Want to cruise, but not interested in the Caribbean — fall is the time of year to visit ports-of-call between Baltimore and Quebec, Canada. Last year, Cruise Atlantic Canada reported nearly 650,000 Americans sailed to the region’s six major ports in the four Provinces: Saint John in New Brunswick, St. John’s and Corner Brook in Newfoundland and Labrador, Halifax and Sydney in Nova Scotia and Charlottetown in Prince Edward Island.
Because it’s an easy vacation choice for grandparents and toddlers, many families touring Eastern Canada and New England opt for cruising on a luxury liner instead of a driving trip. It sure beats being stuck in a car where someone has to keep their eyes on the road while another is trying to make sense of a map. The captain of the cruise ship will ensure you get from port to port and, best of all, you and your family don’t have to fight over directions.
Atlantic Leaf Peeping Sailings
The rich mix of English, Celtic and French Acadian culture, along with the spectacular coastal scenery and easy-on-the-tummy, close-to-shore routes has made these fall foliage cruises surprisingly popular.
With regular sailings from four major Eastern Seaboard ports — New York, Boston, Baltimore and Cape Liberty, New Jersey — there are also enough choices to keep cruise prices pretty competitive. Major cruise lines offering itineraries in this region include: Carnival, Celebrity, Crystal, Cunard, Holland America, Oceania, Pearl Seas, Norwegian, P&O, Princess, Regent Seven Seas, Royal Caribbean, Seabourn, Silversea, Swan Hellenic and Travel Dynamics.
Adventuring families should note that several expedition lines also call at the region’s ports including: Adventure Canada, One Ocean Expedition, Lindblad Expeditions and Wanderbird Expedition Cruises but these are not appropriate for young children.
Exploring Northern US and Canada Ports-of-Call
Here are some favorite shore excursions on this itinerary.
A great view of Boston can be seen from the Prudential Skywalk Observatory, and once you’ve seen the city from above, you can catch a Boston Duck Tour at the base of the Prudential Center. It is a fully narrated land and water tour in an authentic WWII amphibious vehicle that takes you on the Charles River. After being on the water, you may want to learn what comes out of the sea with a visit to The New England Aquarium and a stop at the Simons IMAX Theatre. A short walk from there is Faneuil Hall and the Quincy Market Building, a great place to pick up souvenirs.
Bar Harbor is a quaint coastal town in Maine known for nearby Acadia National Park. Cars are only allowed on a road along the park, so preferably, plan to bike, hike, or take a carriage tour. You can even go by horseback.
Halifax is the capital city of the province of Nova Scotia and an historic city tour featuring the Province House and the Halifax Citadel National Historic Site. There are tours of Halifax that also include a drive to the picturesque fishing town of Peggy’s Cove, which is one of Canada’s most photographed sights.
Sydney is known for its miners and its music – internationally known Celtic songstress Rita MacNeil lives about a block from where the cruise ships dock. Most land tours include a trip to the Cape Breton Miners Museum and a seven-hour jaunt on the scenic Cabot Trail.
Charlottetown is the capital of Prince Edward Island. Once on land in PEI, you can’t but help notice the soil is a rich red, as rich as the history itself. Fans of Lucy Maude Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables books can visit Cavendish where you can actually walk through the homestead of this beloved fictional character. You leave believing the little red head girl really must have lived.
The charm of Quebec can be seen in the below video:
When the ship docks in Quebec City, it is like stepping back in time, into the first French city in North America; the old part of the city is rich with historic buildings, chic boutiques and cafes on every corner. Quebec City is a great place to brush up on your high school French.
Holland America has a Typical Leaf Peekers Route
Holland America Line, a pioneer in this region, offers three ships sailing throughout New England through late October. The popular ms Maasdam and the ms Veendam sail seven-day cruises and the ms Eurodam (10-day trips) alternate departures between Boston, New York and Quebec City. Ports-of-call include Bar Harbor, Maine; Halifax, Sydney, St. John’s, Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island and Quebec City. The departures during September, for “fall foliage cruises,” are usually the most popular.
One of our writers joined about 1,200 other passengers aboard the Maasdam, one of the more “intimate” ships in the HAL fleet. She and her family really appreciated the lush amenities and complimentary fruit basket – just in case you need to snack between the multitudes of meals offered during the cruise and the 24-hour room service. Club HAL keeps kids ages 3-12 busy with age-appropriate activities, so parents and grandparents have time to catch up with each other. Or adults can take advantage of the classes, fitness rooms, fine dining and spa on board if they’re kid-free.
Other Major Canada & New England Cruise Options
Keep in mind that most cruise companies only offer this itinerary in the spring, summer and fall seasons, then move ships to Alaska or the Caribbean in summer. Here are some popular options for family cruise vacations.
Carnival has shorter four or five-day Canada/New England cruises with stops at Saint John, New Brunswick and Halifax, Nova Scotia in Canada; Portland in Maine; and Boston, Massachusetts aboard the Carnival Glory through late-fall.
Celebrity Cruises has longer 13 and 14-night cruises leaving from Bayonne, New Jersey and stopping at four ports in Canada.
Crystal Cruises is offering a variety of themed itineraries on seven to 10-day cruises throughout New England and Canada with stops at Saint John, New Brunswick and Halifax, Nova Scotia.
Cunard has autumn themed cruises that include cities like New York City, Bar Harbor, Saint John, New Brunswick and more. Cruise durations can range from 5-20 nights.
Norwegian Cruise Line offers seven day or 10-day excursions from either Boston, New York, Philadelphia or Quebec City. Ports include Saint John, New Brunswick; Charlottetown; and Halifax and Sydney in Nova Scotia.
Princess Cruises offers seven to 12-day cruises between New York City, Quebec and all the way south to Ft. Lauderdale, Florida.
Royal Caribbean has 7 to 11-day Canada & New England cruises that depart from Cape Liberty Cruise Port, New Jersey and Baltimore, Maryland, with stops in Portland and Bar Harbor, Maine as well as New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Boston.
Budget Alternatives for a Foliage Sailing
There’s nothing as relaxing as a cruise on a major line, where you can leave the cooking, cleaning, bed-making and driving to someone else. However, the states of New England and the Atlantic Canada region do offer many budget alternatives in the way of ferries. These large working boats transport passengers and cars all year round and, in fall especially, offer great packages with local on-shore hotels to accommodate families who are using them for recreational leaf-peeping instead of workaday transport.
The state of Maine has a variety of ferry options along its coast as well as north to Canada. Nova Star Cruises is a major Canadian company that sails overnight between Portland, Maine and Yarmouth, Nova Scotia — and they even welcome your pets onboard. Check out their value pricing for a budget cruise experience.
Bay Ferries Limited and Northumberland Ferries are the Canadian cruise ferries that serve passengers traveling between Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island. Together, their routes make stops at Halifax, Lunenburg, Cape Breton, Yarmouth, Digby, Annapolis Valley and South Shore in Nova Scotia; and also Saint John, New Brunswick and Charlottetown or Wood Islands, PEI –depending on the route you choose. Check out their site for specials that combine ferry passage with land based accommodations.
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