Autumn Leaves and Lobsters in Maine and the Maritimes
Our two week cruise On Celebrity Summit to New England and Canada was very much akin to a curates’ egg. Many good aspects and experiences with the occasional not so good ones, ... Read More
Autumn Leaves and Lobsters in Maine and the Maritimes
Our two week cruise On Celebrity Summit to New England and Canada was very much akin to a curates’ egg. Many good aspects and experiences with the occasional not so good ones, but unlike our previous Celebrity cruise earlier this year to SE Asia which was sub-par in virtually every respect, the good stuff significantly outweighed the bad. For instance:
The ship: Ageing and showing serious signs of wear and tear everywhere with tawdry, outdated furnishings and fittings, the Summit is in desperate need of the total makeover it is due to undergo early in 2019. BUT, despite her age the ship was always clean and well maintained.
Entertainment: Although the singers and dancers were talented and energetic, the main shows were disjointed and not of the standard we have come to expect from the cruise line. BUT overall, the entertainment on offer was generally better than the typical cruise ship offerings with a couple of excellent stage acts including an hilarious stand-up comedian, a great magician and some better than average musical performers. The bands, duos and solo artists that performed regularly at various venues and varying times around the ship were also much of a mixed bag. Some were really good and one could usually find some good music to listen to while quaffing a pre-dinner glass of wine or a cocktail in one of the lounges. Patrick (Cruise Director) and his able assistant Charlotte were also excellent and not over the top as we have sometimes found with Cruise Directors on previous cruises.
Food: The fare in the buffet restaurant was generally bland pretty much the same day in and day out although each day did have a small segment dedicated to a particular theme such as an Italian day, or a Mexican feast and so on. BUT, we thought the main Cosmopolitan restaurant where we dined most frequently was good - more than adequate variety, tasty and always attractively presented. We also sampled two of the speciality restaurants, Sushi on 5 and QSine. Both were good especially QSine which offers such a fun dining experience with good, quirky food and attentive service.
Service: The one area where the RCCI group consistently gets it right is in the standard of service one generally receives from staff and employees at all levels which is a tribute to the high quality selection and training programmes they clearly employ. Service on this cruise was no exception with special shout-outs to our main dining room team of Jewis (head waiter), Walter (assistant waiter) and Randi (sommelier)who collectively contributed to making our dining experience in the main restaurant that much more enjoyable. Carlos our stateroom attendant also attended to our needs efficiently and unobtrusively throughout the two week cruise.
But this cruise was all about the itinerary. A cruise to New England and Canada, particularly in the Fall, has long been on our bucket list and, with only a very few minor exceptions, the experience did not disappoint.
We started the trip with a couple of days in New Jersey to enable us to recover fully after our long 16 hour flight from South Africa. We had never stayed in Jersey City before having always opted to hotel it in Manhattan on our previous visits to North America. We are glad we did. Much cheaper and nowhere near as busy and buzzy as the Big Apple it offers splendid views of the New York skyline from virtually all vantage points. We secured a self-catering studio apartment at Candlewood Suites, an efficient, well run block of self-catering suites less than a kilometre from a PATH station and a well -stocked supermarket. It was more than adequate for our needs with a microwave oven, hotplate and full sized refrigerator and sufficient cooking utensils and crockery/cutlery for two persons. Highly recommended for anyone requiring comfortable, safe and clean accommodation for a short stay at an affordable cost.
While in Jersey City we did the usual touristy things, taking in visits to Liberty Park, Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty and to cosmopolitan Hoboken that included an obligatory stop at Carlo’s Bakery! The PATH station was only one stop from World Trade Centre and we of course, took the opportunity to visit the awesome, understated and respectful 9/11 monument site - an humbling and moving experience. We also wandered our way through much of Lower/Mid Manhattan exploring Soho, Greenwich Village, Chinatown and the Little Italy areas. Our visit coincided with the annual feast of San Gennaro festival in Little Italy which was an experience in its own right! An overcrowded, boisterous, happy atmosphere with every type of Italian fare one could wish for on offer in abundance. Great fun.
Then, on to the cruise. As mentioned, a trip to Canada and New England in the autumn months had long been a “must do” one. We were, of course, hoping to see the Fall colours but regrettably, the cruise was perhaps just a bit too early in the season. However, traversing many of the main ports of call in Maine, Canada and the Maritime Provinces fortunately enabled us to see glimpses of the beauty of the turning leaves, giving us a taste of just how majestic the area must be when the colours are in full bloom.
The itinerary included visits to:
Boston: We took a ship’s tour of Boston by Trolley Bus. The trolley picked us up at the pier and gave passengers a good overview of the main sights of this beautiful city. Unfortunately, the weather was not kind (actually the only really wet day during the entire trip), which sadly prevented us from walking the famous Freedom Trail as planned. The tour included time at the Quincy Market area before dropping us off back at the ship. Incidentally, as the ship docks quite a distance from the downtown area, doing the trolley bus tour which takes one to and from the ship directly is really a good deal - not that much more than the $18 per person shuttle service the ship offered that merely took passengers to the harbor entrance, still some distance from the main attractions of the city.
Portland, Maine: As we docked right at the entrance to the harbor, our plans were to do our own thing in Portland as we could easily walk into town. We however, ended up taking a similar trolley bus tour of the town operated by an independent tour operator that included a visit to one of the famous lighthouses of the area at less than half the price of a similar ship excursion. Well worth the $28 per person for a 2.5 hour tour. After the tour we enjoyed the obligatory lobster roll at a wharf side eatery. Delicious! We still had plenty of time to walk around the town before returning to the ship.
Bar Harbor, Maine: Probably the highlight of our whole vacation. We tendered in Bar Harbor harbour. Seas were quite rough initially so it was quite hairy but lots of fun. We had pre-booked an all-day ship’s tour that took us up Cadillac Mountain and a drive through the beautiful Acacia National Park (apparently rated in the top two or three such parks in the USA). Leaves were starting to turn and we were treated to numerous resplendent vistas of oranges, reds, and purples at every turn. A drive through the leafy wealthy suburbs of the area (holiday homes to the Fords and Rockerfellers!), was followed by a mouthwatering lobster lunch at the Bar Harbor Lobster Bakes restaurant. A real feast comprising a starter of fresh mussels, a full lobster lunch of huge freshly baked lobster, buttered corn on the cob, coleslaw, baked potato and freshly baked bread followed, if one still had an appetite, by freshly baked blueberry cake. Such a delicacy for people such as us who come from a country where our version of lobster (crayfish) are typically less than half the size of the ones that seem to be in abundance on the north eastern seaboard of USA and Canada. After lunch we had a scenic drive along the coast stopping at Thunder Hole a famous attraction in the area.
Quebec City: The first afternoon after docking in this quite extraordinary city, was spent touring the old city on our own. This included a circumnavigation of the famous Citadel and a walk along the boardwalk on the banks of the St Lawrence river. On day 2 in Quebec, we opted for a full day ship’s tour that included much of what we had done ourselves the previous day (but this time with a knowledgeable, proudly Quebecer guide), followed by a trip into the countryside of Quebec where we had visits to the Montgomery Falls – relatively small in width but about 100 feet higher than Niagara falls, and to the awesome Shrine and Cathedral of Ste-Anne-de-Beaupre. We then had lunch at a traditional French restaurant (pretty basic fare but in a delightful setting). The tour was then scheduled to return to tour the Citadel and battlefields outside the walled city and was also scheduled to take in a visit to the famous Chateau Frontenac hotel. However, these plans had to condensed into a quick drive through the scheduled areas as the tour bus was delayed for almost two hours when a fault was detected in a bridge we had to cross to get back into the city area and had to be checked for safety and passed by civil engineers before we were allowed to cross it.
Corner Brook, Newfoundland: Probably the least impressive of the ports visited. We decided not to do a ship’s tour (we probably should have because there was very little to do in the small, nondescript town). There did not seem to be any local tour operators offering tours of the local area so we just ended up walking around the town and a nice little park that seems to be the main attraction of Corner Brook. To their credit the town tried to roll out the red carpet for Summit passengers offering a free, continuous shuttle service from the port to the town centre. Signs welcoming Celebrity Summit were on display throughout the town and some establishments even offered free refreshments to Summit passengers! It will however, be surprising if this destination is retained by the cruise line on its future Canadian itineraries. There must be much better places to visit in the Newfoundland province.
Sydney, Nova Scotia: We had visited Sydney before so knew what to expect and decided to effectively “take a day off” and relax. In retrospect we perhaps should have opted for a ship’s tour, probably one of the famed Cabot Trail that we had had to cancel on our previous visit due to bad weather.
Halifax, Nova Scotia: Our final port of call. We had pre-booked an all-day “All Things Canadian” tour“. This was somewhat disappointing and certainly, apart from the visit to the glorious Peggy’s Cove, did not live up to its publicized hype. The tour comprised a long, relatively uneventful 1.5 drive (both there and back!) through relatively bland countryside to Lunenburg, a picturesque harbour front village and home to the famous “Bluenose” racing schooner – Canada’s most famous racing ship. We were fortunate that a replica of the original Bluenose was docked in the Lunenburg yacht harbor on the day of our visit. A visit to a maple products facility was also scheduled where we were promised we would be able to sample a range of maple syrup products and delicacies, but this turned out to be nothing more than a rushed twenty minute shopping stop at a shop! Because of the long time spent driving to and from Lunenburg, the tour itself was pretty hectic and left us absolutely no time to explore the attractions of downtown Halifax where we were hoping , at least, to include a visit to their famed farmers market.
There were many other ship’s tours that include Peggy’s Cove in the itinerary. Tourists, in our view, would be well advised to choose one of these shorter tours to Peggy’s Cove and leave some time to visit the other attractions in the city of Halifax itself.
Cape Liberty, NJ: After disembarkation we took a cruise ship’s excursion that gave us a three hour tour of most of the major sites of Lower/Mid Manhattan before dropping us off at JFK airport where we had an overnight stay at the Fairfield Inn airport hotel before our flight back home the following morning. The tour guide was a born and bred Manhattanite, able to offer many fascinating insights into life in the Big Apple, so, even though we had often toured Manhattan on our own, it was nonetheless an interesting experience. While on the surface the transfer to the airport seemed expensive, the tour proved to be well worth it, effectively not really costing much more than any other private transfer from the Cape liberty port to JFK.
In summary, our New England and Canada experience lived up to our expectations. It is a beautiful part of our wondrous planet and one that we are now so very privileged to be able to tick off our bucket list.
The below par standards we encountered on our last Celebrity cruise to SE Asia and China in the early part of 2018 left us with the distinct impression that the quality and marketability of the Celebrity product was dramatically slipping downwards. Because of our concerns about the cruise line’s perceived declining standards we had seriously considered cancelling this tour. We however, decided to persevere with the cruise line one last time and are glad we did because, notwithstanding the massive remodeling and refurbishment the ship so urgently needs, we are happy to conclude that our overall experience on Celebrity Summit has, to a large extent, restored our faith and confidence in the Celebrity brand. Read Less