Maritimes cruise minus brochures and gift shops?
May 9, 2024 7:13 PM   Subscribe

Over an extended Memorial Day vacation, we're cruising up the eastern seaboard through Canada. The cruise "excursions" are yawn-worthy or cheesy, so we're rolling our own. Help us figure out the best places to BE for our particular combination of dates and stops. Snowflakey details inside.

Yes, we're tourists, but we need not be entertained nor catered to like tourists. Our group of five want to be in awe of natural beauty and linger in authentic cultural vistas. We want to connect with these places as much as our limited time will allow. But we also need to make it back to the boat in plenty of time, so proximity to the cruise terminal is a plus.

Our itinerary is as follows:

Sun, May 26 Bar Harbor, ME 7:00am 4:00pm
Mon, May 27 Halifax, NS, Canada 9:00am 6:00pm
Tue, May 28 Sydney, NS, Canada 9:30am 5:30pm
Wed, May 29 Charlottetown, PE, Canada 7:00am 4:00pm
Fri, May 31 Quebec City, QC, Canada 9:00am 6:00pm

Natural wonders? Local art and culture? Beloved institutions of everyday life?

We'd prefer our money go to locals for food and stuff. Want to avoid any place that has a gift shop. Gift shops in general for that matter.
posted by cross_impact to Travel & Transportation around Mcadam, NB (6 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
TBH, getting the most out of the "stunning natural beauty" in the places you're stopping requires driving out of "proximity to the cruise terminal", particularly near Bar Harbor and Sydney. If there's a tour provided by the cruise that shows you some of either Acadia National Park or the Cabot Trail (respectively) it might be worth swallowing your pride and being a tourist.

(I suppose you could try renting a car or hiring an Uber, but neither of these places are particularly large towns and the arrival of a cruise ship might make such options scarce.)
posted by Johnny Assay at 7:50 PM on May 9 [4 favorites]

I was in Halifax about this time last year - walking along the waterfront takes you to the Maritime Museum where I spent a leisurely day and which covers a fair bit about the history of Halifax as well as its role in the British Empire and the Titanic rescue. It's lobster season and I had a very good lobster dinner in one of the city restaurants, ie. away from the waterfront. Walk up to the top to the Halifax Citadel and if you are interested in military matters there are tours there, but I just went up for a walk and to see the city.

Charlottetown is pretty flat and the walk along the waterfront is lovely and ends up near Government House. If you want to see anything to do with Lucy Maud Montgomery, that is on the other side of the island.

Quebec City has the Citadel and they do a tour of the Canadian Governor's summer residence which is a lovely introduction to Canadian politics and history. The National Assembly also has tours and if you are lucky, there may be a performance in the Agora. In the old city, it's nice just to wander around the lanes. There are a lot of galleries selling arts and craft - it is worth going in just to see the adaptive use of the buildings. Most have massive cellars which are now display or performance areas.
posted by Barbara Spitzer at 4:53 AM on May 10

We have had great luck on cruises looking at the offered excursions from the ship, finding one that sounds interesting (say, whale watching), and then searching for "whale watching ketchikan." This usually lets you find a local operator and you often get smaller or more customized tours.
posted by notjustthefish at 6:06 AM on May 10 [1 favorite]

I agree with Johnny Assay above on Bar Harbor. I've spent a lot of time there over the last 30 years, and if there is a tour that will get you into the park I highly recommend you stick with that. Acadia National Park is a gem and a truly gorgeous natural wonder, but with the time restrictions you are under with a cruise an organized tour is likely your best bet. And there really aren't organized tour companies outside of what your cruise will offer you. If you really want to avoid that, look into the schedules for the Island Explorer bus system (, which will get you from points downtown to various points in the park and back again.

Another favorite for cruisers arriving in Bar Harbor has been the walkable Shore Path near where you will disembark, but it was terribly damaged during winter storms this year and will still be undergoing repairs by the time you are in Bar Harbor.

The downtown area of Bar Harbor is both "money going to locals for food and stuff" *and* full of gift shops, but I can recommend some wonderful locally owned restaurants. And it really is a lovely town to walk through. Lobster, of course, is the Maine classic dish. The outdoor Terrace restaurant at the Bar Harbor Inn has great views (though potentially these will be views of your cruise ship?); Side Street Cafe on Rodick Street and its sister Thrive Juice Bar are also good options. Coffee at the Stadium on Main Street is really good.
posted by neutralhydrogen at 6:11 AM on May 10

The best meal I had in Charlottetown was at Water Prince Corner Shop. It's on the waterfront so there will be tourists, but I was there at the edge of the off season and there were plenty of locals in, as well. Reservations would be a good idea for a group of your size. If that doesn't suit your plans, though, there's plenty of other good food around.

Agree with Barbara Spitzer on the Charlottetown waterfront. The area around Government House and Victoria Park is pretty, with some lovely views. I didn't attempt it myself, but there's a lighthouse that looks reachable by foot out a bit beyond Government House (Brighton Beach Lighthouse). If you're enthusiastic walkers, that could be a good destination. Or get a taxi to take you out there to start and make your way back into downtown as suits you. But if you've got an appetite for walking, Charlottetown is an easy place to have a really good long wander.
posted by EvaDestruction at 7:54 AM on May 10

Quebec City also has amazing public art - there are the murals, which are detailed on, but also things like the street lamps down Boulevarde Rene-Levesque, and the various gates into the old city.

Most of the historic institutional buildings often have museums associated with them. For instance the Ursuline Convent Museum, or the Notre Dame Basilica and its display for St Francois Laval.

My favourite part of being in the city - the provincial government has an amazing preschool childcare system - so any public space, inevitably, will have a caterpillar trail of 3-5 year olds bumbling through for an excursion.
posted by Barbara Spitzer at 11:59 PM on May 10

« Older Noise cancel culture me   |   Help me find an essay about Apple's demo copy for... Newer »

You are not logged in, either login or create an account to post comments