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.
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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?
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.
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.
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.