A Taste of Canada: Cruising is the Way

Five great things to do in four east coast Canada cruising ports

If you want the taste of Canada and its cultures, cruising is the way to go. During the spring, summer, and fall, many of the same luxury liners that visit tropical ports in the winter head into Canadian waters bringing savvy travelers who aren′t afraid to kiss a cod or two.

Canada has more cruising ports than you might realize. Book a cruise that stops in Charlottetown, PEI, for a date with Anne of Green Gables history. Practice your French in Québec City, QC. When you′re ready to get a taste of Canada (it′s best to at least meet before the smooching begins), here are four ports you′re likely to visit, and five tips for falling in love with each if you′ve only got time for a quick peck.

Canada Cruising with Princess Cruises

Halifax, Nova Scotia

It′s been a sailors′ haven for centuries, and now, with a busy cruise ship schedule, it′s a haven for sailors like you. Buy a sailor enough drinks and you might get a real Halifax kiss.

Sample Canada′s best major beer. Well, that′s my opinion. Alexander Keith′s India Pale Ale is an infinitely drinkable, friendly beer. The cleverly presented tour of Keith′s historic brewery includes actors in period character, awaiting the arrival of Mr. Keith. At the end, you get samples in a pub setting while the actors sing and entertain.

Eat Digby scallops at 5 Fishermen. Nova Scotia is famous for this bivalve, and the region produces some of the world′s finest. The 5 Fisherman restaurant is an easy walk from the cruise terminal, and its chefs prepare scallops (and other seafood) beautifully.

Stroll Spring Garden Road. It′s one of Halifax′s main shopping zones, and on a summer day it′s the perfect place to stretch your sea legs with a bit of browsing, dining, and exploring nearby Halifax Public Gardens — filled with statues, fountains, and a wide array of flora.

Take a history lesson at the Citadel. This early 1800′s hilltop fort is in the shape of an eight-point star, and provides great views of Halifax, plus a fascinating look into the region′s military history. Halifax was once a strategic spot in the British Empire and remains a key Canadian naval region today. During the summer, the kilted 78th Highland Regiment and Royal Artillery groups offer demos and tours.

Experience the world′s highest/lowest tides. The Bay of Fundy is a nearby day trip, and you can watch the ocean floor as it seems to rise from the deep-tides can be over 15 vertical m (50 vertical ft) here. At certain times when the tide is out, people harvest dulse, a type of seaweed that is dried into “chips” and considered a delicacy. Try before you buy …it tastes distinctly of the ocean.

St. John′s, Newfoundland

It′s the most easterly city in North America — closer to Europe than to western Canada, and the culture is equally unique. The remoteness means fewer ships call here, but check with your AAA professional — even biggies like Cunard′s Queen Victoria make the stop.

Kiss a cod. What, you thought I was kidding? Newfoundland was founded on the basis of the cod fishery, although today the Atlantic cod is debatably rare. Nonetheless, it′s a tradition to “kiss the cod” in many St. John′s bars — any along George St. will have a plastic fish ready for your lips. It′s part of a ceremony called a “screech-in,” which means you′ll also be served a shot of Newfoundland′s signature booze, a Jamaican rum called “screech.”

Chat up a local. ‘Tis da best ting about NewfunLAND. Newfoundlanders are sometimes called the friendliest people in Canada. Just start talking with one. Newfoundland′s traditional accent is rooted in the region′s Irish pedigree, but it′s all its own.

Great travelers′ shop. Surprisingly, St. John′s is home to one of the continent′s best travel-product shops: The Travel Bug (709-738-8284). Filled with innovative and cool travel products, this is one cool store.

Head for the “Rooms” with a View. Newfoundland′s main provincial museum, archives, and art gallery facility opened in 2005. Called The Rooms, which mirrors the traditional “fishing rooms” where families came to process their catch in design and name, the facility sits high atop the hill in St. John′s. Even if you′re not particularly interested in museums, the view from The Rooms′ Café is worth it, and the walk up will be all the exercise you need.

Meet Joe O′Brien. A trip to Bay Bulls (the name of a village) and time on the O′Brien′s whale-watching boats will eat up most of a day. If Joe, the company owner, is driving your boat, be prepared for a crazy dose of Newfoundland spirit and culture. Joe makes it so fun that you don′t care if there are whales or not.

Québec City, Québec

Québec City, QC, is debatably the oldest, continuous major settlement in North America, and it′s justifiably referred to as the “most European” city on this continent. Indeed, a kiss of Old Québec may make you feel like you booked a European cruise as part of your Canada cruising adventure.

Take in the view from Observatoire de la Capitale. Atop a downtown office building, many travelers miss this spot, as it′s a taxi ride outside the traditional “old city” area. But the observatory provides a fantastic overview and understanding of the Québec City area.

Take a walking tour with someone who can really explain the history to a non-Canadian. Tour guide Brian Hickey loves Québec. He′s quite a character, and a rare find among tour guides: an Anglophone (native English speaker) who has lived in the U.S. and has a fantastic grasp on the two countries′ histories. He can be booked for groups through Maple Leaf Tours or for private walking tours (call him directly at (418) 262-3037).

Enjoy a concert on the Plains of Abraham. Concerts, including jazz evenings, are held throughout the summer at the Plains′ Edwin Belanger Bandstand.

Explore the “real” Québec City. While the walled city is charming, the zone just outside the walls is a bit more “real.” Many hip, urban Québecers live in the ‘hoods of St-Roch and Faubourg St-Jean Baptiste, both of which are easy walks and filled with great boutiques, eateries, bookstores, and the like. Possibly the coolest gourmet grocery store in existence is J.A. Moisan, in the St-Jean Faubourg area. Its appearance has hardly changed since 1871; it′s sometimes closed for use as a movie set.

Snack around Île d′Orléans. This island in the middle of the St. Lawrence Seaway is located just outside of Québec City. It′s filled with vineyards, cider houses, and all sorts of fresh produce stands, along with the occasional gallery and even a spot claiming to sell cheese made from the oldest recipe in North America. Don′t miss Ciderie Domaine Steinbach′s divine cider.

Montreal, Québec

Some eastern Canada cruising start and end in Montreal, and if your itinerary does so, lucky you! Book at least one extra day to explore this vibrant destination. Montréalers always greet each other with a double-cheek kiss, and you shouldn′t be surprised if they greet you that way, too.

Have a smoked meat sandwich at Schwartz′s Deli. Canada′s beloved version of cured beef is called “smoked meat,” and Montréal is its undisputed home. I find it more flavorful and moister than its cousin, pastrami. Several spots claim to be best, oldest, etc., but Schwartz′s (opened in 1928) gets the nod from most folks.

Climb “The Mountain.” Get your exercise as you climb up Mount Royal — the very spot Montréal was named for (764 ft). Taxis and tours will take you, too, but you have to earn that smoked-meat sandwich. The views of the modern city, the historic “old port” area and St. Lawrence River are excellent.

Catch a festival. Montréal is a festival city. Your ship might dock in time for the world-famous Festival International de Jazz Montreal, the hilarious Just for Laughs Festival, or even the Grand Prix du Canada car races. Festivals are a great time to get close to the locals who are well-known for enjoying their city.

Experience Canada′s most vibrant, openly gay village. Despite its traditional Catholic roots, Montréal (and all of Québec) is one of the most socially open places in the world. Montréal′s traditional gay neighborhood, known locally as “Le Village,” is popular with everyone. It′s filled with interesting shops and restaurants.

Meet locals for lunch. Montréal′s Jean-Talon Market (Marché Jean-Talon) is a magic find. You′ll need to take a subway or taxi, but it′s worth it. This is a public market at its best, filled with local produce and local characters. It′s the spot to get your maple sugar products, and perhaps even a locally made jam. Grab lunch at one of the market′s eateries, say bonjour to the folks at the next table, and be warned — you might get a double-cheek kiss when you say au revoir!

Find out more about Canada cruising

Cruising to Canada means choice, both in destinations and cruise lines. Your AAA Travel Agent can help you choose the itinerary and ship that is best for you. Plus, AAA members may receive exclusive member benefits on your cruise by booking with your AAA Travel Agency.