From natural wonders to man-made treasures, a cruise around the Eastern Seaboard is the stuff of dreams.
It is said that travel is a voyage into the variety and sense of revelation the world has to offer, and nowhere is this description more appropriate than in the Canadian Maritimes and the New England states that nudge the Atlantic Ocean. From the Gallic outposts of Cabot and Cartier, via sibilant settlements overflowing with seafaring heritage, to the vibrant cities of Boston and New York; a cruise charts a course of unalloyed delight between a steely sea and cobalt sky where a dazzlingly clear light reveals tableaux full of majesty and magic.
Think autumn and you think with your eyes. You think of butterscotch birch groves, bronzing oaks and all those cliched colours of a woodland in decadent decay. Between mid August and late October several cruise-lines visit New Negland and the Canadian Maritimes, offering passengers a grandstand view of the ever-changing kaleidoscope that is the ‘Fall’.
Cruises aboard American-oriented companies begin their odyssey in Baltimore, Boston or New York, while others, including Brit-popular Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines, start in the atmospheric city of Montreal or Quebec.
British lines offer sailings from Southampton and Dover and include several days of relaxation at sea en route to and from this corner of the North American continent.
This is a cruise that appeals to experienced cruisers who prefer their voyage to be one of serendipity rather than sedentary pleasures. Indeed, for once it would be fair to say that passengers will have more in common with the Noel Coward era than the Noel Gallagher generation. In 2008 no fewer 7,000 British passengers opted for the fly0cruise option to explore this quintessentially beautiful region of the globe.
Short Stop Cruises
Cruise lines such as Crystal Cruises, Cunard and Princess Cruises all operate a short season of fly-cruises from the UK, while Celebrity Cruises, Holland America Line and Royal Caribbean International offer a plethora of cruise-only options. Sailings from ports such as Boston, Baltimore, Montréal and New York take in a selection of contrasting ports. Many departures from New York just visit one or two ports on the Eastern Seaboard during a short five- or seven-night cruise, while longer itineraries include the more eclectic ports as well as those in Newfoundland and along the St Lawrence Seaway.
British companies such as Cunard and P&O Cruises offer longer, round-trip voyages from British ports during autumnal months. Fred Olsen Cruise Lines are offering a voyage from Dover to Montreal as well as a longer sailing from Dover to Halifax, both return by air. There’s also a voyage from Montréal to Halifax and a departure from Montréal to Dover which can be joined in Halifax on the journey home – both include a transatlantic flight before embarkation.
Cruises from Britain to the sequestered corner of the New World offer the prospect of a voyage across the Atlantic Ocean, allowing time to settle into the rhythm of shipboard life. In no time at all the familiar vistas of home seem but a memory and long before landfall age-old traditions of life at sea will be second nature. During these leisurely days there’s enrichment programmes, as well as indulging in an excess of the good life. With this tupe of cruise the old Cunard mantra of “Getting there is half the fun” is not inappropriate!
Once the Eastern Seaboard hoves into view there is a variety of diversions on offer, ranging from natural wonders to man-made treasures, each unique to this type of cruise and every one the stuff of dreams. In complete contrast to a Caribbean idyll where each day reveals an embarrassment of sun-kissed, sylvan beaches, a cruise to the Canadian Maritimes and the New England states is a surreptitious encounter with an existential world. Indeed each port appears like an entry into the atlas of the imagination.
New York is a colossus of a city – everything is bigger, bolder and brasher than anywhere else on earth. It is a perpetual-motion machine, a place that keeps visitors forever charged with energy that exudes from the streets themselves. More gentrified Boston was founded in 1630 along the Charles River and dubbed the ‘Cradle of Liberty’ for leading the American colonies in their struggle for independence. This is a city that’s best seen on foot, and the Freedom Trail Tour journeys through 350 years of America’s past, from the historic Boston Common and State Capital, to Faneuil Hall and Harvard Square.
Located on the southern tip of the largest island in Narrangansett Bay, Newport gained international fame at the beginning of last century as a resort for wealthy industrialists such as the Astors and Vanderbilts – who designed The Breakers, a 70-room mansion in European style. The quaint town of Bar Harbour on Mount Dessert Island allows for an exploration of the Acadia National Park, a 35,000-acre haven of sea-scoured shores, towering cliffs and forested mountains.
At St John’s, New Brunswick, the spectacular Fundy tides – the highest in the world – and ‘reversing falls’ are the main attractions. Prince Edward Island is known as the birthplace of Canada; in Charlottetown visitors can explore the neo-classical Province House and the waterfront pavilion of Founders Hall. The Mi’kmaq Indians, who lived undisturbed for thousands of years, originally settled in Nova Scotia. Today, Sydney is a cultural centre with museums dedicated to the region’s heritage; it’s also a naturalist’s haven with excursions to the Cape Breton Highlands, Bras d’Or Lakes, and the Fortress Louisbourg National Park.
Halifax lies in one of the largest natural harbours in the world. This strategic stronghold was used by the British in the 18th century to protect their North American interests from the French. There’s a quaint waterfront district brim-full of boutiques, art studios and cafes, but many visitors head to the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic, before climbing Citadel Hill where sentries in kilts and ostrich feather hats guard the entrance to the Fortress. Corner Book, Newfoundland lies on an estuary at the Gulf of St Lawrence. In the Bay of Islands and the impressive Gros Morne National Park the impressive Fall foliage is at its most dramatic.
The heritage and history of St John’s capital city of Newfoundland, are both inspiring and intrguing. The city is the oldest in North America founded by Europeans; it is also the most colourful city in the province with vibrant trees and pastel flowers.
The trails through Pippy Park are ablaze in a riot of colour, while the accompanying Fluvarium is an enchanting ecological marvel. The French influence becomes prevalent at the islands of St Pierre and Miguelon, just off the Newfoundland coast. Bordered by steep cliffs, the Sanguenay River bisects the mighty Laurentian Highlands vibrant with red oak and tan beech leaves. In the Saguenay Fjord Beluga whales cavort in the tranquil water, putting on a show as if they know when a cruise ship is in the midst.
St Lawrence River
The atmospheric ancient walled city of Vieux-Quebec is spectacular and its location, overlooking the St Lawrence River, is intrinsically perfect. The air is fresh and the rustic granite houses overflow with nostalgia, creating an imposing yet peaceful ambiance.
The world’s second-largest French-speaking city, Montréal, gives you the chance to see the 19th century Basilique Notre-Dame-de-Montreal, Vieux Montréal and Place Jacques-Cartier, a cobbled pedestrian street lined with cafes and peppered with street musicians and artists. If you’re looking for a tranquil break before the onset of long nights and chilly weather, a Canadian Maritimes and New England cruise offers a unique opportunity to appreciate a part of the globe full of Arcadian delights.
When to go
Cruises to Canada and New England sail August to October to enjoy the autumnal foliage.
Sunny days in the 70s, but by October it cools. There’s always the possibility of rain.
Food and drink
In Boston, lunch at the Union Oyster House which dates to 1826 and was a favourite of John F Kennedy. In Bar Harbour the renowned Bar Harbour Lobster Bakes at Hulls Cove shouldn’t be missed. For sensational views of Quebec head to L’Astral, a revolving restaurant atop the Loews Le Concorde Hotel.
Visa and currency
British citizens entering the US will need a vias or can take part in the Visa Waiver Scheme. Make an application for an ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorisation) at least 48 hours before departing the UK (see esta.cbp.dhs.gov.esta/esta.html). Citizens of other countries must check with the US Embassy or travel agents.
Departure arrangmenets and recommendations
Passengers cruising from a British port are bound for an exciting voyage and all procedures will be carried out by the ship’s Purser’s Office. Those undertaking a fly-cruise should ensure their travel documents are in order long before departure. It is recommended that you take advantage of the arrangements of the fly-cruise package as these will include transfers and any overnight accommodation where appropriate. Those opting to make their own travel arrangements should be aware that this is a very popular time in this part of North America and hotel rates can be high. Passengers should also bear in mind that tipping is a way of life here – from bellboys to chambermaids, taxi drivers to dockside baggage handlers.