John City Market. Several vendors have set up small dining areas with tables and counter service. Fish and chips and all types of chowders are the most popular offerings. But you'll also find crepes and traditional British fare, such as pasties and sausages.
Farm-to-table dining is what Saint John Ale House embodies. This upscale ale house offers one of the biggest beer selections in town, paired with expert cuisine. You'll find pub fare, local delicacies and their famous lobster roll.
Urban Deli, located on King Street, boasts a sophisticated take on deli classics. Don't Miss their signature sandwiches, which include the Uptown Big Beef Bad Boy and the original Montreal-style Smoked Meat.
Thandi Restaurant offers "East meets West" fusion, featuring Indian dishes like korma and masala for diners who prefer spicy food. There's also a maritime seafood platter for those seeking a sample of the Atlatic.
Java Moose Coffee Roasters is your spot for a cup of joe or a cappuccino. They are a locally owned and operated coffee chain with lunch specials. You can also find Canada-themed gifts and free Wi-Fi.
Staying in Touch
To find free Wi-Fi within walking distance of the terminal, try Java Moose in the Saint John City Market or on Prince William Street; it's a good place to stop for an espresso and check your email. You can also stop by Second Cup on King Street or Starbucks in Brunswick Square. And you can't beat the price (free) at the Saint John Free Public Library, also on the second floor of Market Square.
Best for a City Overview: The most popular shore excursions are half-day city tours, which provide a pretty good orientation to the city. Highlights include the Saint John City Market, Fort Howe, and the historic Trinity Royal and Saint John's Heritage Preservation Areas in town.
Best for Adventure-Seekers: A ride on a 10-passenger jet boat on the Reversing Rapids is a white-knuckler, and that's just for those watching from afar. The 20-minute ride through whirlpool rapids and towering waves is a surefire way to get drenched, even though passengers are provided with heavy rain gear. The ride is definitely not for those with heart conditions.
Best for Nature-Lovers: A more sedate way to enjoy the Saint John River is to take a kayak trip. A popular shore excursion combines a kayak ride with a lobster lunch at the end of the journey. Participants are treated to some great bird watching along the way. Commonly spotted species include blue heron, osprey, Canadian geese and ducks.
Best for Meeting Locals Try a shore excursion that combines a hands-on tour of a local farm with a visit to nearby Darlings Island, and the beautiful Enan Lane Gardens. The dairy farm stop includes the opportunity to milk a cow by hand, always an intriguing activity for city slickers.
Best for Scenic Photos: Snap some great shots on a covered bridge tour by bicycle. The Saint John area is home to the largest number of covered bridges in North America, with many dating to the late 1800s.
Best for Historic Transportation: Take a ride on the Bay of Fundy Railway. It offers a slow pace and breathtaking views of the waterfront and the Reversing Rapids.
Highly recommended: Saint John Adventures Zipline
For More Information
On the Web: Cruise Saint John
Cruise Critic Message Boards: Canada
IndependentTraveler.com: Canada Travel Guide
--Updated by Ashley Kosciolek, Associate Editor