The hidden highlights of a cruise to Canada and New England

Paul Wade
Discover picturesque spots such as Castine Harbour in Maine - ©Joe Devenney MMXIV

When it comes to autumn cruises along coastal New England and Maritime Canada, destinations such as Boston, Quebec and Montreal tend to hog the limelight. But, cruise companies stop at more than 30 ports, from busy cities and fishing harbours to remote off-shore islands. The reason? Because each has a tale to tell. Here are a few to pique your interest.

Bristol, Rhode Island, USA

Although much smaller than its British namesake, Bristol has a big reputation, thanks to its yacht-building tradition. Learn more at the Herreshoff Marine Museum & America's Cup Hall of Fame. You cannot miss it. Standing outside is the 1992 America’s Cup winner, America3, pronounced America Cubed.

The Herreshoff yard built eight consecutive winners between 1893 and 1934. In fact, from 1851 to 1983, US entries dominated the competition, with races hosted in the waters off Newport, only 15 miles away.   

Cruise lines: American Cruise Lines, Blount

More information:explorebristolri.com

Camden, Maine, USA

This small port is a real charmer. From the top of 780ft Mount Battie, the view takes in the pretty town and its boat-filled harbour. Star attractions are the historic tall ships of the Maine Windjammer Association, such as the schooner Lewis R French, America’s oldest commercial sailing vessel (1871). Go for a sail: perhaps a day trip or a longer cruise. Whether you lend a hand with the sheets or just enjoy the views, the experience is extra special under canvas.

Camden has little resemblance to its London namesake Credit: Getty

Cruise lines: American Cruise Lines

More information: camdenrockland.com

Castine, Maine, USA

When Americans think of New England villages, they think of white clapboard homes with porches and picket fences. Add in tall elms, a sleepy Main Street and a harbour, and you have Castine. Founded over 400 years ago, this strategic port was squabbled over by the French, Dutch and British. Today, visitors come to relax, do a bit of shopping, eat lobster and enjoy a slower pace of life.  

Cruise lines: American Cruise Lines

More information:castine.me.us

Corner Brook, Newfoundland, Canada

Newfoundland is all about the great outdoors. Fancy a thrill ride? Go river rafting or zoom on a zipline. Explore on a bike or hike up 857ft Crow Hill. At the top, the bronze figure of Captain James Cook stands, clutching a quadrant. Before his Pacific voyages, the 18th-century explorer mapped the St Lawrence River, to the west of Corner Brook’s protected harbour. In autumn, the rugged beauty of this shoreline is transformed by the changing leaves.

Cruise lines: Several, including Cunard, Norwegian Cruise Line, Holland America Line and MSC

More information:newfoundlandlabrador.com

Iles de la Madeleine, Quebec, Canada

For those looking for something different, these sandy islands in the middle of the Gulf of St Lawrence fit the bill. Most of the 12,000 Madelinots speak a version of Old French, recalling the settlers, who arrived 250 years ago. Photographers are inspired by the dramatic red cliffs; birders enjoy adding to their life lists; shoppers check out the artisan-made gifts; foodies rave about the freshest snow crab, lobster and scallops.

The striking sandstone cliffs of Iles de La Madeleine Credit: Getty

Cruise lines: Several, including Silversea, P&O Cruises, Seabourn

More information:tourismeilesdelamadeleine.com

Pictou, Nova Scotia, Canada

In 1773, after a trans-Atlantic voyage of nearly 11 weeks, the sailing ship Hector anchored here. Learn about the journey, the Scots passengers and the lives they built in the ‘Birthplace of New Scotland’ as you tour the cramped hold aboard the full-size replica of Hector and also the Hector Heritage Quay Interpretative Centre, where the hardships of the past are brought to life by heritage interpreters. There is even a Ship Hector tartan. And remember that Pictou is pronounced “Pick-toe”.

Admire Hector, which brought the first significant migration of Scottish settlers to Nova Scotia Credit: Getty

Cruise lines: Several, including Pearl Seas

More information:experiencepictou.com

Saint John, New Brunswick, Canada

Mother Nature had fun here, where the Saint John River empties into the Bay of Fundy. She created a gorge and whirlpools for the river and, for the bay, the world’s highest tides. And when the tide rushes in, it looks as if it is pushing the river back and ‘climbing’ up the falls.

Even better, this phenomenon, known as the Reversing Falls, happens twice a day, every day. Watch from the shore in Fallsview Park or on a sightseeing harbour tour; look down from the Saint John Adventures Zipline or through the glass-floored deck of Skywalk Saint John.

Cruise lines: Many, including Disney Cruise Line, Princess Cruises and Royal Caribbean Cruise Line

More information:discoversaintjohn.com

Sept-Îles, Quebec, Canada

This town, a relatively new addition to cruise itineraries, is named for the seven islands just offshore. Some passengers board Zodiacs for two-hour nature and bird-spotting tours around the islands; others take to the hiking trails on La Grande Basque. Its name recalls the Basques who, centuries ago, came to fish for cod and to hunt whales. Today, whales are celebrated, with special whale-watching cruises heading out to see humpbacks and big blues, as well as playful white-sided dolphins.

Enjoy the tranquility of Sept-Îles harbour Credit: Getty

Cruise lines: Several, including Cunard, P&O Cruises and Silversea

More information:tourismeseptiles.ca