Most travelers associate Canada and New England cruises with senior citizens on fall foliage tours, but the truth is that several lines offer family-friendly summer cruises to North America's eastern seashore. The port-intensive itineraries feature a mix of cities and quieter destinations, many with historic touchstones and all with kid-friendly attractions.
If you're considering a family cruise to Canada and New England, here are some tips to making the most of your time in port.
When calling on Quebec City, adventurous families should head out to Montmorency Falls, the highest waterfall in Quebec (and higher than its famous Canadian sister, Niagara Falls). Most ship tours merely stop here for a photo op, but your kids, depending on their ages, might enjoy the cable car to the top, rope bridge across the falls, zipline or via ferrata route. Active types who don't like heights might prefer a cycling tour through the city to the falls. If you do want to go it on your own, you can easily walk from the cruise ship to a public bus route that ends by the falls.
If you'd rather something a bit more historic than death-defying, consider a few hours spent exploring Quebec's old city. It's perched on a hill, so you can walk up or pay to take the funicular. The ride is short, but still exciting for little ones. Up top, you can stroll the Dufresne Terrace boardwalk and even take a tour underground to see the ruins of the fort that used to sit above. You can walk along the old city walls for nice views or stroll the ramparts to see lots and lots of cannons. On your way back down to the ship, stop by a vendor selling maple syrup taffy for a very Canadian treat.
PEI is "Anne of Green Gables" country and a variety of tours will take you from Charlottetown to author Lucy Maude Montgomery's hometown to see the house that inspired the story, enjoy a glass of raspberry cordial and interact with costumed actors pretending to be characters from the books. Tweens who are fans of the books might also want to see the Anne and Gilbert musical, which offers matinee performances when ships are in town.
Another great activity for kids on PEI is the Fun with Falcons tour. A small group travels to the home of a falconer to meet some of his birds, hold them and participate in a falcon flying demo (where the bird flies from a tree to land on each participant's gloved hand). It's an interactive tour with amazing photo opportunities and perfect for animal-lovers.
Pro tip: Leave time to stop into Cows, right by the cruise ship dock, to get some delicious Canadian ice cream.
Kids who are history buffs or just like a good cannon firing should sign up for a tour to Fort Louisbourg from Sydney. The current buildings are a replica of just some of the buildings originally erected on the location of this 18th-century French garrison. Costumed reenactors faithfully play their parts, describing life in the 1700s and demonstrating historically accurate methods of bread baking, blacksmithing, cooking and lace-making among others. And, at noon, soldiers shoot off muskets and a cannon.
Weather isn't always the best here, but when it's hot and sunny, bring a hat and sunscreen as the fort area does not have a lot of shade. Also pack some Canadian currency to buy the loaves of bread baked on site, and ear protection for sensitive kids who still want to hear the cannons.
Other options on Cape Breton Island for families include a visit to Baddeck and the Alexander Graham Bell museum, the Highland Village (a Gaelic cultural center and living history museum with farm animals and costumed guides) or a trip to the Cape Breton Miner's Museum, complete with an excursion down into an actual mine.
We took the Hop On Hop Off bus in Halifax but if you're not planning on visiting the Titanic Cemetery, you might be better off striking out on your own. Traffic slows the buses down so making it to the last few stops seemingly takes forever, and there's no standing room, so if the bus fills up before you get on, you have to wait another 20 to 30 minutes for the next one.
That said, there's plenty of family fun in town. You can walk the world's longest boardwalk (2.5 miles) to find Theodore the Tugboat (and perhaps take a ride), as well as ice cream and dining spots with waterfront views. The Maritime Museum has interesting exhibits for slightly older kids on the Titanic and the Halifax Explosion, while the Citadel offers the British version of Sydney's Fort Louisbourg but on a smaller scale.
The Halifax Public Gardens is the place for littles to burn up some energy while grownups appreciate the flowering grounds. It's near a shopping and dining district, as well.
Bar Harbor is the gateway to Acadia National Park. Skip the pricey ship tours that are not geared toward children, and walk up to the Village Green where you can catch a free bus into the park. Pick a short hike that departs from a trailhead off the bus's route, or head to Sand Beach for frolicking in the cold waves or to Thunder Hole for scrambling over rocks by the shore. The Ocean Path takes you from Sand Beach via Thunder Hole to the Otter Cliffs, with bus stops on either end.
Reward everyone with ice cream after your exertions. Mount Desert Ice Cream, down the street from the Village Green bus stop, has crazy flavors such as wasabi chocolate, coriander and reverse root beer float.
Bar Harbor's other signature attraction is lobster. Plenty of spots in town will sell you a lobster roll (perhaps with some Maine blueberry pie), but for the ultimate lobster immersion, catch a ride on a lobster boat, such as The Lulu. You can watch lobstermen and women hauling traps, and they'll teach you all about Maine's favorite crustacean. Kids will also enjoy looking for seals, eagles and other wildlife.
Kids are often eager for whale watches, but caveat emptor: fog and rough seas can make the ride unpleasant and there's no guarantee you'll see anything. Some folks come back disappointed, and often rather green around the gills.