After my first cruise in 2002, I was hooked. I began cruising whenever I could afford it and could take time away from work. I studied cruises — the costs, ports of call, different cruise lines, amenities, and so forth. I longed to do the New England and Canada cruise, but the price was steeper than the cruises I typically took. Finally, in 2019, I took this dream cruise with Holland America.
Disclaimer: I was hosted by Holland America on a familiarization trip for this cruise itinerary. Opinions and reviews are entirely mine and unbiased.
Checking Off Canada & New England Cruise
If you desire to see some of the greatest cities in New England and the gorgeous places around Nova Scotia and its neighboring provinces, this is the cruise for you. It is chock full of history, beautiful scenery, unique attractions, and delicious food. I like to call this one a “smart people’s cruise” because you will come out ready to answer Jeopardy questions after going to wondrous, historic ports of call that the Canada and New England itinerary offers.
While my Holland America Canada and New England cruise was 7 days, I would suggest 10+ days to add more ports like Newfoundland and Saguenay, Quebec. The region is so rich with culture and fun that you won’t be ready to leave in only 7 days. I sure wasn’t.
Montreal’s Cultural Windfall
My cruise started in Montreal. I arrived a day early to ensure no flight interruptions, so I had a day and a half before boarding my cruise, giving me time to see the metropolitan city. My friend Angie and I ate Swiss and mushroom crepes from Chez Suzette (the best I’ve ever had), shopped in boutiques and from vendor stalls around town, and visited the prestigious Notre Dame Basilica. We strolled along the Saint Lawrence River, toured the gardens, and watched a historical reenactment at Chateau Ramezay, a National Historic Site of Canada.
Simply walking through Old Montreal and checking out the 17th, 18th, and 19th-century architecture was enough to keep us busy for hours. There are dozens of galleries and museums to see, too.
Pop into the three-story Bier Markt for dinner, perfect for tasty nibbles like classic poutine, charcuterie boards, and beer cheese dip with pretzels. Oh, and they have really great beer.
Pro Tip: For a sweet treat in the most adorable shop ever, pop into Depanneur Cafe.
Enchanting Quebec City
In Quebec City, prepare to be wowed, but even more so in Old Quebec City. Expect picture-perfect architecture, brilliant murals, beds of blooming flowers that look too pretty to be real, appealing shops, and drool-worthy cafes. Take the Old Quebec Funicular from the Dufferin Terrace (your place for buying souvenirs), which is a traditional offering, then go for indulgent afternoon tea at Fairmont Le Château Frontenac, more commonly known as Château Frontenac.
I never miss visiting a Fairmont Hotel in Canada as the afternoon tea is sinfully enjoyable, namely the gourmet tower of sandwiches, scones, and pastries. This one was no less impressive. The price was a little higher than the others I’ve been to, but the tea itself was on a much larger scale, too. I encourage the splurge on this activity.
Again, take time to soak up the architecture around Quebec City. The Old Fortified City was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site for reasons apparent in nearly everything you lay your eyes on.
Anne Of Green Gables
Prince Edward Island was one of our favorite stops. Angie is nuts about Anne of Green Gables, so a museum tour was on our agenda. We went to Silver Bush, the lovely Campbell Homestead, which is filled with family treasures. The property includes a barn and lake, all in the pristine, picturesque countryside. Lucy Maud Montgomery’s niece was a tour guide at the house and will sign books if you wish. Lunch was included with our excursion.
We then made a stop at Confederation Bridge, which links Prince Edward Island to the mainland of New Brunswick and takes 10 minutes to drive. The bridge fee will set you back $50.25 for a commercial vehicle to cross. I loved the Port Borden Front Range Lighthouse, sitting in a stately fashion on the banks by the bridge.
Unique Nova Scotia
Nova Scotia is intriguing. We appreciated our stops at the ports of Sydney, where we did a walking tour of historic churches and Jost House, then breezed through Old Town and Halifax. In Sydney, my favorite thing was the incredible and big gourmet cinnamon rolls and decadent coffee from Selkie’s Neighborhood Diner and Doktor Luke’s, both at the same address. Sydney has colorful murals, too.
We did a half-day excursion in Halifax to visit the iconic Peggy’s Cove fishing village and Instagram-worthy lighthouse. It is a bit of a drive to get there, but I had to see the site of the most iconic photo of Nova Scotia. It was worth it, fog and all. Our tour included a panoramic drive through Halifax to see its old buildings and National Historic Sites. A second big stop on the excursion was Fairview Lawn Cemetery, hallowed ground and the final resting place for 100+ passengers from the sunken Titanic.
Angie and I made time in the morning to go to Halifax Public Gardens before our excursion. This free attraction is for you if you are into flowers, trees, and natural landscapes. We loved it!
Note: The Titanic cemetery requires a lot of walking and has some steep hills. If you combine this with Peggy’s Cove as an excursion, you can sit on the bus if you don’t think you can walk to the historic site.
In Maine, Angie and I rented a car in Bar Harbor and hit the roads on our own. We wanted to see Acadia National Park, one of the top 10 most visited national parks in the U.S., and also the extravagant and affluent neighborhoods of Northeast Harbor, Seal Harbor, and Ellsworth. Of course, eating a local lobster roll was most definitely in the cards. You’ll have no hard time finding a fresh seafood restaurant every few miles in this area. We chose Trenton Bridge Lobster Pound and had amazing lobster rolls, coleslaw, and tea.
Pro Tip: Bar Harbor is the most adorable, walkable town on the whole cruise itinerary. You could easily skip taking an excursion and hang out here all day. Don’t miss blueberry ice cream from CJ’s Big Dipper.
Our Floating Paradise
Holland America’s Zaandam was an excellent ship to spend the week on, especially as it only had 1,432 passengers. It had two relaxing hot tubs for unwinding after busy touring days and a library for playing games and working puzzles in the afternoon. There were several different options for seeing and hearing live music onboard, which we both enjoyed.
Afternoon tea is always our favorite thing to do, so we didn’t miss a single day unless we were on an excursion. A close runner-up was the nightly entertainment, with incredibly talented singers and dancers. However, I think the crowd would agree that the outstanding BBC Earth Experience big-screen film, with a live orchestra on the World Stage, was unbelievable.
Holland America’s Zaandam had good food in the main dining room, but the Canaletto and Pinnacle Grill specialty restaurants were really top-notch. We also had the pleasure of dining at Rudi Sodamin’s Sel de Mer, an extraordinary evening full of perfectly prepared dishes. A unique dish to try is the fruits de mer, a massive sampling of lobster, crab, langoustines, jumbo shrimp, mussels, oysters, and clams.
After looking through my pictures from this impressive Canada and New England cruise, I realized that one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen on a cruise ship was the poutine bar, typical for this region. Cheese curds were the base (classic and fried) with a wide array of toppings — shredded cheeses, sautéed mushrooms, sautéed onions, chives, and several gravies.
For lunch, Tandoori chicken and tuna poke tostadas were a few of my favorite offerings. Holland America also does a fantastic job of providing vegetables and healthy choices. I appreciated the creamed spinach, sautéed zucchini, and cheddar cheese grits side dishes, though they aren’t necessarily healthy.
Appetizers always win me over — they are my favorite part of the evening’s dining experience. Bay Shrimp potato tots and seafood deviled eggs were incredible choices. For the main course, try the beef short rib stroganoff, citrus grilled rainbow trout, and any beef dishes.
I’m a spa girl on my cruises and haven’t had a bad one yet. First, I love the Elemis product line that they use, and second, I enjoy meeting the friendly spa aestheticians who are as well-trained and sweet as can be. Visit the Greenhouse Spa and Salon for a sublime and blissfully relaxing massage, body treatment, or facial.