By Bonnie Snowhite, Travel Consultant, Travel of America
Attracted by weather cooler than we have in southern California during the summer, my family and I decided to take a seven-day, round-trip Holland America cruise out of Boston, along the New England coast and up to Halifax, Nova Scotia. Before embarking, we spent a few days in Boston visiting some of the many historical sites there.
We began exploring the town by following the Freedom Trail, marked on our tourist map, which took us to sixteen different historical sites along an easy three-and-a-half mile walk. We also purchased a two-day ticket on the Beantown Trolley, which allowed us to exit and re-board at any of its twenty stops. Points of interest include Beacon Hill, Faneuil Hall, King's Chapel, Bunker Hill Monument, Boston Common, and the Paul Revere House (Walking tours with knowledgeable guides dressed in period costumes are very popular). We also used the very economical streetcar system (the Charlie), which took us to Harvard University in neighboring Cambridge and along the scenic Charles River, with its lush green banks and bobbing sailboats. The river side park area is an excellent place to take pictures.
On our second night in Boston, we dined at the Union Oyster House, one of the oldest restaurants in America, housed in a building that dates back to 1742; the restaurant was established in 1826 as the Atwood and Bacon Oyster House. Its owners installed its famous semi-circle oyster bar, where legend has it that Daniel Webster was a regular and drank brandy and water each day, one tumbler after eating a plate of a half dozen oysters. He is said to have typically enjoyed six servings of oysters with the accompanying brandy and water. We enjoyed fine traditional seafood entrees amid the restaurant's eighteenth century decor.
After two days of sight-seeing, we boarded the cruise ship, the Maasdam, and began our seven-day voyage up along the New England coastline and into the Canadian Maritimes. The Maasdam is 720 feet long and holds 1,258 passengers. It featured a Culinary Arts Center, sponsored by Food and Wine magazine. Here guest gourmet chefs demonstrated techniques for a variety of dishes, followed by tastings. They also had cooking lessons for groups of passengers.
Our first port of call was Newport, Rhode Island, a premier summer resort for the rich and famous during the Gilded Age. By the turn of the century, many of America's wealthiest families–including the Vanderbilts, the Astors and the Wideners--built palatial summer mansions. It took the better part of a day touring just a few of these lovely old houses and hearing stories from our guides of the lives lived by these American aristocrats. The most impressive was the Vanderbilts' house. We also visited the house used in the filming of The Great Gatsby (starring Robert Redford and Mia Farrow).
When we arrived at Portland, Maine, our second port-of-call, we took a tram tour of places of interest around town. Most impressive was the Portland Head Light, the first lighthouse commissioned by President George Washington. This white, red-roofed columnar structure is surrounded on three sides by rock and thick brush except where it faces the sea. It was immediately apparent why it is purported to be the most photographed light house in the world. On our return to town, our tram passed the childhood home of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.
Our third port-of-call was the charming old town of Bar Harbor, Maine, on the east side of Mt. Desert Island and surrounded by fifty-square miles of Acacia National Park. Its highly varied beautiful terrain—with streams, thick woods, lakes and hiking trails—provided an excitingly lovely environment for our excursion on rented bicycles, which we had booked on board the ship. Our naturalist guide led us and about a dozen other riders along a nine-mile route called the Jordan Bubble loop, where we had thick woods on one side and lakes on the other.
After working up an appetite riding through the woods, we headed back to town, where we found a small waterfront sandwich shop that featured the most delicious lobster rolls in town (The trick to making this delicacy seems to be using plenty of fresh-caught lobster with nothing much added and putting this mound of heaven in a fresh, crispy roll).
Our next port of call was Halifax, the capitol of Nova Scotia. We decided to hire a cab for several hours, which we managed at a very reasonable price. The driver, a proud native of the city, enthusiastically pointed out many places of interest as we toured the city. He then took us out to a place called Peggy's Cove, a small fishing village 26 miles southwest of downtown Halifax, where many painters and photographers have settled to work and sell their art. We visited Peggy's Point Lighthouse, a classic red and white structure operated by the Canadian Coast Guard and probably one of the most recognizable lighthouses in the world since it has found its way into many local landscape paintings and photographs. Our final stop of the tour was Fairview Cemetery. Here, dispersed throughout the carefully tended lawns, we read the inscriptions on the gravestones of many of those who perished in the sinking of the Titanic.
Our final port of call was St. John, New Brunswick, the first incorporated city in Canada, located on the south-central portion of the province along the north shore of the Bay of Fundy and the mouth of the St. John River. This old city is divided by the south flowing river; the east side of the town is bordered by the smaller Kennebecasis River, where it meets the St. John River at the Bay of Fundy through a gorge several hundred feet wide at the center of the city. Here there you can experience a unique phenomenon called the Reversing Falls, where the diurnal tide of the bay reverses its flow for several miles. A series of underwater ledges at the narrowest point of the gorge also creates a series of rapids.
This was a relatively short cruise--seven days--that afforded my family and me diverse sights and varied environments. We thoroughly enjoyed seeing this part of our country and a bit of Canada at this time of the year, but I would also recommend this cruise in the autumn months when you will be struck by the beauty of the fall colors.