(UPDATED APRIL 2022) My friend Angie and I sailed into Bar Harbor, Maine, on a Holland America cruise. It was our last port of call on a fantastic Canada/New England trip that introduced us to fabulous finds, significant history, and tasty food. There are so many things to do at the cruise port of Bar Harbor, and we wanted to see Acadia National Park, visit celebrity homes, see the quaint towns, and eat fresh seafood. We created our own itinerary since we couldn’t find a cruise ship option that fit our needs. Here is how we spent the day in Bar Harbor, ME, a cruise port itinerary that worked perfectly.
Rent a Car
Angie and I were picked up right off the ship by Enterprise rental cars (which we had scheduled in advance) and driven about 30 minutes to the airport, where we got our vehicle. While this took some time to get there and the paperwork completed, the car rental price was reasonable, and we were happy to be in charge of our day. The car got excellent gas mileage, so between refueling and the rental, the total price was $140. The roads were easy to navigate, but keep in mind that cell service was patchy in some areas.
Sightseeing Along the Way
Since we were 30 minutes from the cruise port, we chose the scenic route to Acadia National Park and explored the areas we had heard rave reviews about. One area was Seal Harbor, known for incredible mansions and celebrity homes (Martha Stewart, for one).
The roads in these little neighborhoods are winding, so it can be difficult without knowing the exact addresses of the homes you want to see. We meandered the turns taking in the multi-million dollar properties. You will definitely want to see these beauties for yourself.
It is fun to venture out to MDI (Mount Desert Island), home to Bar Harbor and several other fancy little Maine towns. Many of these towns are where wealthy socialites’ summer homes are and have impressive art galleries, fine dining, and unique accommodations.
Ellsworth is a picturesque city that you will drive through to get into Acadia National Park. You will find museums, birding hotspots, the Timber Tina’s Great Maine Lumberjack Show (which runs all summer), and an incredible telephone museum.
Northeast Harbor was my favorite. It reminded me of the hamlets in upstate New York. Quaint village shops, charming eateries, and an heir of sophistication exude from this playground of the rich and famous, whose homes include the Rockefeller’s.
Main Street Mercantile is a must-visit shop for souvenirs, glassware, household items, and baby gifts. You will love discovering these small towns on your own.
Devour Fresh Seafood
Angie and I are both foodies, so we couldn’t wait to sink our teeth into some fresh Maine lobster. I’m sure you will feel the same way. After receiving a local recommendation, we made our way to Trenton Bridge Lobster Pound, a cute restaurant open since 1956. You’ll find some of the best lobsters in the world right here, fresh at Mount Desert Island and sold within hours of being caught. That is pretty darned fresh!
We both chose a Lobster Roll and sides of coleslaw and potato salad. The rolls were crisp on the outside and billowy on the inside. Better yet, they were piled full of succulent lobster. A side of melted butter made a great accompaniment to dip our lobster rolls in for the perfect bite.
Visit Acadia National Park
Acadia National Park (Crown Jewel of the North Atlantic Coast) is the premier attraction in Bar Harbor, and what better way to explore the massive park from the comfort of your vehicle. The massive park covers half of Mount Desert Island. Angie and I zipped around Park Loop Road’s 27 miles of curvy mountains, stopping along with the turnouts for scenic overlooks and photographs.
The oceanside cliffs provide a great vantage point for seeing the pristine property. Thunder Hole and Sand Beach provided a serene beach setting, which was a stark contrast to the dense, tree-covered mountains. The force of the surf slapping the rocky shore was mesmerizing.
Cadillac Mountain, the granite-topped peak, is the acme of Acadia National Park, at 1532-feet elevation. It is also the highest mountain along the North Atlantic seaboard. You’ll be in awe of the 360-degree views of Bar Harbor, Frenchman Bay, and the Cranberry Isles. Jordan Pond would be a close second, a gorgeous area bordered by Penobscot Mountain and “The Bubbles” on another.
Be on the lookout for wild blueberries that grow in the area. It is doubtful that you would be here before sunrise on a cruise, but Cadillac Mountain is known as the place to see “the nation’s first sunrise.” Judging from the pictures I’ve seen, it is pretty fantastic.
If lighthouses warm your soul, make time for Bass Harbor Head Light on MDI’s rugged granite shoreline. It is one of the most photographed lighthouses on the Eastern Seaboard and dates back to 1855. Visitors can tour the grounds but cannot go inside as it is a private home.
Shop for Souvenirs
Downtown Bar Harbor (steps from the cruise port) is where to go for unique, cheesy, adorable, fantastic, and practically every type of souvenir you might need or want. You could spend your whole day browsing these relaxed and fun offerings in port. You can’t miss two stores: Cool as a Moose and Fair Trade Winds, both packed with all kinds of goodies. If you are a jewelry fan like I am, Maine is where the elusive watermelon tourmaline comes from. The pieces are stunning. I also found oodles of upscale food products (jams, jellies, sauces, syrups, etc.) to take home with me.
You can’t come to this region of Maine without trying something blueberry. We chose a blueberry soft-serve ice cream cone from CJ’s Big Dipper. Heavens to Betsy, it was phenomenal!
As you stroll the pedestrian-clad sidewalks and browse the well-kept store, galleries, and wineries, it is easy to see why Bar Harbor has been a favorite New England summer retreat for over 100 years.
Take Pretty Pictures
While at Acadia National Park, we didn’t have time to visit Jordan Pond House (mountain lake and scenic trail) or the restaurant associated with it (famous for popovers). Instead, we went to Frenchman Bay to take spectacular photos of the beautiful beachfront and mountains backdrop. The mounds of land you see sprouting up from the water in Frenchman Bay are called Porcupine Islands.
In downtown Bar Harbor, several green spaces, parks, and seating areas with plenty of benches dot the landscape. A stately clock, life-size art sculptures, mature trees, whimsical signage, and eye-catching blooms give you even more things to photograph as you capture your memories of visiting Maine.
Bar Harbor: A Visit to Remember
After finishing our day tour, we took the car back to the airport. Angie and I were driven back to Bar Harbor for last-minute exploring near our cruise ship. Exploring Bar Harbor on our own was such a good idea. We didn’t have to wait for a crowd of guests to get on and off a bus, visit places we didn’t want to, or be tied to a set schedule.
I’m sure you can easily plan your own trip. We hope our Bar Harbor cruise port suggestions above will enrich your day at this great cruise port.
**We were hosted on this cruise by Holland America, but our day on our own was at our own expense. As with all of our articles, opinions and reviews are 100% ours and unbiased.
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