Colonial history and rugged coastlines, craggy seaside villages and opulent mansions -- these are just a few of the things that make a Canada & New England cruise so appealing. Each northern Atlantic port offers a glimpse into the past, as well as present-day natural beauty. You can learn about America's forefathers in Newport and Boston, while Bar Harbor is known for its stunning rocky shores and towering cliffs.
In Atlantic Canada, Halifax and Saint John offer a glimpse into a different kind of city life, one where voices are quieter, the pace is slower, and a city library takes up prime real estate, overlooking Saint John's harbor from a wharfside mall.
More than ever, many itineraries are venturing down the Saint Lawrence Seaway and into the heart of Canada's francophone province, Quebec. Known as "La Belle Province" (The Beautiful Province), cruises are calling on some of the region's most picturesque and historic ports of call, from tiny Saguenay to picturesque Quebec City and cosmopolitan Montreal.
Cruising Canada and New England is not only about what you can see and learn, though. These itineraries offer a wealth of opportunities to pedal, paddle and hike -- in national parks, along coastal roads and through color-filled forests. Speedboat rides in the Bay of Fundy, whale-watching excursions and white-water rafting are all available, too.
The Canada/New England cruise season runs from May to October, with the greatest number of ships sailing between August and October to take advantage of the fall foliage.
The summer months are ideal for families on break, whereas autumn is perfect for leaf-peeping and ships that are mostly kid-free. Peak foliage times run from late September to mid-October.
May, June and October can be quite chilly in this region, especially at night when lows dip to high 40s/low 50s F in Halifax. July and August are the warmest months, with highs in the low to mid-70s in Atlantic Canada and upper 70s in Montreal. Still, summer nights can be cool, and it's not unusual to find lows in the 60s to high 50s.
The best time to see whales off the Atlantic coast of eastern Canada varies by location. June through early August is the best time to spot these magnificent creatures off the coast of Newfoundland and Labrador. The best time to see whales in the Bay of Fundy is between July and September. Seals can also be spotted off the coast of Prince Edward Island during the summer months.
While primetime for these voyages is still the fall months of September and October, the Canada/New England cruise season has been slowly but surely expanding to fill some spring and summer months, too.
Nearly every major cruise line has at least one ship sailing a Canada/New England itinerary, some with fall dates only and others with summer and fall voyages. Holland America Line and Princess Cruises have a notable presence here, often with multiple ships sailing elongated seasons. During the primary season in fall, Carnival Cruise Line, Cunard, Norwegian Cruise Line and Royal Caribbean all offer various itineraries that range from weeklong roundtrips out of New York and Boston, to one-way voyages between New York and Quebec.
Luxury small-ship lines Seabourn and Silversea offer stops in out-of-the-way ports not found on big-ship itineraries, like Cape Cod and Trois-Rivieres. Expedition cruises on American Cruise Line and Blount Small Ship Adventures focus sailings on the smaller towns of the Eastern Seaboard and Saint Lawrence Seaway. Adventure Canada is noteworthy for its expeditions of Newfoundland and numerous small ports in Quebec and the Saint Lawrence Seaway, and is one of the few cruise lines to offer an expedition to Sable Island, off the coast of Newfoundland.
Itineraries vary by length and route; a wide variety of ports of call is available, as well as embarkation homeports. Those in the U.S. include Baltimore, Boston, New York City (either New York or nearby Brooklyn) and Cape Liberty in New Jersey. Canadian sailings primarily leave from Quebec and Montreal.
Shorter sailings: Nearly every cruise line offers weeklong sailings to a variety of ports in the United States and Atlantic Canada. Some of these are roundtrip cruises, while lines like Holland America regularly offer one-way cruises between Boston and Montreal. Some lines, like Disney and Princess, offer five-night Canada & New England getaways at least once per year, while Royal Caribbean has a series of six-night cruises departing from Cape Liberty aboard Adventure of the Seas.
Longer sailings: Many lines offer 10- to 14-night sailings, too, either as roundtrip cruises or as longer one-way voyages between New York and Quebec. For those looking for a real adventure, Viking Cruises offers yearly transatlantic crossings between Bergen, Norway and Montreal, with calls on ports in Newfoundland and Quebec, along with Scotland, the Faroe Islands and Iceland.
One-way sailings: While getting to and from arrival and departure points takes a bit more planning, one-way sailings offer a greater number and variety of ports and can be found on seven-night and longer sailings. For example, Holland America and Norwegian both offer Boston to Quebec itineraries. Crystal sails between Montreal and New York City aboard Crystal Symphony, and Princess has one-way sailings between New York City and Quebec.
Boston, Massachusetts: History comes to life in Boston, with its rich in museums, galleries, parks and historic sights. Follow the 2.5-mile Freedom Trail that includes the route of Paul Revere's ride, view restored tea ships at the Boston Tea Party Ships & Museum, or take a short trip to Concord to see the bridge where Minutemen fired "the shot heard 'round the world." Or, for more modern pursuits, stroll through Boston's Public Gardens, take a swan boat ride, and exit at the beginning of Newbury Street, home to boutique shops, cafes and great restaurants.
Newport, Rhode Island: The former summer playground of the famously rich, Newport is home to some of the most opulent mansions from the Gilded Age. It's worth your time to tour at least one of the ten mansions here, and tickets can be pre-purchased online. Grandest of all is The Breakers, Cornelius Vanderbilt II's Italian Renaissance-style palazzo with a lower loggia that features a mosaic of dolphins made from thousands of pieces of marble. Stroll Newport's famous Cliff Walk, a picturesque 3.5-mile path along rocky coastline that offers great "backyard" views of many of Newport's famous mansions. This is a tender port for most ships.
Bar Harbor, Maine: Besides the town's legendary seafood, Acadia National Park is the main attraction in Bar Harbor, with its 47,633-acre mix of rocky shores, towering cliffs and forested mountains. President Woodrow Wilson established Acadia as the first national park east of the Mississippi, and it's one of the most visited U.S. national parks today. The 45 miles of carriage roads that lace through it are popular with cyclists. In town, you can relax on the Village Green or sip microbrews at one of the many pubs. Larger ships tender passengers ashore here, and shops on Main Street can get crowded when more than one is in port.
Halifax, Nova Scotia: In the Nova Scotian capital of Halifax, you can visit Canada's Museum of Immigration at Pier 21 (right next to where most ships tie up), take little ones on a Theodore Tugboat cruise, or visit the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic, which has a vast collection of Titanic memorabilia, including the ship's only surviving deck chair. Outside the city, visit the pretty seaside town of Lunenburg, a meticulously restored historic village and UNESCO World Heritage Site, or spend a half-day meandering through postcard-perfect Peggy's Cove with its scenic lighthouse, rocky inlets and seaside lobster meals.
Saint John, New Brunswick: The scenic city of Saint John, New Brunswick lies on the north shore of the Bay of Fundy. Watch how the highest tidal range in the world causes a river to reverse direction, sending 100 billion tons of swirling seawater into the Saint John River. Better still, get out on the water, and jetboat through the Reversing Falls rapids, or take a kayak and lobster cookout excursion. Foodies will want to check out the Saint John City Market, which has operated in the same building since 1876.
Saguenay, Quebec: The small village of Saguenay is one of Quebec's hidden treasures. Nestled at the end of the Saguenay Fjord, Saguenay (pronounced Sag-uh-NAY) is an easily-walkable town with plenty of quaint shops, pubs and restaurants that showcase the best of La Belle Province. Stop in for some traditional poutine (a Quebecois dish comprised of French fries, gravy and cheese curds) or take in the sweeping "La Fabuleuse" stage show that tells of Saguenay's dramatic history with an all-volunteer cast. Be sure to be on deck for sail-in; the town puts on one of the best arrival ceremonies in the world.
Quebec City, Quebec: In Quebec City, you can get a taste of France without the Atlantic crossing. Visit historic sites that include Place Royale, a picturesque plaza that's considered the birthplace of French civilization in North America, and the star-shaped La Citadelle, a sprawling fortress and active military garrison that is a national historic site. You'll want to go exploring inside the iconic and grand Fairmont Chateau Frontenac hotel; for a real treat, stop for cocktails in the circular 1608 Wine and Cheese Bar which offers one of the largest selections of Quebecois cheese in the city. Outside the city is Montmorency Falls, which -- at 275 feet -- is higher than Niagara, and well worth a visit. Many Quebeckers are fluent in English and French, though a well-placed, "Bonjour!" goes a long way during the daytime. At night, "Bonsoir" is the best greeting to use.
Montreal, Quebec: One of eastern Canada's busiest turnaround ports, Montreal, exudes big-city amenities and historical charm, particularly in its downtown quarter. In the Old Town, visit the gothic Notre-Dame Basilica, take a stroll along Place Jacques Cartier, or visit one of the numerous trendy shops and museums that line this historic quarter, not far from where many (but not all) cruise ships dock. The more modern downtown area is an easy walk from Old Montreal, and offers up a plethora of cozy restaurants, attractions and shopping opportunities. Stop by the Ritz-Carlton Montreal for one of the best afternoon teas in the city that has been going strong since 1913 (1228 Sherbrooke St. West; reservations essential), or head over to the city's vibrant Chinatown District -- the third-largest in Canada.
It's kid-friendly. If you're traveling with kids, note minimum ages on biking, kayaking and other shore tours, and pick a line that offers tours that fit the needs of your family. Also consider touring on your own. Unlike some Caribbean ports, there are oodles of kid-friendly attractions within safe and easy walking distance of ports in Boston, Halifax and Saint John, for example. Consider booking hop-on-hop-off bus tours or the Theodore Tugboat in Halifax on your own, or take a cab to one of Boston's many kid-friendly museums.
Get your wine on. Many people don't realize that New England and eastern Canada is a wine-producing region, with vineyards in Massachusetts, Maine, Quebec and Nova Scotia. You can make a day-trip out of visiting local wineries, and, indeed, some sailings highlight wine touring in their itineraries.
You won't get seasick. In general, a Canada/New England sailing is less likely to be bumpy than an Alaska one. However, ocean sailings are more susceptible to rough waters than seas, so you might feel more movement depending on the weather.
Layer up! Pack layers of clothing, especially for shore excursions. Days begin and end with cool temperatures, so you'll want a sweatshirt or lightweight jacket that you can peel off and tie around your waist later in the day. A fleece jacket and pair of warm slippers are also worth packing for watching outdoor movies or strolls on deck at night.
Lots of pub culture. Pub aficionados take note: there are more bars and pubs per capita in the city of Halifax than in any other city in North America. As a result, the pub-crawling excursion is one of the most popular on any cruise ship. You can also do your own independent pub crawl: Halifax is extremely walkable.
And fantastic fjords. Fjords aren't limited to Norway and Chile; North America has them, too. Pick an itinerary that includes a day of cruising the Saguenay to see the Saguenay Fjord, located in the heart of the province of Quebec. It's fed by both the Atlantic Ocean and the St. Lawrence Seaway.
Know your currency. While many establishments in Canada will accept U.S. dollars, be aware that your change will be given in Canadian dollars. Having some Canadian dollars on hand is always a good idea if your cruise includes numerous Canadian ports of call. Canada phased out the one cent penny in 2013; cash transactions are rounded to the nearest five cents.
Beware of the turkey. Unlike in the United States, Canadian Thanksgiving is held on the second Monday of October. A statutory holiday in most of Canada (except for Prince Edward Island, Newfoundland and Labrador, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, where it is an operational holiday), the Thanksgiving long weekend can result in reduced operational hours or closed stores and attractions. It pays to plan ahead, and to call attractions to confirm that they will be open if you plan on doing independent touring at that time.