New England & Canada cruise

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January 5th 2010
Published: January 5th 2010
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Autumn in New England and the Canadian Maritimes - 2009

There is nothing quite like autumn in New England and the Canadian Maritime provinces with their kaleidoscope of glorious colors, continually changing in a blaze of glory. The Caribbean Princess took us there in grand style on an eight-day cruise out of Brooklyn, stopping at the ports of Halifax, Nova Scotia; Saint John, New Brunswick; Bar Harbor, Maine; Boston, Mass; and Newport, Rhode Island. The Caribbean Princess is the largest ship in the Princess fleet with a capacity of 3,622 passengers and 1,200 crew members.
After arriving in Newark and paying $100 (including tip and tolls) for a cab ride to the dock in Brooklyn, we boarded in early afternoon. We spent several hours familiarizing ourselves with the 960-foot-long ship (the length of a football field plus two end zones!) and its 17 decks. As the ship pulled away from the dock, we found a spot to enjoy the views of the Statue of Liberty, the Brooklyn Bridge, and the Manhattan skyline as the ship made its way out of New York Harbor at dusk.

Sunday, the first full day of the cruise, was spent at sea, headed northward to Canada. There were so many activities available that we couldn’t do everything we wanted, but we managed to attend three fascinating enrichment lectures: A Historical Picture of Halifax, Navigation at Sea, and Historical Connection between Canada and the U.S. I also joined an arts and crafts class and made gift boxes while Bill tried out the casino. It was formal night, and after a delicious dinner (the food was just about the best of any cruise line we have been on), we enjoyed two shows: a musical theater-style show and a comedy show, followed by Big Band dancing.

Immediately upon docking in Halifax, Nova Scotia, early on Monday, we embarked on a shore excursion to the quaint fishing village of Peggy’s Cove, population: 120. This picturesque and idyllic seaside community has maintained its relaxed atmosphere and rugged beauty despite its popularity by tourists who have made it the most photographed location in all of Canada. A lighthouse built on the large, smooth, wave-washed granite rocks is the crowning feature of this beautiful Atlantic cove. Our kilted guide took us on a walking tour along the unique coastline to enjoy the sights, sounds, and smells while he explained lobster fishing, let us examine lobsters to determine their gender, and entertained us with some of the colorful history of the area. The brilliant foliage was near peak as we returned to Halifax, and I shot dozens of photos through the bus window during the 45-minute journey.

The second part of this enjoyable excursion was a guided tour of the city of Halifax on British-styled double-decker, hop-on, hop-off buses. The only stop at which we got off was the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic. Halifax is home to one of the world’s largest harbors, so its history is intimately tied to the sea. At the Maritime Museum we learned about everything from lighthouses to navigation to the Halifax explosion of 1917. The museum also has a fine exhibit on the wreck of the Titanic and Halifax’s major role in the recovery effort.
The next morning, we docked in Saint John, New Brunswick--Canada's oldest settlement, dating back to Champlain's landing in 1604. After a morning of shopping along the waterfront, our afternoon excursion began with a visit to the famous natural phenomenon called the Reversing Falls. The spectacle of the Reversing Falls, or technically more correct, the Reversing Rapids, takes place where the St. John River meets the Bay of Fundy and is created because the Bay has the highest, most extreme tides in the world. Very simply (because I don't understand the technical explanation of wave forces, resonance, etc.), for twelve hours of each day at high tide, the Bay of Fundy is as much as 35 feet higher than the St. John River, so water rushes into the river, churning and tumbling, as the river is forced to reverse direction and flow upstream. Twelve hours later, the Bay tide recedes and the water flows back downstream into the Bay of Fundy. There is only a period of about 20 minutes when the natural levels of the river and the bay are the same and boats can safely navigate over the falls.

Next, we thoroughly enjoyed a 2 1/2-hour scenic cruise along the majestic St. John River, often referred to as the "Rhine of North America," aboard the M.V. Voyageur II, a double-decker, 100-passenger true Mississippi riverboat. The scenery along the river is incredibly picturesque, and the fall foliage colors rival better-known areas of New England with their vibrant shades of red, orange, and yellow bursting forth. We traveled past the Bayswater covered bridge, which is the is the longest covered bridge in the world at 1,282 feet in length, and we passed about 6 or 7 lighthouses, which were built over 100 years ago to guide the riverboats on the river. Each lighthouse had individual characteristics that made its identity unique. Finally, as we neared the end of this most enjoyable cruise, we spotted two bald eagles on the bank of the river.

Then it was on to New England, "where America was born." The quaint seaside village of Bar Harbor, Maine, with its special ambience and character, was welcoming despite the weather, which had turned gray and rainy. Nevertheless, we made the most of our day, beginning with a bus tour encompassing the highlights of Acadia National Park. The 27-mile-long Loop Road was a kaleidoscope of brilliant fall foliage as we made our way through the spectacular beauty and natural wonder of the park. Ocean Drive took us along Acadia's rugged coastline to Thunder Hole, where waves crash into an underwater cavern causing a thunderous roar with water splashing upwards about 40 feet. This was a beautiful spot to view the majestic 110-foot high Otter Cliff, one of the highest headlands north of Rio de Janeiro.

We so enjoyed this 2 1/2-hour scenic drive that when we returned to Bar Harbor, we boarded one of the Island Explorer Shuttle buses. These are clean, propane-powered vehicles that provide seven fare-free bus routes connecting attractions throughout Acadia National Park. We chose a route that included areas we had not seen in our earlier drive, including Jordan Pond House, a famous teahouse dating to the 1870's, which is located overlooking beautiful Jordan Pond with the Bubble Mountains in the distance. By the time we returned to the Village Green in Bar Harbor, it was time to board a tender back to the boat.

In Boston the next day, we traveled the footsteps of American history from the waterfront to the hallowed halls of Harvard Yard to stalwart Beacon Hill to colonial landmarks we learned in history class. History reverberated everywhere on our 4-hour tour called "Historic Boston and Cambridge." We strolled through Harvard Yard and shopped in Harvard's bookstore; admired Copley Square and Trinity Church; and visited the Old North Church, where we stepped back in time to the night of Paul Revere's midnight ride--"one if by land and two if by sea." We even caught a glimpse of Ben Affleck, who was filming a scene near the Old North Church for his new film The Town. Stops at Faneuil Hall and Quincy Market concluded our tour of the "Cradle of American Independence." Another fun-filled evening awaited us on the ship, beginning with a fantastic dinner with entertaining dinner companions and two shows: a lavish production show and a comedy-magic show.

Our final port was the delightfully charming Newport, Rhode Island, one of the prettiest places to find a unique slice of Americana. After tendering to the dock, we enjoyed a narrated drive through Newport, passing by more than 150 points of interest. We traveled along the spectacular coastline of the scenic 10-Mile Ocean Drive and down Bellevue Avenue, home to the most elaborate mansions in America, built during the Gilded Age of the 1800's as summer homes for the wealthy and elite New York social crowd including the Vanderbilts, Astors, and Morgans. Some of the opulent palaces are as large as 40,000 to 50,000 square feet, and the Vanderbilts' Marble House, which they used to "buy" their way into high society, contains a half million cubic feet of marble. The palatial mansion, when built in 1882, cost $11 million, which is equivalent to about $400 million in 2009 dollars. Not bad for a summer cottage.

Our tour ended at Newport's picturesque and historic harbor, where we chose to remain in town for shopping and independent sightseeing. While Bill read and sipped coffee in the courtyard of the Brick Market, a quaint, restored area of unique shops and restaurants, I wandered around the Old Town, which still retains its 18th-century look. A 10-block area of Colonial Newport reads like a "Who's Who" of American architecture, and I found particularly fascinating the Trinity Episcopal Church, a colonial church built in 1724 entirely of wood. It is the only church building in America with a three-tiered, wineglass pulpit in its original position in the center of the aisle in front of the altar. George Washington worshipped in box pew # 81, which is also where Queen Elizabeth sat in 1976 when she visited.

After a stroll through Bannister's Wharf and Bowen's Wharf, two waterfront complexes of shops and dining, I returned to the Brick Market via America's Cup Blvd., so named because Newport was home to the America's Cup races for fifty years. We tendered back to the ship for our last evening of great food and entertainment.

Disembarkation the next morning was hectic, as you can imagine, with 3,500 people trying to exit one ship at the same time. We didn't get off the ship until a hour and a half after our assigned time, but we were in no hurry because our flight didn't leave LaGuardia for hours. All in all, everything was quite well-organized.

The itinerary and the timing of the trip couldn't have been better. From the Maritime Provinces in Canada, where autumn blanketed the landscape with fall foliage, to New England's brilliant crimson reds, golden yellows, and fiery oranges, it was a splendid time to vacation. Favorite experiences were Peggy's cove in Halifax, the river cruise in Saint John, Acadia National Park in Bar Harbor, strolling Harvard Yard in Cambridge, and everything about Newport. We'd love to go back and spend several days in Bar Harbor and Newport to explore their attractions in greater detail.

We couldn't help but make comparisons throughout the cruise to the twenty previous cruises we have taken because this was our first cruise on Princess, and it was our first experience on such a huge ship with its 3,500 passengers. Since there were two variables (scientifically speaking), it was difficult to determine which factors were attributable to the cruise line and which to the enormity of the ship.

For example, the food, entertainment, and daily activities were among the best we have experienced on any cruise line. Was it because Princess does a better job or because the large number of passengers makes it possible to offer higher quality shows cuisine, lecturers, and other activities? There were so many activities scheduled that they couldn't all be listed on the ship's program. Although the food was good, it was nearly impossible to reserve early fixed-seating, which made it necessary to dine open-seating. On formal night, the open-seating dining room had a wait of one hour. On certain evenings, if you didn't get to the main theater at least 15 minutes before the show, you couldn't get in because it was filled. On the other hand, most shows were repeated on another night, plus there were other shows in smaller theaters that you could see instead, such as comedy and magic. We also found a way to circumvent open seating since we like to dine with the same people every evening at a large table for 10 or 12. Early in the cruise, we happened to be seated with three other couples that we enjoyed, so we all arranged to dine at the same time and ask for the same table every night thereafter. The maître-d kindly obliged.

The location of our cabin was horrible (first cabin forward--lots of walking to get anywhere plus a noisy anchor), but we attribute that to the fact that we were one of the few first-time Princess cruisers on the ship. As we know from experiences on other cruise lines, if you are a repeat-cruiser, you get lots of perks, including choosing cabin location. Bottom line...Would we cruise Princess again? Absolutely. Do we prefer the huge ships? No, but they may have their advantages in some areas.


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