No two travelers share the same wanderlust list. For example, none of the six ports of call or two bodies of water on Holland America’s Canada and New England Discovery itinerary originally appeared on my fantasy-trip card. But on a seven-day cruise this month, I considered a revision.
From May through October, when fall’s technicolors peak, the Maasdam hopscotches around the lobster claw of northeastern North America. Starting in Montreal, the ship sails along the St. Lawrence River, glides into the Gulf of St. Lawrence, then drops into the Atlantic. In Boston, the final destination, she reverses course. (Passengers can choose either direction or sail the entire 14-day loop.)
En route, the vessel weaves together a macrame of stops: Quebec City; Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island; Sydney and Halifax, Nova Scotia; and Bar Harbor, Maine. The schedule also incorporates a full day on the St. Lawrence, a 576-mile chug that distance-counters will note as the longest leg of the 1,654-mile trip.
“The St. Lawrence is beautiful, and the cruising is intense. The ports are not easy to go into and out of, and the weather is challenging later in the season,” said Arno Jutten, the Maasdam’s Dutch captain. “You don’t book this cruise for the sunshine.”
So why commit to a cruise that’s susceptible to strong winds, powerful currents and thick fog that swallows up the shore? Because of the ports rich in Canadian history and culture. Because of the fiery foliage along New England banks. Because of announcements like this one: “Whales to starboard.” And because adventure should be on everyone’s bucket list.
Caribbean vs. Canada
Until the Holland America sojourn, my cruising CV was a single-space page of southern cruises, specifically in the Caribbean. Not to boast, but I could probably name a ship’s destination based solely on the tours and souvenirs being hawked. Atlantis and conch shells — Nassau. Mayan ruins and margaritas — Cozumel. Dunn’s River Falls and Bob Marley dreadlock hats — Ocho Rios, Jamaica.
The Canadian and New England ports were less self-evident. Sure, I could match the redheaded Anne of Green Gables with PEI and Acadia National Park with Bar Harbor, but the bike trip to Montmorency Falls? Hmm. The puffin nests on Bird Islands? Huh. Lunenburg, which wears the UNESCO World Heritage site badge? I was stumped. (The answers: Quebec City, Sydney and Halifax, respectively.)
Other notable differences: On Caribbean cruises, the pools resemble shallow aquariums full of squirming bodies. Chaises are hot commodities. In fact, many passengers remain onboard during port stops to enjoy the extra inch of outdoor deck real estate.
By contrast, on the Maasdam, the lounge chairs surrounding the swimming squares were often empty. When they were occupied, the individuals using them were frequently swaddled in thick blue towels worn as leg warmers and a capelet. Only a few hardy souls took a dip, often bouncing between the pool, the hot tubs and their robes.