I wanted a cruise destination where I could take my kids, a place that offered family activities and family fun, a place that they would remember in later years and want to return to. I wanted an active, nature-oriented experience for them, with a touch of culture and history thrown in. After all, they should learn something on their summer vacations. I wanted a place too that I could enjoy and immerse myself in, a place that I had not yet been on my many cruises throughout the years.
I found it hard to believe that such a destination was only a day’s cruise from the Manhattan skyline, where our ship departed on a Thursday afternoon, charting a course up the Atlantic shore to dock the next morning just north of the U.S.-Canadian border.
From New York to New Brunswick, our ship had made landfall in Saint John, squarely situated on the Bay of Fundy, a region characterized as one of the “Marine Wonders of the World.” Here, on the spellbinding shores of the world’s highest tides, we prepared to disembark. At our doorstep: Canada’s oldest incorporated city. And just beyond: High adventure. Early morning, and ahead of us, a promising day, bright under the northern sun. Time to explore.
Oh, The Things We’ll Do
We had done a little homework, reviewing a list of shore excursions and tours so comprehensive and all-encompassing as to almost be intimidating. There was no way we could do it all during one day in port. The experiences ranged from trolley tours (both horse-drawn and San Francisco-style) to exhilarating jetboat rides, from lobster bakes on the beach to strolls through quaint fishing villages on the shores of Bay of Fundy.
We were in nature’s playground. Among the choices that appealed to us most: We could kayak along inlets and rivers so quiet that all we would hear is our paddle stroking the water. Or we could challenge the fearsome “Reversing Falls,” so named because Bay of Fundy’s tidal changes are so turbulent that during high tide, they actually force the 450-mile-long Saint John River to reverse itself and flow upstream. The “Ride the Rapids” excursion takes daring souls on jet boat rides through Reversing Falls. Sounded fun, but we opted to watch rather than ride.
Fortunately, many of the cruise ship excursions stop at Falls View Park, overlooking the spectacle, where, at a narrow, rocky gorge, the Saint John River bottlenecks with the Bay of Fundy. We learned that the world’s most powerful tides surge to heights that would immerse a four-story building.
Our excursion on kayaks took us to the gentler, sheltered waters of Meehans Cove. The kids and I had some experience in kayaks, but our guides gave such thorough instructions on technique and safety that even those who had no experience at all felt comfortable participating in this tour.
We, and the 36 others who joined the excursion, paddled along the shores and into hidden coves for about 90 minutes in two-person kayaks, taking in a variety of wildlife — eagles, hawks, osprey and ducks. Kayaking was a great way to experience the Bay of Fundy. As a bonus, our shore excursion concluded with one of the quintessential Bay of Fundy experiences: a lobster bake, much appreciated after a morning of mild exertion.
Where The Wild Things Are
For the active cruiser or the nature-lover, Saint John and the surrounding area are astoundingly rich in what they offer. If you can imagine an outdoor activity, it’s probably offered here.
Spread over 2,200 acres, Rockwood Park alone features 13 lakes, trails, an exotic animal zoo, swimming areas and more. You can golf here at the 18-hole public golf course. Cruise ship shore excursions also visit Irving Nature Park, where you can learn more about the marine eco-system and stretch your legs on a walk at Taylor Island. Farther afield, you can bicycle down quiet roads on a tour of the many turn-of-the-century covered bridges in the area.
Some on our cruise had opted for learning more about whales, and because the feeding grounds of Bay of Fundy are teeming with plankton and fish, more than 15 species of whales come to feed and breed. The 40-foot skeletal remains of a 30-ton Right Whale affectionately known as Delilah that hangs in the New Brunswick Museum, situated in historic uptown Saint John.
There, we met fellow cruise ship passengers who were on an excursion that allowed them to become marine biologists for the day. There were no live whales here, but there were exhibits and guided exploration with museum educators.
Saint John also has a rich city life. No, you won’t mistake the city for New York. Saint John is a quaint and charming Canadian maritime city.
Founded in 1604 and established in 1785, Saint John is Canada’s oldest incorporated city. Its long legacy imbues it with a rich historical heritage, dating from pre-Revolutionary War times, when French explorers sailed into the region, to post-Revolutionary War times, when more than 14,000 British Loyalists fled the American Colonies and settled in Saint John. As you might expect in such an old city, Saint John boasts an architectural heritage that ranges from Gothic-style churches to Victorian-era homes.
Many of the excursions take cruisers into the heart of the city, and we were happy to have time after kayaking to browse Canada’s oldest City Market. The market was colorful and convivial, and we enjoyed not only browsing the eclectic stalls but also talking with the local vendors. We listened to story-tellers and musicians, browsed the lobsters and fish, and even sampled the local dried “dulse,” the nutrient-rich seaweed found in Bay of Fundy. I also got to sample Moosehead beer, a local favorite produced in Saint John at Canada’s oldest independent brewery. The Moose was loose, as the locals say.
We were just three of the 140,000 cruise visitors that came to Saint John in 2007. That’s not a lot, when compared to some ports in the Caribbean, and Saint John is still a relatively undiscovered destination. Cruise lines are committing more ships to the region, and my recommendation is to get there before the crowds do. Cruising to Saint John is a perfect long weekend getaway for families and individuals alike. We had such a good time that I like to think back to it as one big “Bay of Fun Day.”