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New England and Canada Cruise: What to Expect

New England and Canada Cruise: What to Expect

(UPDATED APRIL 2022) My New England and Canada cruise with Holland America was the perfect choice to make my dream of cruising this region for nearly a decade a reality. Check out how my adventures (with my longtime friend Angie) panned out during our cruise on Holland America’s Zaandam ship. Our eight fun days were packed with jaw-dropping scenery, natural attractions, delicious seafood, and historic sites. We also had a gorgeous cruise ship to take us from cruise port to cruise port and care for our every need.

  • Day 1: Embark in Montreal, Quebec
  • Day 2: Quebec City, Quebec (9 hours in port)
  • At Sea Day 3
  • Day 4: Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island  (9 hours in port and tender required)
  • Day 5: Sydney, Cape Breton, Nova Scotia (8 hours in port)
  • Day 6: Halifax, Nova Scotia (8 hours in port)
  • Day 7: Bar Harbor, Maine (10 hours in port and tender required)

Note: A tender is when the cruise ship has to dock away from the pier (primarily due to shallow water), and smaller boats (life boats) take passengers to the shore from the cruise ship.


Thanks to Holland America for hosting on this awesome itinerary. As always, opinions and reviews are 100% mine and unbiased. 

Montreal Embarkation (Day 1)

Angie and I were staying at Le Centre Sheraton Montreal Hotel, a hotel offered by Holland America at a discounted rate, where the company can pick you up or drop you off for/from the ship. The reason for staying at a cruise line host hotel is to ensure you’re there on time in case of flight delays. 

Guests place their luggage outside of the hotel door on the morning of embarkation for them to be picked up and transported to the Zaandam cruise ship. Then, my friend and I took an Uber to the Old Port, where we walked around, shopped, and took amazing pictures.


Our first stop was Aloha Espresso Bar for our caffeine fix, and later to Crêperie Chez Suzette for a mushroom/asparagus crepe that was so tasty that I nearly teared up. Seriously, this may have been the best crepe I ever ate. Montreal has oodles of cool shops with fun trinkets, clothing, accessories, and Canadian merchandise so consider buying your souvenirs here.


We especially enjoyed seeing Montreal’s stately architecture. A few of our favorite finds were Rue de la Commune, Basilique Notre-Dame, Place d’Armes, and Bonsecours Market. We wanted to go to the Château Ramezay and learn more about its history, but we were pressed for time. Instead, we enjoyed watching the costumed interpreters practicing outback of the Chateau above the beautiful 18th-century gardens. 


The traffic hinders Montreal, so leave plenty of time to get back to your hotel for your shuttle to the ship. Remember, the GPS may have issues if you have a US phone. Between phone/map issues and me not speaking French (ALL of the street signs are in French), it was wisest to hail a taxi rather than rely on a ride-sharing program. It is quite a drive to the cruise port from the host hotel, so you won’t want to miss your shuttle bus.


Quebec City (Day 2)

Angie and I chose the “Stroll Through Quebec City & Tea at Chateau Frontenac” tour with Holland America. It cost $79.95 and lasted 3 hours. We followed our guide around the cobblestone streets of beautiful Quebec City, learning about the first settlement of New France. In Lower Town, we visited Place Royale and the first shopping street in North America, le Quartier Petit-Champlain.

Quebec City is gorgeous. I would love to come back here on a land trip. 


Our group rode the Old Quebec City Funicular (which was really fun!) from the Haute-Ville to the Basse-Ville, which to me means lower town to upper town. In Upper Town, we were introduced to Dufferin Terrace and Place d’Armes, then had treats waiting for us at the legendary Chateau Frontenac.

While there, we had tea service and a fabulous plate of sweets. The day was over way too soon as we didn’t want to leave Quebec City.  


Tip: The excursion did not allow any time for shopping, so be sure to get off of the boat before your tour if you want to do some.  


At Sea Day (Day 3)

Angie and I are both avid cruisers and love at-sea days. This is when you sleep in, play trivia, enjoy afternoon tea, nap, gamble in the casino, and take advantage of all that Holland America offers. Angie and I bought Thermal Suite passes in the spa, which gave us access to the hydrotherapy pool, aromatherapy room, infrared sauna, and relaxation center. We found the Thermal Suite’s heated lounges relaxing for overlooking the water. There was also a fabulous hot tub.


One of my favorite things on Holland America ships is attending Afternoon Tea. We went a few times, but the at-sea day offered a more impressive option for tea sandwiches, sweets, and scones with clotted cream and jam. This is a free cruise offering and one I recommend everyone try at some point.


During our at-sea day, Angie and I also took time to read, watch TV, visit the shops on the Zaandam, and mingle with newly made friends. You don’t even need to get off the ship to have a wonderful experience and day if you are like us!


Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island (Day 4)

Angie and I took another tour with Holland America at Prince Edward Island on our Canada cruise. It was called “Island Drive & Anne of Green Gables,” which cost $79.95 and lasted 3 1/2 hours. The bus tour drove us to Cavendish Beach and Confederation Bridge for photo-ops and then to the highly anticipated Anne of Green Gables Museum.

It seemed that all of the cruise ship passengers were highly excited about seeing the sights from Lucy Maud Montgomery’s classic novel. We heard chatter about it since our first day onboard.


Our group had a rushed tour of the museum (they seriously herd you in like cattle) and a tasty lunch (which was included). We then got back on the bus and stopped for photo ops of the French River, with lovely white beaches and rolling farmland.


Sydney: Day 5 

“Walk Through Old Sydney Town” was our third excursion with Holland America on this trip. It was priced at $39.95 and lasted 2 hours. We met our group and wandered only a few blocks away to the historical part of town. Here, we stopped at St. Patrick’s, the oldest Roman Catholic Church in Cape Breton. Next came a visit to Jost House and listening to historical information about Sydney, settled by loyalists fleeing the American Revolution in 1785.


I wasn’t a fan of this tour and didn’t feel that this part of Sydney offered much to see. Some cruise ship friends raved about their visit to Louisbourg and its historic fortress.

Earlier that morning, Angie and I took our own tour through the shopping part of town and saw some fun murals and stores. We had a killer cinnamon roll from Selkie’s Neighbourhood Diner and Italian soda at Doktor Luke’s, then quickly dashed into The Old Triangle Irish Alehouse to taste the local cuisine. 


If you aren’t dying to do one of the excursions offered, just get off the boat and walk through town. It seems to be the best (and free) option. I do love that our cruise to New England included so many Canadian ports.


Halifax Cruise Port: Day 6 

Angie and I had back-to-back tours in Halifax. The first was the hop-on/hop-off bus ($59.95 and valid all day), which takes about 90 minutes to make the entire loop. It’s a fascinating way to see Halifax! We hopped off to stroll through the Halifax Public Gardens, admiring the beautiful blooms and perfectly manicured grounds. The guide on the bus was excellent, pointing out many historic attractions and cool things to see.

Some places you can hop off include the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic, Halifax Citadel, and Public Gardens. Keep in mind this is not exclusive to Holland America guests.


We chose the hop-off option to get off of the bus back at the cruise ship and stroll around the Halifax Seaport Farmers’ Market for a bit. It is only steps from the cruise pier and offers several excellent restaurants, a gourmet marketplace, local shopping, and many interesting photo-ops.

Note: If you are traveling with someone with some physical limitations, this will be a cruise port they will enjoy every inch of. 


The Most Anticipated Tour in Halifax

Our second tour was the “Peggy’s Cove & Titanic Combo” excursion, a 3 1/2 hours tour for $64.95. I have mixed feelings about this tour. We were rushed from start to finish, and the drive to both places was quite long, but the organized tour took the legwork out of me having to figure it out. The places we visited made up for it.

The excursion started at Fairview Lawn Cemetery, the solemn ground where 121 people from the RMS Titanic sinking are buried and remembered. There are others, too, but this is why I chose this excursion. There was currently a sinkhole near the cemetery, so our bus parked far away. The group had walked a great distance, plus up and down rolling hills to get to the cemetery. As a result, we had less than five minutes to look at the graves.


Next, we headed to Peggy’s Cove, an authentic fishing village on the Eastern shore of St. Margarets Bay that is probably the most photographed setting in Eastern Canada. The rugged granite shores are unforgettable in person, as fog takes a toll on the photos. Still, I loved everything about Peggy’s Cove, though we only had about 30 minutes to explore it.


Be sure to pick up some souvenirs at the gift shop, browse the local artists’ booths around the village, and grab a bite of sweets from the local eateries. While you cannot go inside the 1915 Peggy’s Cove Lighthouse, you can still admire and photograph it.

Tip: Take caution as rogue waves are known to hit at any time, and the rocks can be incredibly slippery. 


Bar Harbor, ME: Day 7

The last stop on our Holland America Canada and New England cruise was to Bar Harbor, Maine. While I am familiar with the state of Maine between Farmington and Portland, this was my first time in the Bar Harbor region. Why did it take me so long to get here? I am sure you will feel the same way.

The town of Bar Harbor sits steps away from the cruise port pier. Adorable shops in a charming setting provide the landscape dotted with beautiful blooms, understated photo-ops, and an arsenal of local shops and eateries.


I recommend getting blueberry ice cream from one of the dozen or so shops around town. It is a specialty in the area and unbelievably good. 

There is plenty to do in Bar Harbor, from the park to the stores, without partaking in an organized tour. For that reason, Angie and I went sightseeing on our own. She rented us a car from Enterprise to explore Acadia National Park; we had to get the stamp for our National Parks Passport.

An employee of Enterprise picked us up at the dock and drove us 25 minutes to get our car at the airport. Please note that you must return the rental car where you picked it up, so allow enough time to return to the ship. 


Designing Our Own Cruise to New England Itinerary 

During our self-guided tour of Bar Harbor, we saw Frenchman Bay with eagles and cormorants and then snaked our way up the mountain at Acadia National Park, stopping several times to take pictures. Cadillac Mountain is great for a 360° panoramic view of the mountains, lakes, and valleys. Jordan Pond is a hotspot for dining and easy hikes.


Angie and I drove around to see the stunning Victorian mansions of the Bar Harbor area. We happened upon the cute town of Ellsworth, the Gateway to Acadia. Martha Stewart is one of its most notable residents. Besides the incredible nature along the way, our favorite stop was Trenton Bridge Lobster Pound, where we indulged in the best lobster rolls ever! 


Cruise New England: A Bucket List Completed

Holland America can make your cruise to Canada and New England a most memorable experience with fun excursions, delicious food, and an affordable price tag. Everything I needed to know was carefully laid out for me with my cruise options. All I had to do was make choices about how I wanted to spend my day, what to eat, and what excursions caught my eye.


Canada and New England was a superb cruise choice! I’m so glad to have checked off a bucket list item that had been at the top of my list for a dozen years. Thanks, Holland America. 


Check out more of our cruising posts:

Sailing on the Holland America Zaandam

Carnival Vista: 35 Things to Fall in Love With

The Food on Windstar Cruises

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