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Charlottetown (Prince Edward Island) Overview
The Canadian province of Prince Edward Island (PEI) promotes itself as the "Gentle Island," but its popular claim to fame lies in being home to the famous fictional character of the 1908 children's classic, "Anne of Green Gables." One hundred years ago, PEI author Lucy Maud Montgomery drew inspiration for the setting of her classic novel from the island where she grew up during the late Victorian Era. The story has been translated into 15 languages and adapted for film, stage and television. When venturing around the island, you can easily see where her inspiration came from: quiet agricultural communities, lush green landscapes, fishing villages, lighthouses that dot the coastline, red sandstone cliffs and, of course, green gabled houses.
Prince Edward Island is located north of the province of Nova Scotia and is connected to the province of New Brunswick on the west by the 13-kilometer (9-mile) Confederation Bridge. The island's largest urban area, with 35,000 residents, is Charlottetown, situated centrally on PEI's southern shore and on the Northumberland Strait. On the north side of the island is PEI's National Park and the Cavendish area -- home to many Anne-related attractions.
Before PEI was all about Anne, this island province hosted the Charlottetown Conference in 1864 -- the first meeting in the creation of Canada, which resulted in the Confederation of Canada in 1867. As for the economy, agriculture is still the number-one industry in PEI, with 30 percent of the nation's potatoes grown on the island in the unique red-hued earth (there's even a Potato Museum on the island). Tourism comes in second on PEI, and is continually growing (69,000 cruise ship passengers in 2008 in comparison to 20,000 in 2007).
Upon arriving in Charlottetown by cruise ship, passengers are met by sounds of fiddling and Islanders (a nickname collectively referring to the residents) dressed in Celtic costumes performing traditional step dancing. These performances are a reflection of the ethnic makeup of the island, as more than 60 percent of the residents are of Scottish or Irish descent. From the terminal building, a winding boardwalk wraps around the harbor adjacent to many of the shops and restaurants on Peake's Wharf. The self-guided Historic Walk, mapped out by PEI Tourism, highlights 19th-century architecture, and the stroll takes you from the Wharf, up Great George Street, by Victoria Row on Richmond Street, and then up West Street to end by the foot of Victoria Park at Kent Street.
Of course, no visit to PEI would be complete without a sampling of the fares of the land and sea. Dining musts include local seafood like Malpeque Bay oysters, PEI lobsters or bluefin tuna, all served fresh, and PEI's potatoes -- come see what the buzz is all about.
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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)
Pick up authentic Anne of Green Gables merchandise such as books and dolls at the Anne of Green Gables Store (www.anneofgreengables.cc) on the corner of Victoria Row and Queen Street. There is also a store in Cavendish. Northern Watters Knitwear (www.nwknitwear.com, 150 Richmond Street) makes durable sweaters, hats and other knitwear items; you can watch as they're made on antique Swiss looms. The Pilar Shephard Art Gallery (www.pilarshephard.com, 82 Great George Street) features original PEI landscapes and seascapes from native artists as well as other Maritime artists.
English is the primary language on PEI, although French may be spoken in certain regions.
Currency & Best Way to Get Money
Many retailers will accept U.S. dollars, but not always at the official exchange rate. Canadian money comes in the same denominations as U.S. money, with the same names: quarter, dime and so forth. However, there is no paper Canadian one-dollar bill. Instead, there is a one-dollar coin, nicknamed the Loonie, and the two-dollar coin called the Toonie. The most convenient way to exchange money is to use your ATM card at a bank or kiosk (the closest kiosk is in Founders' Hall by the cruise terminal). The U.S. dollar has been fluctuating at par with the Canadian dollar, but check www.xe.com for the latest rate.
Where You're Docked
Historic Charlottetown Seaport is located right downtown. After a recent $18 million investment to upgrade its cruise ship facilities, Charlottetown now has a lengthened berth to allow larger vessels to visit. There is also a Cruise Welcome Centre.
Directly in front of the cruise terminal is Founders' Hall (Canada's Birthplace Pavilion) and the Charlottetown Visitor Centre, where visitors can pick up maps and brochures. Also on the waterfront is Peake's Wharf Historic Waterfront Merchants for souvenir shopping, homemade ice cream and fresh seafood.
By foot: Since the ship docks right in the heart of town, many attractions are within a few blocks of each other. You can spend a whole day strolling the small city, visiting historic attractions and even taking in a theatrical performance.
By bike: Go Wheelin' (www.gowheelinpei.com, 877-286-6532) offers bike rentals for $20 for a half day or $30 for a full day. They are located at the Charlottetown Visitor Centre on the Historic Waterfront.
By taxi: Co-op Taxi Line has cars waiting at the pier (or you can call; local number is 902-892-1111 or 902-628-8200); you can take a local ride, or arrange for an island tour for $50 per hour per car.
By rental car: National Car (www.nationalcar.ca, 800-227-7368) has a kiosk in Founders' Hall. Rates begin at $70 per day and include unlimited mileage.
Founders' Hall: Located in front of the cruise terminal building, visitors can learn about the story of Canada. A multi-dimensional video and media presentation describes the Charlottetown Conference of 1864 and how it led to the Birthplace of Confederation.
Province House National Historic Site: Built in 1847, this building has the unique distinction of being both the provincial legislature and a national historic site. It was here that in 1864, the first meeting was held that lead to the Confederation of Canada. The interior of the building has been restored and it still serves as the seat of the province's legislature (located on the corner of Richmond and Great George Street).
Beaconsfield Historic House: Situated in a cove with a commanding view of Charlottetown harbor, Beaconsfield Historic House was built in 1877 for a wealthy shipbuilder. This grand 25-room house is an enduring symbol of Victorian elegance, but it was also one of the first homes on the island to have running water, gas lights and central heating. It features eight fireplaces, imported chandeliers, plaster moldings and stained glass (Victoria Park and Kent Street).
Sandland: Located beside Founders' Hall, sand sculptures made from two million pounds of red Island sand are on display. Life-sized characters and architecture depict the history of Islanders in the “Living by the Sea” exhibit.
Confederation Centre of the Arts (www.confederationcentre.com) is the place where you can catch a performance of "Anne of Green Gables -- The Musical." It is Canada's longest running musical with the year 2008 marking its 44th season (Victoria Row and Queen Street).
Avonlea Village: Located in the Cavendish area, the interactive village (named after Anne of Green Gables' hometown) offers visitors the chance to step back in time to 1908 and relive some pages of Lucy Maud Montgomery's classic novel. Costumed actors guide visitors around miniature houses while kids and adults can dress up in period costumes, enjoy a hay wagon ride, watch puppet shows and taste freshly made sweets from the chocolate factory (www.avonlea.ca).
PEI National Park: Miles of sand dunes, beaches, sandstone cliffs and walking trails make up the park, but this is also the home of Green Gables House. Green Gables is the farm that inspired the setting of "Anne of Green Gables."
Been There, Done That
Hit the Beach: It is said that no matter where you are on the island, you're never more than 15 minutes away from a beach. The island has beaches for every purpose, from supervised swimming beaches for families to deserted coastlines for solitary walks or clam digging. Cavendish is probably the region's busiest beach since the waters of the Northumberland Strait are the warmest sea waters north of the Carolinas.
Cycle Part of the Confederation Trail: The island's conversion of old railroad tracks to pathways for biking has resulted in close to 300 kilometers of trails through the rural heartland. The best limited-time excursion is at St. Peter's Bay. Drive 25 minutes from Charlottetown and rent bikes from St. Peter's Bay Craft and Giftware (www.stpetersbay.com).
Golf: The island has over 30 courses all within a 45-minute drive of Charlottetown (www.golfpei.ca). One of the best known is the Links at Crowbush Cove, which was recognized by Golf Digest in 2004 as Canada's best new course.
Driving Tour: Prince Edward Island is eminently suitable for driving tours. The tourism office has them mapped out, and you can mix and match (based on proximity) trips to evocatively named regions such as "Hills and Harbours," "Bays and Dunes," "Charlotte's Shore," "Sunsets and Seascapes" and "Anne's Land." For simply scenic drives, it's easy to find routes such as Kings Byway, Blue Heron and Lady Slipper -- all taking you through different sections of Prince Edward Island.
Casual Dining: Lobster on the Wharf (www.lobsteronthewharf.com, Prince Street Wharf, open daily from 11:30 a.m.) is best for seafood in a casual atmosphere. The Gahan House Pub and Brewery (www.gahan.ca, 126 Sydney Street, from 11:30 a.m.) is an upscale brewpub located in an historic townhouse that serves fish and chips in a brown bag. Piazza Joe's Italian Eatery (www.piazzajoes.com, 189 Kent Street) serves large portions and offers an all-you-can-eat bread bar and refillable soft drinks. Fish Bones Oyster Bar (www.fishbonesoysterbar.ca, 136 Richmond Street) features a raw bar with an array of island oysters and specialty sauces. On Victoria Row, near the Confederation Centre, check out the handful of bistros and coffee houses with sidewalk cafes.
Gourmet Dining: Lucy Maud Dining Room overlooks the entrance to the harbor. This restaurant is operated by students from the Culinary Institute of Canada under the guidance of world-class chef instructors. Try the PEI Mussel Linguine (reservations: 877-475-2844; open for lunch 11 - 1:30, Tues. - Sat.).
Gourmet Dining, Out of Town: Inside PEI National Park is a National Historic Site called Dalvay By The Sea (www.dalvaybythesea.com, 888-366-2955; daily lunch 12 - 1:30, afternoon tea 2 - 4). The elegant Victorian home was built by a Scottish American oil tycoon and now the property is run as a 26-room boutique hotel and restaurant. The Executive Chef Andrew Morrison was recently awarded Chef of the Year by PEI Chef Association. They use fresh local ingredients in such menu items as Island Blue Mussels or the Lobster Croissant.
Staying in Touch
Founders' Hall offers free wireless Internet.
Best of Anne: The "Ultimate Anne of Green Gables Experience" is approximately 4.5 hours and includes a scenic seaside drive and a visit to the farm site and Green Gables House that inspired the classic novel.
Best for Foodies: Join a local oyster shucker on the “Ah Shucks Shellfish” excursion, offered by Princess Cruises, and learn the ins and outs of buying, storing, shucking and cooking shellfish. After the oyster lesson, savor a fresh seafood lunch (tour is approximately three hours). Alternatively, the “So You Know Lobster, Eh?” excursion, offered by Holland America Line, focuses on the PEI lobster. Learn about lobster behavior as well as how to prepare, serve and enjoy this local favorite (tour is approximately three hours).
Best of Charlottetown: "Charlottetown by Trolley" features a historical and cultural tour aboard a San Francisco-style trolley. The trolley passes numerous homes from the early 1800's, and stops at the Province House; you'll have the opportunity to stroll down Victoria Row with its quaint boutiques (tour is approximately two hours).
Best for Active Travelers: Because of the abundance of serene waterways, sea kayaking is popular and offered by most of the cruise lines. Paddle past high cliffs and long beaches while the guide explains about the local nature, wildlife and landscape (tour is approximately four hours).
For More Information
PEI Tourism: www.gov.pe.ca, 800-463-4PEI
Tourism Charlottetown: www.walkandseacharlottetown.com, 800-955-1864
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--by Renee Ruggero, Cruise Critic contributor