1. Home
  2. Destinations
  3. Canada & New England
  4. 5 Reasons to Take a Fall Foliage Cruise
View of Camden, Maine harbor from the summit of Mount Battie, Camden Hills State Park (Photo: E.J.Johnson Photography)

5 Reasons to Take a Fall Foliage Cruise

By Gina Kramer
Cruise Critic Editor

Fall is Mother Nature's magic show. Dazzling hues of burgundy, crimson and gold transform the landscape, beckoning us to embrace the outdoors. Instead of limiting yourself to your hometown leaf display, opt for a fall foliage cruise in Canada and New England.

Itineraries run the gamut from five nights to more than two weeks, and take place during the leaf-peeping high season between late September and mid-October. Most ships disembark from New York or Boston and call at ports like Bar Harbor, Quebec City and Prince Edward Island. For a more intimate leaf-peeping experience, splurge on a river cruise through New York's Hudson Valley or a luxury cruise to Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket.

Are pretty leaves the only reason to take a fall foliage cruise? Certainly not. Here are five compelling reasons to take a fall foliage cruise.

Updated February 26, 2018

1. The scenery is beautiful.

A fall foliage cruise allows you to soak up the scenery and crisp air in a beautifully mapped out itinerary, which you can enjoy from onboard or by foot or bus, in multiple ports. Cruise lines target their foliage cruises for peak season (late September to mid-October) when deciduous trees show off their richest colors. Even on a short cruise, you're guaranteed a good show. Longer sailings highlight even more of the transition from summer to winter; some also include overnights in select ports. Think about it: What could be better than enjoying the views from your cruise ship balcony, snuggled up with a fleece blanket and glass of wine?

Bass Harbor Lighthouse at Acadia National Park

2. The port cities are full of character, history and charm.

Canada and New England, and even New York, are dotted with old, picture-perfect port cities that are fun and easy to explore on your own. Tour a lighthouse, stroll through the park or shop for one-of-a-kind souvenirs at a boutique shop. For those who prefer to have their days organized for them, cruise lines offer an array of excursions in port or to nearby attractions, such as Acadia National Park.

3. Seasonal delicacies abound.

The Halloween and pre-Christmas holiday spirit will be in full effect during your cruise, so expect lots of seasonal decor and bustling farmers' markets -- and pumpkin-flavored everything. Farmers' markets are a great way to sample local "fall harvest" flavors. Throughout New England, for example, you can indulge in apple cider doughnuts and pressed apple cider (head to a restaurant for apple pancakes drenched in warm maple syrup). Meanwhile, fall foliage cruises cater to pumpkin lovers with everything from savory pies to soups.

Anne of Green Gables House

4. The shore excursions are both fun and enriching.

Leaf peeping isn't the only way to relish Canada and New England's rugged beauty. Cruise lines offer a wide variety of shore excursions that are both fun and enriching and appeal to everyone, from adventure seekers to history buffs. Some of our favorites include a guided kayak tour with popular outfitter L.L. Bean and a visit to the famous Anne of Green Gables homestead in Prince Edward Island. The region is also home to a number of landmarks -- such as Fenway Park and the Titanic exhibit at the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic -- that you can easily visit on your own. 

Find a Cruise

5. The weather is in your favor.

Fall weather is like Goldilocks' perfect porridge, not too hot and not too cold. The crisp air makes for comfortable shore tours, refreshing walks on the top deck and soothing hot tub dips. Just make sure you pack lots of layers, as mornings and nights tend to be a bit chilly. We also recommend heavier outdoor wear for ports along the Atlantic coast such as Bar Harbor and Halifax, which are significantly cooler (averaging in the 50s) than inland ports like Quebec City and Montreal (mid-60s to low-70s). And while the Atlantic hurricane season is at its peak during fall foliage season, the Northeast is less likely to be affected by a major storm than the Caribbean.

Find a Cruise

Popular on Cruise Critic

Onboard Credit: How to Get It, Where to Spend It
Free. Money. Are there two more beautiful words in the English language? While money doesn't grow on trees, increasingly it can be found somewhere else -- on the high seas. Call it an incentive, call it a bonus; whatever you want to call it, onboard credit lets you spend more freely with less guilt. You've paid your cruise fare, and now you can splurge on those enticing extras -- Swedish massage, specialty restaurant, an excursion to snorkel among shipwrecks -- without busting your budget. Not many need convincing as to why onboard credit -- money automatically deposited into your onboard account-- rocks, but finding out exactly how to get it and where you can spend it is a bit trickier. We found eight ways to hit the OBC jackpot and offer even more suggestions on how to burn through it, although you probably have your own ideas already.
Cruise Packing 101
There once was a not-so-savvy seafarer who didn't feel right unless she took two steamer trunks crammed with outfits on every cruise. This, she learned, was not a good idea. Besides incurring the wrath of her male traveling companion, who pointed out that he would have to wrestle with excess baggage through airport terminals and beyond, she quickly tired of cramming her belongings into tiny closets and bureaus. The now savvy seafarer follows her own packing 101 rule: Thou shalt put into one's suitcase only that which will fit neatly in the allocated storage space without hogging every available nook and cranny for thyself. Following that advice is getting easier these days because, for the most part, cruising has become a much more casual vacation -- even on luxury and traditional lines. Plus, with airlines charging to check bags and imposing extra fees for overweight luggage), it's just plain economical to pack light. To do so, you need to have a good sense of what you’re going to wear on a cruise so you don't pack your entire closet. If you're wondering what to bring on your next cruise, here are our guidelines for what you'll need to pack.
Best Time to Cruise
It's one of the most common cruising questions: When is the best time to cruise Alaska, Australia, the Caribbean, Canada/New England, Hawaii, Europe or the South Pacific? The answer depends on many variables. Fall foliage enthusiasts, for instance, will find September and October the best time to take that Canada/New England cruise, whereas water sports-lovers (and families) much prefer to sail the region in the summer when school is out and temperatures are warmer for swimming. The best time to cruise to Alaska will vary depending on your preferences for viewing wildlife, fishing, bargain-shopping, sunshine, warm weather and catching the northern lights. For most cruise regions, there are periods of peak demand (high season), moderate demand (shoulder season) and low demand (low season), which is usually the cheapest time to cruise. High season is typically a mix of when the weather is best and popular travel periods (such as summer and school holidays). However, the best time to cruise weather-wise is usually not the cheapest time to cruise. The cheapest time to cruise is when most travelers don't want to go because of chillier temperatures or inopportune timing (too close to holidays, the start of school, etc.). But the lure of cheap fares and uncrowded ports might make you change your mind about what you consider the best time to cruise. As you plan your next cruise, you'll want to take into consideration the best and cheapest times to cruise and see what jibes with your vacation schedule. Here's a when-to-cruise guide for popular destinations.