With clockwork precision, every major cruise line dispatches vessels to ports in New England and Eastern Canada in fall. These annual pilgrimages enable cruisers to gawk at landscapes aglow in gold, red and amber. And now is the time to plan your autumn outing.
Options abound for cruising to the region's seaside hamlets and historic cities, but keep in mind that these itineraries are popular and fill up fast, especially for sailings at the height of leaf-peeping season. A number of lines sail these waters for an extended period -- typically starting in May, when travelers still will get the cultural flavor of the region, albeit without the blazing colors that cruises in September and October bring.
Cruise lines make it easy to catch a Canada / New England cruise, offering departures from a variety of East Coast ports.
On this tried-and-true itinerary, many lines tweak their offers to give veteran cruisers something new.
Crystal Cruises, for instance, bumps up its shore excursion options this year, adding what the line dubs "artisanal" experiences. Crystal Symphony's seven and 11-day sailings in September and October from New York showcase a roster of new tours. These include the chance to visit a family-run Angora goat farm that specializes in spinning mohair wool; and an unusual nursery known for its array of edible flowers. In true New England tradition, Crystal passengers can visit the International Yacht Restoration School in Newport, R.I., which teaches artisanship for restoring classic and modern yachts.
For the active cruiser, many lines also have ramped up their soft-adventure shore excursion options, offering touring by bike or hiking along ocean trails. Depending on where your ship calls, you might even gear up at the original L.L. Bean emporium in Freeport, Me.
Here's a sampling of sailings garnered from materials from Cruise Lines International Association, the marketing organization for 20 lines. For information on rates, dates and availability on any of these sailings, consult a travel agent.
Carnival Cruise Lines' Victory offers four weeklong fall foliage cruises in September, round-trip from New York. Ports of call include Boston; Portland, Maine; and the Canadian ports of Saint John and Halifax. Celebrity Cruises' Constellation sails a trio of 11-night Canada / New England itineraries in September and October round-trip from Cape Liberty (Bayonne, N.J.). The ship calls at Boston; Bar Harbor and Portland, Maine; Halifax, Nova Scotia; and Quebec City. A highlight: cruising Canada's Saguenay River.
Crystal Cruises' Symphony has five destination-rich itineraries this year: a new 11-day cruise and two new seven-day cruises round-trip from New York; and two 11-day sailings between New York and Montreal.
Holland America Line's 22 cruises in Canada / New England through Oct. 7 include 10 sailings during the peak fall foliage months. The line's Maasdam operates between Boston and Montreal; the Amsterdam sails a New York-to-Montreal itinerary. Norwegian Cruise Line's Dawn sails a series of seven-day voyages, with departures from Sept. 2 to Oct. 7. The round-trip New York itinerary includes calls at Martha's Vineyard, Mass., Halifax, Bar Harbor, Boston and Newport.
Princess Cruises' Sea Princess and Star Princess sail nine departures on three itineraries that call at 15 destinations. Star Princess offers seven-day round-trip cruises from New York, while Sea Princess departs on 10-day sailings between New York and Quebec City. Royal Caribbean International's Jewel of the Seas departs on four-, six- and seven-night cruises, sailing round-trip from Boston. Highlights on the longer itinerary include Martha's Vineyard; Portland and Bar Harbor; and Halifax and Saint John. The four-night itinerary calls at Bar Harbor and Halifax.
In October, Seabourn Cruise Line's Pride features two eight-day itineraries that begin and end in Gloucester, Mass. Port calls include Quebec City; Halifax; Portland; Bar Harbor; Baddeck, Louisbourg and Lunenburg, Nova Scotia; Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island; and Saguenay and Gaspe, Quebec.
American Cruise Lines' six- and seven-night sailings along New York's Hudson River region visit the towns of Catskill, Albany, Kingston, Sleepy Hollow and Tarrytown. Six-night Chesapeake Bay sailings out of Baltimore call at ports in Maryland and Virginia.
And Cunard Line's Queen Elizabeth 2 has a 20-day Canada / New England itinerary that even includes a transatlantic crossing from Southampton, England.
In fact, if you find that stateside itineraries have a been-there-done-that quality, you may want to set your sites across the Big Pond where, in September and October, Peter Deilmann Cruises serves up a feast of wine towns and autumn colors on sailings along the Rhine and Moselle rivers.
Deilmann's seven-night cruises on the 110-passenger Heidelberg sail the Moselle to the vineyard-choked villages of Cochem and Bernkastel-Kues, offering picturesque castles, half-timbered houses and old market squares.