PORTS OF CALL
Beaupre, QC, Canada; Quebec City, QC, Canada; Ville Saguenay, QC, Canada (canceled); Gaspe, QC, Canada (canceled); Charlottetown, PEI, Canada; Sydney, NS, Canada; Halifax, NS, Canada; Bar Harbor, ME, USA; Boston, MA, USA; New York, NY, USA
ABOUT THE REVIEW
Other reviews give extensive information on the ship, cabins, food etc. Our reviews are not like that; they are primarily a journal of what we did in the various ports, including web links to tourist information sites and maps. In general, we prefer DIY port tours, private tours with other Cruise Critic roll call members, or shared public tours. However, we will take a Princess tour when the logistics or cost make that a better option. Tour operator contact information is included in each port review.
John and I (Carolyn) are retired Mississippi State University professors in our mid-sixties, who currently reside in central North Carolina. Both of us are natives of New Orleans and, as such, are interested in good food (and wine!) and good times. Our preferred souvenir is a small regional or national flag. On this itinerary, I wanted to acquire provincial flags for Quebec and PEI and city/regional flags for Saguenay and Cape Breton Island.
We enjoy both cruises and land tours; often our trips combine the two. Many of our cruises have been in the Caribbean but we have also cruised to Alaska, the Mediterranean/Greek Isles, Scandinavia/Russia, the Panama Canal, the Hawaiian Islands, French Polynesia, South America/Antarctic Peninsula, the Far East, the Amazon River, the North Atlantic (Greenland, Iceland and parts of the British Isles), the Norwegian Fjords, the Galapagos Islands, the Holy Land/Egypt, Australia/New Zealand, the Canary Islands, Mexican Riviera and the California Coast. We have taken land tours to the Netherlands, Canadian Rockies, Mexico (Cozumel), London, France (several wine regions and Paris), China, Argentina (Buenos Aires, Iguazu Falls, Mendoza wine region), Chile (Santiago, several wine regions), the Hawaiian Islands (Kauai, Maui, Hawaii), Sicily, Tuscany and to many parts of the continental USA.
On our trips, we prefer nature and wildlife tours that involve snorkeling, SCUBA diving or hiking. In particular, we will hike for miles to see waterfalls, volcanoes, caves or other interesting geologic features. We also enjoy lighthouses, forts, castles and anything else we can legally climb up on for a good view.
We are Elite members of Princess' Captain's Circle loyalty program, but have also sailed with Royal Caribbean, Holland America, Costa, Celebrity and Commodore.
REVIEW OF THE CRUISE
DAY -6: FRI, 09/6/14 RALEIGH/DURHAM, NC, USA (RDU) TO QUEBEC CITY, QC, CANADA (YQB)
We really lucked out today! The flight we had originally booked left RDU in mid-morning, connected through Newark and arrived in Quebec City in the early afternoon. However, United had canceled that flight and re-booked us on a later flight through Chicago. We objected to the change and made United put us on an earlier flight through Newark that got to Quebec City in the late morning. Although we grumbled about having to get up at 3:00 a. m. to make that flight, we were very happy that we did NOT go through Chicago when we learned that over half the flights through ORD were canceled today because of a fire in a FAA air-traffic-control facility in Aurora, Illinois.
Although we only had a two-hour layover in Newark, we used our United Club coupons (which would expire in October) to have a light breakfast and a quiet, comfortable spot to relax before the second fight. During the flight, we had some nice views of picturesque farmland and lots of colorful fall foliage.
Our small plane arrived at YQB (www.aeroportdequebec.com/en/) just after a large one, so there was a very long line for immigration, which took about 45 minutes. While we were waiting, an announcement was made in French but not repeated in English. Using my high school French from 35+ years ago, I understood maybe 10% and guessed that we were being told that we would go through customs inspection after retrieving our baggage. There was no problem about that because there were only a few other bags left on the carousel besides ours by the time we made it through immigration. Customs were no problem either and we were soon in the small terminal building.
We could see the car rental offices across the street but there is no way to cross there; we had to walk to the end of the terminal building, cross the street and walk almost the same distance in the opposite direction. Once we arrived at the Budget Rental Car counter, we had a much pleasanter experience than our recent disasters with Enterprise and National. Our rental documents were printed out and waiting for us, so we were at the car (a Hundai Elantra) within five minutes. However, the instructions we were given for returning the car in downtown Quebec City on Thursday proved to be mostly fiction.
The Budget desk did not have any local road maps but we had brought our Garmin (Samantha) along, loaded with up-to-date Canadian road maps. Samantha the Garmin pronounces French even worse than we do, which caused a little confusion understanding the street signs when leaving the airport. We also had a little cultural confusion when a street light changed to green and started flashing; we later learned that indicates a protected left turn signal. Also, our phrase book did not include the highway sign “Demi-Tour,” which literally means “half-tower.” By careful observation and brilliant deduction, we realized that this is a way of making a U-turn by exiting to the right and then making two left turns.
By the way, Quebec Province is resolutely French. Anyone who has ever studied French at any level would be well advised to brush up on his/her basic vocabulary; a good phrase book would be useful as well. John and I ran into a number of people who did not admit to speaking any English whatsoever and we needed the phrase “Je ne parle pas francais” several times. Everyone was friendly though and did not seem insulted that we needed to communicate in broken French and sign language. I found that saying, “Bonjour! Good morning/afternoon!” generally returned a response in English without my having to ask “Parlez-vous anglais?” Of course my American accent probably made it abundantly clear that I was not going to be parler-ing much en francais. Fortunately, being from New Orleans, John and I do know a lot of French food words and thus were in no danger of starvation.
Eventually, we made it to our 4-bedroom condo (www.chmsa.com/en/) at the foot of Mont-Ste-Anne. We checked into the condo and had some time to reconnoiter the area for sights to see over the next few days. There was quite a lot of fall color here and the temperatures were in the low 70s (F), with warmer weather predicted for the weekend. We tried to visit a farm market (www.lescanardises.com) at a duck farm (ferme) but it was closed (ferme'). One little accent mark makes all the difference! We couldn't buy any fresh-from-the-farm pates but we did get some photos of the ducks and ducklings. We searched for a goose farm that was supposed to be nearby but we never found it.
We ended up going to the IGA grocery (www.iga.net/en/contact/find_a_store/0041_iga_extra_chouinard_fils_inc/) to get some things the condo lacked (like bath soap and paper towels) plus a roast chicken and some deli salads for dinner. We had imported two bottles of wine in our checked luggage and enjoyed one of those. No bottle shock!
DAY -5: SAT, 09/27/14 BEAUPRE, QC, CANADA
That early start yesterday really wore us out (two 1-1/2 hour flights don't allow for much catch-up sleep), so we slept in a little this morning. Today we planned to visit Montmorency Fall and then go over to Ile d'Orleans in search of local pate, wine and cheese.
Montmorency Fall (www.sepaq.com/ct/pcm/) is higher than Niagara Falls but much narrower. We took a cable car ($9.25 CAD pp plus $10 CAD/car for parking, plus taxes) up to the top of the cliff. We stopped at the Manoir Montmorency, where I found a Quebec Province flag in the souvenir shop. Then we walked along the cliff, stopping at several overlooks (called lookoffs in Canada). There is a suspension bridge across the top of the fall; nearby there are some earthen fortifications built by the British during the Siege of Quebec in 1759. Down the other side of the fall is a "Panoramic Walkway" with more overlooks and a footbridge back to the parking lot. All of that gave us some wonderful views of the fall and many colorful trees.
Bridal Veil Fall (AKA Dame Blanche Fall, gowaterfalling.com/waterfalls/dameblanche.shtml) is right outside the park, so of course we had to drive over to it too. John had a hard time getting nice photos of it with all the power lines in the way. When we were up on the walkways at Montmorency Fall, we could see an incredibly long line of cars heading from Quebec City, trying to exit the highway and crossing the bridge to Ile d'Orleans. Fortunately, being at Bridal Veil Fall put us on the main road to the bridge and that huge line had to merge into our lane. It turned out that most of those people were heading for the "pick your own" apple farms, so they turned in the other direction from us once we got over the bridge.
Our first stop on Ile d'Orleans (tourisme.iledorleans.com/en/) was Vignoble de Ste Petronille (vs-p.ca). We had a wine tasting and bought a bottle of the reserve white; the tasting fee varies depending on the wines tasted. From there, we continued counterclockwise around the island. There are a lot of strawberry farms, so we stopped to buy a small box and snacked on them as we drove along. The south side of the island does not seem quite as touristy as the north side, although there were a number of farm stands selling strawberries, apples, potatoes and other vegetables. We even saw "pick your own" potatoes!
As we continued around the north side of the island, we began to see more traffic and many more apple farms. We stopped to buy cheese at Les Fromages de l’Isle d’Orléans (www.fromagesdeliledorleans.com), a store that still makes the first type of cheese produced in the New World. We tasted the first stage of the cheese, Faisselle, which is like a cottage cheese, and the second stage, Paillasson; the fully-ripened cheese was not available. Tastings are $1 CAD pp for each cheese tasted; each of us tasted a different cheese and shared the samples. The Paillasson is supposed to be roasted and served hot, sort of like raclette. We got some of that plus a Brie-type cheese from a different part of Quebec Province. Then we stopped at La Ferme d'OC (tourisme.iledorleans.com/en/membre/la-ferme-doc/) and tasted six duck pates; we bought three of those. Next we stopped to buy a baguette and some apple pastries at Boulangerie Blouin (tourisme.iledorleans.com/en/membre/boulangerie-blouin/).
We did a tasting of mustards, chutneys, jams, jellies, pates and hard ciders at Domaine Steinbach (www.domainesteinbach.com/english/index.php) and a wine tasting at Isle de Bacchus (www.isledebacchus.com/vignoble/index.html) before heading back to the condo. Both of those tastings were $4 CAD pp. We ate some of the things we had bought for dinner tonight. We enjoyed the duck pates much more than the cheeses.
DAY -4: SUN, 09/28/14 BEAUPRE, QC, CANADA
Today we got up a little earlier and had time to tour most of the Ste Anne de Beaupre (or as Samantha the Garmin says, "Sweet Anne de Bohper") Shrine before attending Mass. There are only a few Masses celebrated in English and the one we participated in was poorly attended. The ones in French did not seem to be any better attended but the televised Mass looked packed.
The Shrine (www.patrimoine-religieux.com/en/our-churches/ste-anne-de-beaupre-basilica/) is a huge Romanesque Revival style church with twin bell towers that are visible for many miles; admission with parking is $2 CAD pp (cash only). In addition to a miraculous statue of Ste Anne (Jesus' Grandma), there is a replica of Michelangelo's "Pieta", a copy of the "Holy Stairs" that Jesus climbed at Pilate's praetorium and a life-sized "Way of the Cross.” I have to say that I thought the Shrine was a bit hokey, especially the mosaic ceiling with scenes from the completely-unsubstantiated "Life of Ste Anne" (e. g., an angel appears to Ste Anne to tell her she is going to be a Grandma). Nevertheless, this is a major pilgrimage site and the pillars at the entrance are covered with crutches from those who prayed to Ste Anne and were cured. For an additional fee, there is a museum ($5 CAD pp) and a cyclorama of Jerusalem ($9 CAD pp); we did not visit those.
After Mass, we went to see one of our favorite things, a waterfall. And not just one waterfall but seven at "Les Sept Chutes" park (septchutes.com/en/, $10.50 CAD pp plus tax). I'm not sure one of the chutes should actually count because it is a dam and two others are more like cascades, Notwithstanding those flaws this was a lovely canyon with lots of falling water and colorful trees. We had a great time hiking the trails. As a bonus, the gift shop sold pate from the goose farm (www.lafermequebecoies.com) that we could not find on Friday; we bought a jar of the pate and it was definitely worth seeking out. There was a tour of the power plant but it did not start for an hour and takes 45 minutes; we decided that it was not worth waiting for.
Instead, we headed back to the condo for a beer break before making the short walk up to the gondola for a ride ($19.13 CAD pp plus tax) to the top of Mont-Ste-Anne (mont-sainte-anne.com/en/). This morning it was foggy and the mountain was covered in clouds. Now it was still a little hazy but the clouds had lifted and we had great views riding up in the gondola. We hiked the three summit trails (www.chalets-village.com/docs/map_randonnee.pdf) and enjoyed the views of the mountainside and the Laurentian Mountains in the distance. John said the red and orange leaves made the mountainsides look like they were on fire. After we came down on gondola, we took a hike around the resort's lake.
After all that, we went back to the IGA to get some more provisions. There was a lot of traffic with all the people who had spent this beautiful day out in the countryside and were now trying to get back to Quebec City.
DAY -3: MON, 09/29/14 BEAUPRE, QC, CANADA
The weather forecast for today was for rain and a high temperature in the 50s (F). The morning brought a light mist and a lot of wind, so we decided to take a chance and hike to a waterfall. The resort's lake was formed by damming the Jean Larose River; the trail head is right across the highway from the lake. This trail is called the “Chemin des Chutes” and passes the 3-level Jean Larose Waterfall (gowaterfalling.com/waterfalls/jeanlarose.shtml). The trail down the canyon is pretty steep and the section near the falls is a staircase with over 400 steps. The falls are quite beautiful and the canyon had some nice fall color but not as much as we saw yesterday.
The trail (www.chalets-village.com/docs/map_randonnee.pdf) is a loop, so we continued down to the point where the Jean Larose River meets the Ste Anne River. Even though the trail back up had a few short sections of stairs, the ascent was more gradual than the descent along the river. While we had been down in the canyon, the wind had been blocked off. When we emerged at the trail head, it was very windy and the rain had picked up. We made it back to the condo without getting too soaked. Hot chocolate warmed us up!
We decided to consider this a “sea day” and not try to go out again in the bad weather (except to venture out to a boulangerie for a baguette). I did some laundry and John reviewed a paper for BAMBED. Then we just relaxed and read for the rest of the day.
DAY -2: TUE, 09/30/14 BEAUPRE, QC, CANADA
This morning the weather was a little better: cool and overcast but less windy. We spent about an hour at Canyon Ste Anne (www.canyonsa.qc.ca/canyon-waterfall-attraction-quebec.html) or as Samantha the Garmin says, “Canyon Street Anne”. There is a beautiful waterfall here. Boardwalks with viewing platforms line the rim of the canyon and two bridges cross the canyon at that level. There is a staircase down into the canyon and another bridge that lets you view the fall from the bottom. Of course, we walked all the trails along and into the canyon as well as the nature trail, which is really designed more for kids. This is a major tourist attraction and there were three tour buses here when we arrived. Nevertheless, this is obviously the slow season and the park was not crowded.
After the canyon, we drove to Cap Tourmente wildlife refuge (www.ec.gc.ca/ap-pa/default.asp?lang=En&n=0533BC0A-1). The refuge is in the low area between the St. Lawrence River and the high bluffs that line the river; the bluffs had some good fall color. Snow geese spend the summer in the arctic, then gather and rest up here before flying to North Carolina for the winter. The rangers estimated that there were 50,000 geese in the refuge right now. It didn't seem like that many because they were spread out over such a large area but it was an impressive sight. This park is nicely developed with boardwalks through the marshes to observation huts and stands. A ranger was giving a talk at the observation point but it was in French, so we read the posters instead of waiting to ask questions in English. There are many other well-marked trails (www.ec.gc.ca/Publications/BC1F5E50-BB9B-4B15-A961-9288DBCBA8E6/COM1544_eng.PDF) in the refuge and we took one up the bluffs to an overlook that had a great view of the entire area. We took a couple of other trails along the base of the bluffs, out to the river and to an observation tower. At a couple of spots we encountered apple trees growing in the wild and covered with beautiful apples.
Although the air temperature was not too bad (about 50 F), the wind was very strong along the river. We decided to head back to the IGA (we hoped for the last time) to get more hot chocolate mix and some brownies. We also got some French onion soup to have with dinner tonight. This grocery is clearly set up to accommodate people staying in the condos and resorts in the area. There are many prepared foods, both ready-to-eat and ready-to-heat-and-eat. The deli also has a fair selection of local cheeses and other products but the wine selection is not great. The best things we ate during our stay were the duck and goose pates that we bought on Ile d'Orleans and at Les Sept Chutes; those were outstanding!
DAY -1: WED, 10/01/14 BEAUPRE, QC, CANADA
Our original plan for today was to hike part of the Mestachibo Trail (www.mestachibo.com/index_en.htm) from the St Ferreol les Neiges church end; this trail is 12.5-km (7.8 miles) oneway. However, we decided that we had had enough hiking for awhile. Instead, we took a scenic drive to the Charlevoix region of Quebec Province (www.tourisme-charlevoix.com/en/), which is about an hour or so east of Beaupre. It was a beautiful sunny day although a bit on the cool side.
First we drove the Mountain Route (www.tourisme-charlevoix.com/public/files/guide_route_des_montagnes_2014-2015.pdf) with great views of the Laurentian Mountain ranges. There was a lot of good fall color throughout the area. From that drive, we swung down to Malbaie and took the River Route (www.tourisme-charlevoix.com/public/files/guide_route_du_fleuve_2014-2015_en.pdf) west along the St. Lawrence River. We stopped in Ste Irenee for a short walk to a nice waterfall on the Jean-Noel River.
We continued on to Baie St Paul (www.baiesaintpaul.com/media/docs/carte2013.pdf); there is a scenic overlook as you approach from the east that gives a panoramic view of the whole area. The downtown part of Baie St Paul is sort of an artists' colony, with a lot of boutiques, galleries and restaurants. Everything was decorated for fall with pumpkins, squash and other seasonal paraphernalia. We noticed that the shop we parked in front of was closed until 2:30 p. m. but we did not realize anything was wrong until we stopped at the Boutique de la Cidrerie Des Vergers Pedneault, where we thought we could have a tasting. Quelle suprise! The electricity was off all over town! No wonder many of the shops were closed and the restaurants were empty! We were able to buy a baguette at Boulangerie Charlevoix (www.boulangeriecharlevoix.com) only because I had exact change—no one could take credit or debit cards.
After walking around Baie St Paul a little more, we drove to a nearby covered bridge. The Pont Couvert de St Placide, built in 1926, is the only one in the old style still in use in Quebec (fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pont_de_Saint-Placide-de-Charlevoix). While we were taking pictures, an older lady came out from a nearby farm and told us that her father, Joseph Normandeau, had built the bridge. Her English was about as bad as our French (on which she complimented us) but we had a nice, short conversation that probably did not do too much damage to US-Canada relations.
By the time we made it back to the condo, we decided to call it a day. I had another load of laundry to do and we needed to repack the suitcases for boarding the ship tomorrow. We ate the baguette with the last of the cheeses and the duck and goose pates for supper.
DAY 1: THU, 10/02/14 QUEBEC CITY, QC, CANADA; CHECK-IN 1:00PM - 11:00 PM (OVERNIGHT)
We checked out of the condo as soon as the office opened at 8:00 a. m., forgetting our bottles of water in the refrigerator. Oh well, if that's the only thing we would forget on this trip, we would be ahead of the game; we would be getting more bottled water on the ship in our minibar anyway.
We had more fun with Samantha the Garmin as we tried to drive to Terrasse de Levis, directly across the St. Lawrence River from the cruise ship terminal. I thought Samantha would take us north of the city, then to the bridge across the river. However, she sent us downtown to the docks and then across the river with no bridge to help. Uh-oh, I didn't turn off the option to use ferries and Samantha was trying to take us on one. At least we got to check out the area around the cruise ship terminal. As we drove upriver and passed Pier 107, we could see the HAL Veendam, which was stranded in Quebec City because of mechanical problems. The Hapag-Lloyd Europa and the RCI Legend of the Seas were also in port today.
We finally got over the bridge and on the correct side of the river. The terrace (www.tourismelevis.com/en/activity/history/historical-sites/levis-terrace/) is a small park with picture-postcard views of the Quebec City skyline with the iconic Chateau Frontenac in the middle and the Ruby Princess docked in front. This is the general area from which the British bombarded the city during the Battle of Quebec in 1759, destroying much of the Old City.
We could not miss the opportunity to see another waterfall, so we went to the Parc des Chutes de la Chaudiere (www.chaudiereappalaches.com/fichiersUpload/fichiers/20140711133304-parc-des-chutes-de-la-chaudiere-pamphlet-eng.pdf). The Chaudiere River was dammed above the falls for a hydroelectric plant but the area around the falls is still quite scenic. The park has paths on both sides of the river with many viewpoints. We walked to most of the viewpoints and down to the river bed. The geology there is canted beds of alternating brown and gray rock. The brown rock apparently eroded faster than the gray, so there are interesting fins of the gray rock running across the riverbed.
We gassed up the rental car and drove back along the river to the cruise ship terminal (www.portquebec.ca/en/cruises/information-for-cruise-ship-passengers/customer-service). John left me and our baggage there while he tried to drop off the car at the Hilton. This was loads of fun for him as he first had problems exiting the port area and then was nearly broadsided by a car that ran a red light (luckily he sensed that the car was not going to stop). When we picked up the car at the airport, we were told to drop it off in front of the Hilton, where a Budget agent would be checking in cars. When John reached the Hilton, the parking lot at the entrance was packed (cars were even double-parked) and there was no one from Budget anywhere in sight. Finally, the doorman told him to park the car in a garage at the rear of the Hilton and bring the ticket to the Budget desk in the lobby. The garage had no signage indicating how to get to the Hilton but a friendly woman told him to take the elevator to the fifth floor. The Budget desk was cleverly hidden away in an obscure corner off the lobby but John finally found it and managed to return the keys and the parking ticket. Then he had a 20-minute walk back to the cruise ship terminal.
John made it back to the terminal just after noon and boarding was already under way. We went rapidly through the check-in process and were soon in our cabin, forward port on the Lido deck. We quickly unpacked, called room service to change out some minibar items, made dinner reservations at the Crown Grill and had a slice of pizza and a Coke. Then we were off to explore Quebec City (www.quebecregion.com/en/what-to-do/activities-attractions/tours/?f=1#circuitsList).
The Ruby Princess was docked at Pier 22, which is right next to the Lower Town (Basse-ville). This area was formerly run-down but is now full of shops, galleries, restaurants, museums and historical buildings. Two of the buildings in this section of town sport large, trompe l'oeil murals that depict the history of Quebec. The entire district is reminiscent of the Vieux Carre in New Orleans, complete with the cobblestone-paved streets. Of course, there are no wrought iron balconies and the roofs are a French provincial style. Nevertheless, the ambiance, street performers and artists displaying their works gave the area a very familiar feel to us.
The hub of the Lower Town is the Place Royale, where Samuel de Champlain established the first permanent settlement in New France in 1608. We visited the Eglise Notre Dame des Victoires (www.patrimoine-religieux.com/en/our-churches/notre-dame-des-victoires-church/), which was built on the ruins of that first outpost. Nearby is the Royal Battery, whose cannons responded to the British fire from across the river at Levis.
Naturally, where there is a Lower Town, there is an Upper Town and ways to connect the two. Besides the steep streets and stairways, there is also a funicular. The building housing the Funiculaire de Vieux Quebec was once the home of Louis Jolliet, the fur trader who (with Pere Marquette) explored and mapped the upper Mississippi River. We considered riding the Funiculaire for fun but the short ride did not seem worth the cost ($2.25 CAD pp), so we just trekked up and down the streets and stairs. Partway between the Lower and Upper Towns is the rebuilt Porte Prescott (one of the four remaining gates in the city wall) and Parc Montmorency (a nice viewpoint with more cannons).
Once in the Upper Town (Haut-ville), we walked past the Place d'Armes (with an ornate Gothic-style fountain) over to the Terrasse Dufferin for more fine views of the river and the Lower Town. Near this end of the terrace is a monument to Champlain. Behind the terrace and in front of the Chateau Frontenac is a large park (Parc des Gouverneurs) with a monument to the opposing generals in the Battle of Quebec, Wolfe and Montcalm, who both died as a result of the battle. The Fairmont Le Chateau Frontenac is reputedly the most-photographed hotel in the world and is definitely an impressive building. We walked under the arch into the courtyard where the main entrance is located. The lobby is elegant but not ostentatious; there are many upscale shops and boutiques there.
From the Chateau, we walked along Rue St Louis to Porte St Louis, another gate. There are stairs up to the top of the gate but not to the top of the walls; you can scramble up to walk on top of the walls at your own risk (like we did) or walk a path alongside them. Parcs Canada offers guided walking tours of the walls but we walked clockwise on part of them on our own for free (www.pc.gc.ca/eng/lhn-nhs/qc/fortifications/activ/interpretation-animation.aspx). If you choose to walk on top, there are occasional spots where it is necessary to hop down and walk to another section. From the walls, we could see other landmarks such as the Parliament Building and the Tourny Fountain.
We continued past the Porte Kent to Porte St Jean, where we left the walls and walked through the Artillery Park. We wandered over to the Notre Dame Cathedral but a Mass was going on, so we decided to return there tomorrow.
We walked back to the Lower City and wandered around for a little more before returning to the ship to freshen up for dinner at the Crown Grill. John had both the prawn and papaya and the seared scallop appetizers, followed by the blackened beef chop with onions and mushrooms. I had the Grill Salad and the prawns from the whiskey/chili/garlic marinated grilled prawn entree as an appetizer; my main course was the double lamb chops. For dessert, John had the caramel cheesecake parfait and I had the molten chocolate fudge cake. We also shared a cheese plate, which included excellent fresh goat cheese and blue cheese.
After dinner, we attended a program of traditional music and dance performed by “La Compagnie de Danse Migrations.” One of the musicians played the wooden spoons. At one point in the program, he invited some of the audience to the stage to learn how to play the spoons; 16 extroverts responded. They all did pretty well, so it must not be too hard to do if one has a reasonable sense of rhythm (which leaves me out).
After this full day, we turned in a little early. Tonight we would overnight in Quebec City but the ship would reposition to another pier during the early morning hours.
DAY 2: FRI, 10/03/14 QUEBEC CITY, QC, CANADA; DEPART 5:00PM
This morning, we awoke to find the Ruby Princess docked at Pier 103, which is about 1.5 miles further upriver than Pier 22. The Regent Seven Seas Navigator was docked next to us; the Europa and Veendam were slightly further upriver. The Legend of the Seas was still in port by the Lower Town; she was joined there by the Norwegian Dream and the HAL Maasdam.
Surprisingly, there was a free shuttle running between the ship and the Place Royale. However, John and I planned to take the Escalier du Cap Blanc stairs up the bluff to the Plains of Abraham (www.ccbn-nbc.gc.ca/en/contact-us/map-the-plains-abraham/), site of the Battle of Quebec. Although the stairs are steep and almost 400 steps, they were no worse than anything we climbed on our trip to Italy in the spring. Once on top of the bluff, we followed the Cap aux Diamants road to a cannon marking the remains of a blockhouse. Tour buses we also going this way and stopping briefly to view the cannon before proceeding to the kiosk at the beginning of the Governor's Promenade; the kiosk was our destination too.
The Governor's Promenade is a walkway along the cliff face that passes under the walls of the Citadel down to the Dufferin Terrace; there are several nice viewpoints along the way. We descended to the terrace, walked past a ramp (which we later learned operates as a sled ride during Quebec City's winter carnival) and headed to the Parcs Canada kiosk at the other end of the terrace. At the kiosk, we purchased tickets for a guided tour of the excavations of the St Louis Forts and Chateaux and for the museum at the Artillery Park.
The Dufferin Terrace was built over the ruins of Fort St Louis and the chateau of Quebec's governors (www.pc.gc.ca/eng/lhn-nhs/qc/saintlouisforts/index.aspx). When the terrace was renovated in 2005, the opportunity arose to excavate this historic area. Archaeologists uncovered the foundations of various buildings associated with the fort (built by Champlain and the city's first fortification) and the chateau (which underwent many changes over the course of different governorships). The tour guide explained the ruins and their significance; there are also many artifacts on display that were found during the excavations. Although work is continuing, part of the site is under the Funiclaire and thus inaccessible.
After our tour, we visited the city's two cathedrals. The first was the Anglican Cathedral of the Holy Trinity (www.patrimoine-religieux.com/en/our-churches/cathedral-of-the-holy-trinity-/). This is an austere church on the outside and the inside is fairly plain; it does have some lovely stained glass windows though. The Catholic Notre Dame de Quebec Basilica-Cathedral (www.patrimoine-religieux.com/en/our-churches/notre-dame-de-quebec-basilica-cathedral-/) is naturally much more lavish, with an ornate canopy over the main altar, both of which are gilded. Although many bishops and some of the French governors are buried in the crypt, the only conspicuous tomb in the main part of the church is that of St. Francois de Laval (first Bishop of New France and founder of the nearby Seminary of Quebec, now Laval University).
Now we returned to the Artillery Park (www.pc.gc.ca/eng/lhn-nhs/qc/fortifications/natcul/natcul2.aspx). The museum here is in two buildings; at each building, the ranger on duty gave us a good explanation of the exhibits before we started our self-guided tour. The first building was an ammunition factory; it houses the remains of a gunpowder magazine and a scale model of Quebec City in the early 19th century. The other is The Dauphine Redoubt, which was used for officers' quarters. There are a number of other buildings in the park but they can only be viewed from the outside. Because there were so few visitors (only one other person) the ranger let us enter the Officer's Mess for better photos. As we were leaving, he pointed out holes in the side of the building into which posts could be inserted to form scaffolding for painting or repairs. If the redoubt was under threat of attack, the holes would have to be camouflaged to prevent the enemy from using them to scale the walls. The ranger also said that there were three remaining redoubts from the city defenses; one of the others is part of the Morrin Centre and the third is in the Citadel.
The last site we planned to visit today was the Citadel (www.lacitadelle.qc.ca/en/), which is still an active military base and can only be toured with a guide. Unfortunately, the next guided tour in English was not for another 40 minutes and the tour itself is an hour long; we thought that was cutting it too close to the time we needed to be back on the ship. However, we were able to view part of the Citadel from a terrace inside and we could walk the walls outside. First we walked the west walls, which gave us a nice view of the Plains of Abraham. The east walls give a nice view of the city and there is a path down to the Pierre Dugua de Mons terrace with an overlook of the river.
From the terrace, we walked back to the Porte St Louis and along the edge of Battleground Park to the Joan of Arc monument. Quebec City's “Joanie on a Pony” is surrounded by a small garden, which at this time of year is turned into a “Haunted Garden.” The various displays relate to characters and legends from Quebec's history. One was “The White Lady of Cap Diamant,” who would only consent to marry a man who could ride his horse up the steep cliff to claim her; two brothers perished in the attempt. Then a third young man came to woo her but it was foggy for several days and he could not attempt the ride. During that time, she fell madly in love with him and did not want him to attempt the ride. However, he made the ride successfully and she was overjoyed. At that point he revealed that he was a brother to the two who had perished and he had come from France to avenge their deaths. He spurned her and sailed back to France; she went mad and fell of the cliff. Today she is said to haunt the cliff, dressed in her white wedding gown. After touring the garden, we took the Cap Blanc stairs down to the riverfront and walked back to the ship.
The “All Aboard” time was 4:30 p. m. and the Passenger Muster Drill was held shortly thereafter. We had read on CruiseCritic.com that some Princess ships are not requiring passengers who are familiar with donning life jackets to bring their life jackets to the drill. However, everyone was supposed to bring their life jackets to this drill.
Tonight we had made reservations at Sabatini's for dinner. We were seated at a table by the window and enjoyed views of Quebec City, Montmorency Fall and Ile d'Orleans as we sailed away. Sabatini's has a new menu with a couple of changes. A major one for us is the loss of the soft-shell crab appetizer. John mentioned to our waiter how much we had liked that appetizer and he told us that there were still some soft-shell crabs in the freezer. Both of us ordered that appetizer, the artichoke souffle and the lobster three ways (lobster risotto and tails with lobster bisque sauce). John also ordered a roasted veal rack for us to share. Finally, John had espresso crème brulee for dessert and I had the Sinfonia (layers of thin caramel pecan brittle and praline mousse). No cheese plate tonight!
The show tonight was the “Welcome Aboard Showtime” with a magician. We skipped that in favor of an early bedtime because we had rented a car for tomorrow at 7:00 a. m. in Saguenay.
DAY 3: SAT, 10/04/14 SCENIC CRUISING IN THE SAGUENAY RIVER 7:00AM – NOON
Today we were supposed to call at Ville Saguenay, QC, Canada, from 7:00 a. m. to 2:00 p. m. However, when we reached the anchorage, it was so windy (with gusts up to 45 knots) that it was not possible to anchor and conduct tender operations. Commodore Romano made this announcement just as John and I were headed down to the tender embarkation point. The Ruby Princess turned around and spent the rest of the morning cruising down the Saguenay Fjord to the St Lawrence River. The Seven Seas Navigator was supposed to dock in Ville Saguenay but was not able to do so, even with the help of two tugs; she also canceled her port call and followed us out of the fjord.
For today, John had reserved a rental car and planned a driving tour with some hikes in the Saguenay Fjord National Park (www.sepaq.com/pq/sag/). After he sent an email to cancel the car reservation, we spent a lot of time on the open decks viewing the fjord. Near Ville Saguenay the trees were mostly evergreens and the hardwoods had not started to change color much. As we sailed further down the fjord, there were more hardwoods with better color but still not as good as we saw in the Quebec City area. The fjord is not as rugged or narrow as some of the ones we sailed in Norway but it was still quite lovely and there were a number of small waterfalls.
Eventually we reached Cape Trinity with its 32-foot high statue of Notre Dame du Saguenay, standing over 980 feet above the fjord on our starboard side. On the port side is a sheer rock face popular with rock climbers. John had planned to drive to Eternity Bay and hike the trail to the Halt Bellevue viewpoint of the statue or (time permitting) continue on to the base of the statue. He had also planned a visit to the Pont du Faubourg covered bridge and a short hike at L'Anse St Jean to the L'Anse de Tabatiere lookoff, known for its view up the fjord.
We stayed out on the open decks until we got chilled; although the air temperature was in the 50s (F), the strong wind made it seem much colder. We enjoyed the view from our balcony until the Commodore announced that whales had been spotted on the starboard side. We hurried to the upper decks (easy with a cabin on the Lido deck) and saw a pod of at least six Beluga Whales. With our binoculars, we were able to watch them for about five minutes. Shortly after we entered the St. Laurence River, we saw more whales; those were probably Minke Whales. A short while later, it became very foggy and we really couldn't see anything for the rest of the day.
The Cruise Critic Meet and Greet was held in the Skywalker Lounge at three o'clock. The roll call for this cruise was around 200 people and most of them had signed up for the M&G. At least 100 showed up and we met the two couples who would be joining us for a private tour in Sydney, NS. There was a good turnout of officers too, with at least six present including the Hotel Manager and the Food and Beverage Manager. We told him how pleased we were that this ship not only offered but advertised the Silver and Gold wine packages. We happily took advantage of the Gold package on this trip.
Tonight was the first of two formal nights on this cruise. For dinner, we returned to the Crown Grill. John had lobster cake and the Black and Blue onion soup, followed by the rib eye steak. I also had the onion soup and a salad with goat cheese and heirloom tomatoes; my main course was the filet mignon. We also shared an order of grilled lobster tails. For dessert, John had the molten chocolate fudge cake and I had the 7-layer s'mores.
After dinner, we attended the Champagne Waterfall; the Most Traveled Passengers (over 1300 days with Princess) were introduced and started the waterfall. Commodore Romano welcomed us all aboard and introduced the senior officers. Later, we went to the production show, “Colors of the World.” This was a new show to us and was pretty good with some nice special effects. Some of the choices for song-country pairings seemed a bit strange though, for example, pairing Japan with “True Colors.” Also, Hawaii was paired with “Over the Rainbow” and one of the male lead singers mixed up the lyrics twice.
DAY 4: SUN, 10/05/14 AT SEA
Today we were supposed to port at Gaspe', QC, Canada, from 10:00 a. m. to 6:00 p. m. John had debated between renting a car to drive to and hike in Forillon National Park (www.pc.gc.ca/eng/pn-np/qc/forillon/index.aspx) and taking a Princess shore excursion to Perce'. We finally decided to take the shore excursion, which included a boat tour around Perce' Rock and the Bonaventure Island bird sanctuary (www.sepaq.com/pq/bon/index.dot?language_id=1).
After the cancellation of the port call in Saguenay yesterday, we arrived early at the anchorage in Gaspe' Harbor. All the shore excursions had been rescheduled to depart an hour earlier than originally slated. We dutifully went to collect our bus sticker, waited in the Princess Theater to be called to our tender, got on the tender and took off for Gaspe'. The tender got about halfway to the dock when it turned around and returned to the ship. Shortly after we were back aboard, Commodore Romano announced that the weather was worsening, with heavy rain and winds in excess of 35 knots expected by the afternoon. As soon as all the tenders were stowed, we would be departing for our next port of call, Charlottetown, PEI.
We had hoped at least to see some of the scenery as we sailed along the Gaspe' Peninsula back to the Gulf of St. Lawrence. By the time we left the anchorage though, the fog had moved in and there was no chance of seeing anything on the starboard shore, such as Perce' Rock. However, the fog was not as heavy on the port shore and we could see the cliffs of Forillon NP and some colorful trees. As we approached the Gulf of St. Lawrence, we spotted a fin in the water and three spouts; those were probably Minke Whales. We also had decent views of the rugged cliffs at the end of the peninsula, which mark the northern end of the Appalachian Mountains.
Later as we cruised through the foggy Gulf of St. Lawrence, John noticed a large flock of birds (probably Northern Gannets) plunge-diving for fish. Then he started seeing spouts; at least four and probably more whales (likely Minke Whales) were also feasting on the fish.
This evening, John made reservations in the Da Vinci dining room. Although the food is very good in the main dining rooms, the atmosphere in the specialty restaurants is much more pleasant and the service is much more attentive. The Da Vinci dining room seemed crowded, noisy and hectic in comparison.
DAY 5: MON, 10/06/14 CHARLOTTETOWN, PEI, CANADA; 9:00AM – 6:00PM
We had a wonderful day in Charlottetown on Monday. We rented a car from Budget, walked about 0.6 miles to pick it up, spent about five minutes on the paperwork and drove along the northwest coast to all three sections of the PEI National Park (www.pc.gc.ca/eng/pn-np/pe/pei-ipe/index.aspx). Because it was the off-season, all of the park facilities were closed but the trails were open and there were no entrance fees collected.
Our first stop was in the Greenwich sector, which features unusual parabolic sand dunes. The dunes can be viewed from a boardwalk trail and an observation tower. Next we drove to the Brackley-Dalvay section and finally the Cavendish section. PEI has a lot of iron in the soil, so the bluffs along the beach are red and the sand is pink. There are some good lookoffs of the beaches and the Gulf of St. Lawrence along Gulf Shore Way; we also saw a few lighthouses. As we drove though the area around Cavendish, we passed the Green Gables Heritage Place. There are a number of other sites devoted to author Lucy Maud Montgomery and her famous character, Anne of Green Gables, but we did not visit any. PEI is noted for its potatoes and we saw lots of potato farms, piles of potatoes and trucks full of potatoes. With all those farms and a lot of spruce and other evergreens, there were only patches of fall color where there were clumps of hardwoods.
Our final site was Teapot Rock, an off-the beaten-trail local landmark mentioned in Tom Sheridan's driving tour of PEI (www.tomsportguides.com/CharlottetownDrivingTour-09-24-2014.pdf) and photographed in National Geographic Traveler (travel.nationalgeographic.com/365-photos/teapot-rock-prince-edward-island/). Tom gives explicit directions for reaching Teapot Rock in his guide; the GPS coordinates are N 46° 33' 51.4", W 63° 38' 47.3". Teapot Rock is on Darnley Beach between Twin Shores Camping Area and Thunder Cove Road. However, Thunder Cove Road was not signposted and we would not have found it without the help of Samantha the Garmin.
We parked at the end of the road and took the rough trail down to the beach. Teapot Rock is on the other side of a point at the west end of the beach. We were not there at low tide, so the waves were breaking on the cliffs at the point. To get around the point, we clambered up about ten feet to a ledge that ran along the face of the cliff. The ledge was muddy and one spot was particularly narrow. Although we managed this without too much difficulty, anyone following in our footsteps does so at his/her own risk and should be prepared to get muddy. Once on the other side of the point, we had good views of Teapot Rock, other sea stacks and caves and an arch. After retracing our route back to the car, we looked for the path that Tom said runs on top of the cliff to views of Teapot Rock. However, it appeared to us that walking along the top of the cliff would require trespassing in several backyards, so we did not do that.
We should note that during our limited driving tour of PEI we encountered at least four road-kill skunks; we're not sure what that means about the island. During our driving tour, we had been on the lookout for Cows (www.cows.ca), which is supposed to serve fabulous ice cream. However, like many other PEI businesses most of the locations were already closed for the season and we were not able to sample any. At least I was able to find a souvenir flag. I had noticed PEI provincial flags on display in the cruise terminal when we were leaving for the car rental office this morning; I bought one just before re-boarding the ship.
Tonight we returned to Sabatini's for dinner. Alas, there were no more soft-shell crabs but we enjoyed other appetizers. An innovation (at least on this ship) is that Sabatini's offers a daily special entree. Tonight's special was osso buco, one of our all-time favorite Italian dishes. Needless to say, we both ordered that and we were not disappointed.
DAY 6: TUE, 10/07/14 SYDNEY, NS, CANADA; 8:00AM – 5:00PM
We had visited Sydney once before in 2009 when a scheduled port call at St. John's, NL, was abruptly canceled. Since we had not planned for this port, we picked up a walking tour brochure (sydneyport.ca/cruise/walking-map) at the Tourist Office on the dock and did all three walks in the morning. The ship's Shore Excursion desk had been able to organize some last-minute tours, so we visited the Fortress of Louisbourg (www.pc.gc.ca/eng/lhn-nhs/ns/louisbourg/index.aspx) in the afternoon.
Although we were supposed to tender into Sydney today, we docked where the disabled Veendam was supposed to be. We had arranged a private drive on the Cabot Trail through Blackwood Tours (www.novascotia.com/see-do/tours/blackwood-tours/2230) for us and two other couples from the Cruise Critic roll call ($75 USD pp). Although we did not have time to drive the entire Cabot Trail, we did not waste an hour having lunch. Thus our driver/guide (Tom Hunter) was able to take us to a number of sites where the big tour buses could not even think about stopping. We met Tom at the huge Ceilidh Fiddle on the dock and were quickly on our way.
Like yesterday, the weather was gorgeous. Even though Tom said that the foliage would not be at its peak for another week, the fall colors were stunning. As we left Sydney on Trans-Canada 105, we first crossed the Little Bras d’Or and later the Great Bras d’Or. We had many lovely views of these salt water lakes, which are connected to the nearby Atlantic Ocean. We drove up Kelly’s Mountain, where we stopped at a lookoff for stunning views of St. Ann Bay. We drove down to the shoreline, then took Hwy 312 to the Englishtown Ferry. This cable ferry only takes a few minutes to cross the narrow channel at the mouth of St. Ann Bay. The large tour buses cannot use this ferry and must continue on Trans-Canada 105 to intersect the Cabot Trail at the head of St Ann's Harbour.
As we passed through Englishtown, Tom told us about Angus MacAskill, a giant (7' 9”) who toured the world with P.T. Barnum's circus. We drove past Angus' home (now a museum) and grave site. We followed Hwy 312 until it joined the Cabot Trail, then continued north. In addition to wonderful scenery and views of the Bird Islands, there are many artisan studios and shops along the road. The Scottish heritage of Cape Breton Island is evidenced by the bilingual road signs in English and Gaelic.
Our next stop was the Cape Smokey Picnic Area for more spectacular views of the rugged coastline. Past Ingonish Beach we entered the Cape Breton Highlands National Park and drove out on Middle Head past the Highland Links golf course to the Keltic Lodge, an historic resort and spa. Middle Head is a narrow peninsula splitting North and South Bay, giving the Lodge outstanding ocean views in three directions. Many bus tours stop for lunch at the Lodge but we were fortunate that it was not crowded and we could enjoy a look around. Alas, with our limited time this was as far north as we could go on the Cabot Trail and we began to retrace our route south.
As we approached St. Ann's Bay, we stayed on the Cabot Trail instead of returning to Sydney via Hwy 312 and the ferry; this was our reward for skipping a formal lunch break. Along here, the Trail follows river gorge and we stopped for gorgeous views of the canyon and spectacular fall foliage. Further along, we took a short detour to a small bridge in a picturesque setting. As we rounded the head of St. Ann's Bay, we passed the Gaelic College, which preserves the language and heritage of Cape Breton's Scottish settlers
Now we left the Cabot Trail and headed back to Sydney on Trans-Canada 105. We stopped a lookoff for views of Great Bras d'Or and the Seal Island Bridge. Tom told us to be ready with our cameras as we left the bridge; he would slow down so that we could get photos of the Seal Island Lighthouse. From here, we turned off the main highway to take in a few more beautiful shore-side views. Before he returned us to the cruise terminal, Tom threw in a 10-minute tour of many of the sights of Sydney's historic district. This was a wonderful day and an outstanding tour. However, it only whetted our desire to travel the entire Cabot Trail on a future land visit to Cape Breton Island.
Before re-boarding the ship, I had time to search for a Cape Breton Island flag. The one that I bought (white with green cross and island seal) is the unofficial and commonly-used flag; I did not see the official flag flown or for sale anywhere.
Tonight was Italian Night in the main dining rooms. This is one of our favorite theme nights, with a number of dishes that we especially enjoy.
DAY 7: WED, 10/08/14 HALIFAX, NS, CANADA; 8:00AM – 5:00PM
We had ported in Halifax once before in 2009 and had rented a car to visit Peggy's Cove. Unfortunately, the weather was poor that day and the famous lighthouse was nearly invisible in the fog. On the way back to Halifax, we stopped at the Fairview Cemetery, where many victims of the Titanic are buried (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fairview_Cemetery,_Halifax,_Nova_Scotia). After we returned our rental car, we had time to tour the Halifax Citadel (www.pc.gc.ca/lhn-nhs/ns/halifax/index.aspx) and the Halifax Public Gardens (www.halifax.ca/publicgardens/).
Today we docked at Pier 22 (www.cruisehalifax.ca); the HAL Eurodam, Silversea Silver Whisper and Carnival Splendor were also in port. As usual when a ship docks in Halifax, a bagpiper played a welcome skirl. The weather in and around Halifax was alternately sunny and overcast most of the day but it did not start to rain until after we got back to the ship. We rented a car from Avis (located near the Citadel), walked the 0.8 miles from the ship in about 20 minutes, had our expected quick pickup and drove to three small fishing villages: Lunenburg, Mahone Bay and Peggy's Cove.
Lunenburg is furthest from Halifax and thus was our first stop. Before going into town, we went to Blue Rocks Harbor. To find it, take Hwy 332 towards Blue Rocks Road. Follow the road to its end, watching for signs indicating either “The Point” or “The Lane.” Blue Rocks Harbor has been dubbed “Lunenburg's answer to Peggy's Cove”; it has scenic views and no crowds but, while pretty, wasn't really as interesting as Peggy's Cove. When leaving, stay on Blue Rocks Road and take Pelham Street into town.
We started our exploration of Lunenburg (www.explorelunenburg.ca) at the Tourist Office, where we picked up a map and information on some of the historic houses. We left the car in the parking lot there and walked down to the colorful waterfront. This is still a working port, with fishing boats and maritime industries. Canada's most famous tall ship, the “Bluenose,” was built in Lunenburg and a replica, the “Bluenose II,” ports there when she is not traveling the world as Nova Scotia's sailing ambassador (bluenose.novascotia.ca). Luckily for us, she was in port today. After strolling the waterfront, we walked back to the Tourist Office past a number of the historic homes. Before leaving Lunenburg, we drove to the opposite side of the harbor (uphill from the golf course) for some great views of the waterfront.
Mahone Bay (www.novascotiabackyard.com/explore-our-regions/south-shore/mahone-bay) is another picturesque seaside town. The Great Scarecrow Festival had been held here the previous weekend and the town was still decorated with handcrafted scarecrows. We stopped on the side of the harbor opposite the town to take the picture-postcard photograph of three churches side-by-side-by-side on the shore.
We originally thought that we would not have time to revisit Peggy's Cove (www.peggyscoveregion.com/peggys-cove-area/) on this trip. However, we still had plenty of time and the weather was still good. As we approached Peggy's Cove, we could see the lighthouse in the distance—quite a change from our previous visit in the fog. Although there were a lot of people at the lighthouse, we arrived during a relative lull between the morning and afternoon hoards of tour buses. The area around the lighthouse is composed of huge boulders and we spent some time scrambling around on them. As we left the cove, we stopped at the SwissAir 111 Memorial (www.novascotia.com/see-do/attractions/swissair-memorial-site-peggys-cove/1636). As we drove back to Halifax, we passed the afternoon flotilla of tour buses headed to Peggy's Cove.
Driving back to Sydney, we remembered the advice from the car rental agent to stop at the first gas station we saw on Quinpool Road. This was good advice because we did not see any other gas stations between there and the car return.
We enjoyed our stroll back to the ship along the Waterfront Boardwalk. It was just starting to rain when we reached Pier 22; we did a little shopping in the terminal before reboarding the ship. About an hour before departure, there was a folkloric show, “Celtic Wishes,” starring the Amethyst Scottish Dancers of Nova Scotia, who performed traditional highland and step dances. As we left the dock, a bagpiper played a farewell.
Tonight there was a cocktail party in the Adagio Bar for the Most Traveled Passengers. We are not sure where we ranked in the list of the top 40 but it was probably near the bottom because the Most Traveled couple had 1304 days and even the third place winners had over 800 days. Although we really prefer a luncheon, the party featured a lovely assortment of heavy hors d'oeuvres and we did not need anything else for dinner tonight.
DAY 8: THU, 10/09/14 BAR HARBOR, ME, USA; 8:00AM – 7:00PM (TENDER)
We made it back to the USA after a time-consuming immigration inspection that threatened to derail our bus tour of the Acadia National Park. After being assigned an inspection time of 10:50 a. m. (when we had to pick up the tour tickets on land before 9:30 a. m.), we filled out forms to request an earlier time. That was granted and we got into the insanely long line when the group previous to ours was called; before we got anywhere near the door of the Princess Theater, our group was called too. We were paraded down the stairs, through the theater and then to the conference center. After all that, the immigration officer only glanced at our passport—he didn't even scan or stamp it. While such an arduous procedure was an aggravation to us, it was undoubtedly a real hardship for those passengers with mobility issues. Nevertheless. The inspection apparently cleared the ship's passengers in a reasonable time.
By the time we were finally tendered ashore, we only had time to pick up our reserved tour tickets and to walk part of the Shore Path (www.acadiamagic.com/ShorePath.html) before it was time to gather for the tour ($30 pp) with Acadia National Park Tours. It was a beautiful day and the fall color was great. As we drove through Bar Harbor and Eden on the way to the Park Loop Road, our driver/guide (Rob Jordan) pointed out some of the sights and told us about the history of the National Park. The first stop was on top of Cadillac Mountain for fantastic views. The second stop was at Sieur De Monts Spring, where we had some time to visit the Wild Gardens of Acadia. The final stop was at Thunder Hole. While enjoying the views at Thunder Hole, we saw debris from the charter fishing boat “Tiger Shark.” A few days earlier, a plank in her hull had come loose, she took on water and was battered apart on the rocks; fortunately no one was injured when the boat sank. After Thunder Hole, we took Otter Cliff Road and Hwy 3 back to town. Although there were only three stops where we could get off the bus, there were many more spots where Rob pulled over to the side of the road or drove slowly so we could see more and take photos. We had read elsewhere that some of the drivers for a competing tour company could be surly. Rob was anything but that: he was cheerful, informative and knowledgeable about the park and the area in general. We highly recommend Acadia National Park Tours (www.acadiatours.com/index.html) for an overview of this extensive park.
After the 2-1/2 hour tour, John and I walked back to the park (www.nps.gov/acad/) and hiked for a couple more hours. First, we hiked the Shore Path to the Great Meadow Loop (www.barharborinfo.com/BarHarborChamber/media/Bar-Harbor-Media-Library/PDFs/Getting%20Here/Maps/BHbyFOOT_09_web.pdf). When we intersected with the Hemlock Trail, we took that to the Jessup Path and ended up at Sieur De Monts Spring. On the way back, we took the Jessup Path to the Hemlock Trail and then the Great Meadow Loop back to town. This is really a place that needs several days to explore, preferably not when three cruise ships are in port.
DAY 9: FRI, 10/10/14 BOSTON, MA, USA; 8:00AM – 6:00PM
Today we had beautiful weather in Boston. As we entered the harbor this morning, we had excellent views from our balcony of Fort Independence on Castle Island (www.bostonfortindependence.com). This site has been used for military operations from 1634 through World War II, making it the oldest continuously fortified site in British North America. This is exactly the sort of place John and I like to visit but it was not on the agenda for today.
Princess was offering a shuttle bus to Quincy market ($10 pp one-way, $15 pp round-trip). Instead, for $2.65 pp (exact change required), John and I caught a local Silver Line SL2 bus (www.mbta.com/schedules_and_maps/subway/lines/?route=SILVER) from the Black Falcon Cruise Terminal to the Boston South Station. From the station, we walked 0.6 mile to the start of the Freedom Trail in Boston Common.
The Freedom Trail (www.thefreedomtrail.org) passes a number of sites important to the American Revolution. It is privately maintained, so a map and guide book cost $3; however, this same information can be downloaded from the organization's website. It is very easy to follow the trail because it is marked by a bricked or painted red (sometimes blue and red) line; the entire trail is about 2.5 miles long. There are interpretive panels at the major sites.
We stopped at the Granary Burying Ground, which contains the graves of John Hancock, Samuel Adams and Paul Revere. Other highlights are the Old South Meeting House and the site of the Boston Massacre. We nearly lost our way when the Freedom Trail ran through the Boston Public Market, on the sidewalks around Hanover and Blackstone Streets.
Also on the route is Paul Revere's house and a little further on, a statue of Revere riding to warn the colonists that troops were coming to seize rebel munitions stored at Lexington and Concord. Behind the statue is the Old North Church, from whose steeple Robert Newman hung the signal lanterns to send Revere and William Dawes off on their rides. Newman's grave is in the nearby Copp's Hill Burial Ground. (“One if by land, two if by sea; And I on the opposite shore will be, Ready to ride and spread the alarm Through every Middlesex village and farm...”—“Paul Revere's Ride” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow)
Next we crossed over the Charlestown Bridge to Revere's “opposite shore.” From the bridge, we walked up Breed's Hill to the Bunker Hill Monument (www.nps.gov/bost/historyculture/bhm.htm). By cutting over to some side streets, we managed to outpace a large school group to the monument and climb its 294 steps (thoughtfully numbered every 25 steps) before them. Unfortunately, the area at the top is very small and there are only four small windows from which to enjoy the view. As the tide of students surged up the spiral staircase, we headed back down. The tiny information center at the base of the monument has a large statue of Dr. Joseph Warren, a key revolutionary leader, who died in the battle. Across from the monument is a small museum with some displays and artifacts from the era. Both the monument and the museum have free admission.
At the end of the Freedom Trail is the USS Constitution, “Old Ironsides” (www.nps.gov/bost/historyculture/ussconst.htm). At 200+ years old, it is the world's oldest commissioned warship still afloat. (Admiral Lord Nelson's flagship, HMS Victory, is the oldest commissioned warship but it can no longer float.) The USS Constitution is the only survivor of six frigates built for the War of 1812. The ship saw action against the Barbary Corsairs (on “the shores of Tripoli”) and in other battles; she was never defeated in her 33 engagements. A visit the ship is free but it is necessary to go through an airport-style security screening (without shoe removal) and those over 18 must show a photo ID. Once aboard the ship, US Navy personnel give orientation talks and are available to answer questions. Today only two decks were open to the public. It is fortunate that the ship's value as a tangible part of American history was recognized before it had deteriorated completely; after multiple restorations, only 15% of the ship is original.
In addition the USS Constitution, the National Park Service also has a Fletcher-class destroyer open for free visits (www.nps.gov/bost/historyculture/usscassinyoung.htm). The USS Cassin Young saw service in the Pacific during WW II and remained in service during the Cold War. There is also a privately-run USS Constitution Museum (www.ussconstitutionmuseum.org) with exhibits on the history of the ship, the War of 1812 and the life of a sailor in 1812. The museum is also free but a donation is pointedly requested. We visited both the destroyer and the museum.
Behind the museum is the dock for the Inner Harbor Ferry (mbta.com/schedules_and_maps/boats/lines/?route=F4). Note that the location of the ferry dock is on the same side of Dry Dock 2 as the museum and NOT (as shown on the Freedom Trail map) on the other side by Shipyard Park. It is only a 10-minute ride to Long Wharf and fares ($3.25 pp, change available onboard) were collected after the ferry was underway; wait on the lower deck if you want to be first in line to pay and still get to enjoy the brief tour of Boston Harbor. From the ferry dock, we walked a short distance to the Rose F. Kennedy Greenway (www.rosekennedygreenway.org), which leads about 0.6 mile back to the Boston South Station. The Greenway is a series of public parks and gardens created when the Central Artery elevated highway was relocated underground. Once at the station, it was necessary to buy individual tickets ($2.65 pp) at fare machines in order to use the turnstiles to reach the Silver Line SL2 bus (outbound to the Design Center) back to the ship.
Tonight was the second and final formal night. We went to dinner early (escargot and lobster) and had time to see most of the production show, “Broadway Ballroom,” which was also new to us. The shows had been running about a half-hour long; this one started late so we had to miss the last couple of numbers to get to the Captain's Circle Cocktail Party on time. This was the second of two parties just for the Platinum and Elite members and was held in the Vista Lounge.
DAY 10: SAT, 10/11/14 AT SEA
Today was the last day of the cruise and we packed our bags after the Princess Grapevine wine tasting. Tonight we had dinner again at Sabatini's for a nice end to the cruise. The special entree was Saltimboca alla Fiorentina (a veal scaloppine with prosciutto, spinach and cheese fondue); we both ordered that. Although it was very good, we much preferred the osso buco that we had on Monday.
DAY 11: SUN, 10/12/14 NEW YORK CITY (MANHATTAN OR BROOKLYN), NY, USA
This morning we sailed into New York Harbor about 5:00 a. m. We got some nice views of the Verenzzano Narrows Bridge as we sailed under it and of the illuminated Statue of Liberty and Staten Island Ferry. Later we had beautiful sunrise views of the Statue of Liberty and Manhattan Island. After breakfast, we went to our disembarkation group meeting point in the Explorers Lounge.
Although we generally arrange our own airport transfers, we decided on this trip that the convenience of using a Princess bus transfer outweighed the slightly higher cost compared to a taxi or car service. When I booked this cruise, I also purchased transfers to JFK airport. However, Princess requires that domestic flights from JFK not depart earlier than six hours after the scheduled docking time of 7:15 a. m., in other words, no earlier than 1:15 p. m. A few weeks before the cruise, Princess emailed me that our flight time (12:35 p. m.) was too early and advised us to reschedule our flight. Instead, I canceled the transfers. The Shore Excursion desk onboard offered transfers for flights after 12:30 p. m., so I bought those. Despite Princess' dire warnings, we were through the immigration and customs inspection at the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal by 9:00 a. m. and sitting at our gate in the American Airlines terminal by 10:30 a. m. Our nonstop flight to RDU left on schedule.
This was a very enjoyable cruise with beautiful weather most days, stunning fall foliage and interesting ports. We were quite disappointed to miss Saguenay and Gaspe because of high seas; those ports were a large factor in our choice of this cruise. However, we did get to visit three other ports that were new to us (Quebec City, Charlottetown and Bar Harbor). If you kept count, you'll notice that we dined at the Crown Grill twice and Sabatini's three times on this cruise. We found them to be quite enjoyable on this ship and well worth the $25 pp cover charge! Overall, we were very satisfied but would probably not repeat this itinerary in the near future. Read Less