Taking a Canada/New England cruise gives travelers a taste of the best this region has to offer, including colorful towns steeped in seafaring history, rugged coastal views, unique marine wildlife—oh, and lobster. Lots and lots of lobster.
Read on to discover the coolest excursions to take on a Canada/New England cruise, from hiking and biking to food tours and indigenous experiences.
Canada/New England Cruises: What You Need to Know
Most Canada/New England cruises depart in summer and fall. If you prefer long days and the warmest weather possible, go in summer. For crisp air and colorful foliage, time your visit for October.
Numerous cruise lines offer Canada/New England cruises, including big-ship lines like Royal Caribbean, Holland America, Princess, and Norwegian, as well as cruise lines offering smaller ships with more intimate experiences, such as Hurtigruten, Windstar, Regent Seven Seas, and Seabourn.
Note that not all Canada/New England cruise itineraries feature all of the following ports, and the experiences below are just a sample of the activities you can do. Keep in mind, too, that all cruise itineraries are subject to change due to weather or other factors. So don’t get your heart set on visiting any particular port on your Canada/New England cruise, even if it’s on your itinerary.
Walk the Cliffs in Newport, Rhode Island
On one side of the path: the Atlantic Ocean, crashing in frothy waves against the rocky cliffs. On the other side: sprawling mansions that once served as “summer cottages” for rich and famous families like the Vanderbilts. These vistas are the primary appeal of the Cliff Walk in Newport, which winds along 3.5 miles of coastline.
The northern part is paved and accessible for wheelchairs and strollers. Other parts of the walk—particularly south of the Breakers mansion—are rockier, narrower, and more challenging, so leave your sandals on the ship and wear comfortable walking shoes instead.
Visit a Venetian-Style Palazzo in Boston
The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum is an Old World oasis in the heart of Boston. Gardner, a wealthy art lover, began constructing the museum in 1899 to house her eclectic collection of paintings, furniture, tapestries, and sculptures—all arranged to her exact specifications.
Designed in the style of an Italian palazzo, the museum features a stunning central courtyard with an ever-changing rotation of brightly colored flowers that bloom throughout the year.
Hike to the Top of Mt. Battie in Camden, Maine
Stretch your legs on the 1.2-mile Nature Trail in Camden Hills State Park, where you can reach the summit of Mount Battie in about an hour. From here you’ll enjoy sweeping views over Penobscot Bay, the Camden Hills, and the town of Camden. The trail is mostly uphill but not gruelingly so, with plenty of forest to provide shade. If you’re not up for the hike, you can also drive to the summit via a paved road.
Ships dock in nearby Rockland, about a 20-minute drive from the park. Most excursions include not only the hike but also some time in downtown Camden, a pleasant spot for strolling with its picturesque harbor and numerous shops and galleries.
Bike Carriage Roads in Acadia National Park, Maine
There’s nothing more relaxing than riding around Acadia National Park on two wheels, pedaling over old stone bridges and soaking up lake and forest views. The park’s 45 miles of broken-stone carriage roads are the legacy of John D. Rockefeller, Jr., who supervised their construction from 1913 through 1940. Today the roads are used by bikers, horses, and pedestrians.
Book this excursion through your cruise line, and the tour operator will outfit you with a bike and helmet. You can also rent your own wheels from Acadia Bike in Bar Harbor.
Take a Food Tour in Montreal
From its colorful fruit and vegetable markets to delis serving up the city’s famous smoked meat, Montreal is the highlight stop for foodies on a Canada/New England cruise. Many cruise lines offer their own culinary tours of the city, or you can book independently.
One appetizing option is the 2.5-hour Flavors of Old Montreal Walking Tour, which includes samples of macarons, foie gras, artisanal cheese, and ice cream flavored with maple syrup. Or you can go “Beyond the Bagel” on a Jewish food walking tour, featuring smoked meat, bagels, rugelach, and much more.
Rediscover the Titanic in Halifax, Nova Scotia
Though the “unsinkable ship” was headed from England to New York, the city of Halifax had its own role to play in the tragedy of the Titanic. The survivors were taken to New York City by the Carpathia, which rescued those in the doomed ship’s lifeboats, but the bodies of the deceased were largely recovered by Canadian cable ships and brought to Halifax for identification and burial.
At the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic, you can learn about the tragedy and see artifacts such as mortuary bags, first- and second-class onboard menus, and a pair of children’s leather shoes from a young victim. The museum is within walking distance of the cruise port. You can also visit the Fairview Lawn Cemetery, where more than 100 of the passengers were laid to rest.
Go Whale Watching on the Bay of Fundy
Known for the world’s highest tides, the Bay of Fundy is a prime spot for whale watching. The strong currents stir up plenty of food for marine wildlife, so grab your camera and head out into the bay to look for humpback, minke, and finback whales. If you’re lucky, you might spot rarer breeds as well, ranging from blue whales to belugas.
You can take this excursion from either Saint John, New Brunswick, or from Eastport, Maine (a less commonly visited port on Canada/New England cruises). Though you can spot whales anytime between June and October, the best month to go is August. It’s also worth keeping an eye out while your ship is sailing between ports, as you could happen upon a whale or two just about anywhere on the Canada/New England coast.
Follow in Anne’s Footsteps on Prince Edward Island
Though the island boasts historic lighthouses, sweeping stretches of beach, and even a national park, it’s a fictional little red-haired girl named Anne Shirley who draws most tourists to Prince Edward Island. If you, like me, are a fan of L.M. Montgomery’s classic novel Anne of Green Gables, you won’t want to miss an Anne-centric excursion from the island’s main port, Charlottetown.
Most ship excursions take you to Green Gables Heritage Place, the farm that inspired Marilla and Matthew’s home in the novel. You’ll also drive along the nearby red-sand beaches of the North Shore where Montgomery grew up.
Learn About Indigenous People in Quebec City
Quebec City is known for the historic streets and buildings within its 17th-century walls, but few visitors know about the long history of the Huron-Wendat people, a First Nations community that now lives on a reserve just a half-hour outside of Quebec.
An excursion to the aboriginal Wendake community gives visitors a chance to view headdresses and other artifacts, learn about the Huron-Wendat people’s myths and legends, visit an 18th-century church dedicated to the first Native American saint, and walk through a traditional longhouse. Depending on the cruise line, your excursion may also include Huron-Wendat snacks or even a full meal.
See North America’s Largest Migratory Bird Sanctuary in Gaspe, Quebec
Nature lovers won’t want to miss an excursion from Gaspe to Bonaventure Island. At this massive breeding ground for 200,000 gannets, you can watch the large seabirds swoop and soar over the rocky cliffs. (Bring your binoculars and your zoom lens for the best views.)
Your boat ride to Bonaventure will also take you around the magnificent Perce Rock, one of the biggest natural arches on the planet. You’ll have free time to explore the small village of Perce before returning to Gaspe, about an hour’s drive away.
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