The Northeast’s spectacular foliage season is just ahead – which means crowds of leaf-peepers will be taking to the roads to follow the changing colors.
But plenty of travelers will instead skip the backed-up scenic highways and crowded country inns to view nature’s display from cruise ships traveling along the Eastern Seaboard.
Throughout September and October, these foliage-focused cruises typically depart from Boston, New York City, Cape Liberty in Bayonne, N.J., and Baltimore, and head north to Quebec City or Montreal.
Ports of call along the way include Bar Harbor, Maine; Newport, R. I.; Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia. Many schedules include cruising the Gulf of St. Lawrence and Saguenay Fjord in Canada.
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Jean Mallory of White Travel in West Hartford, Conn., says fall cruises are so popular that most major cruise lines offer them, including several of the luxury lines, such as Seabourn, Silversea and Regent.
“These cruises draw people from across the country,” said Mallory. “People living in the Northeast like them because they can drive to departure points without having to fly somewhere. People living outside of the Northeast come because you just don’t see foliage like this anywhere else and cruising is such a great way to experience it.”
Lisa Falango, director of sales for Royal Caribbean International’s Northeast division, says the autumn itineraries draw international customers and repeat cruisers as well.
“It’s really beautiful,” she said. “As you are coming in and going out of these ports, you see some extraordinary scenery. People love it.”
Royal Caribbean offers seven- to 12-night cruises on four ships, departing from Boston, Cape Liberty, Baltimore and Montreal. Fall cruises to New England and Canada are so favored by travelers that most are booked a year in advance. Prices start at $539.
“Since there are a limited number of sailings and a short season, these itineraries sell out quickly,” said Falango.
Mallory agrees: “There is still space, so you can still grab a last-minute spot, but as ships fill up, prices go up.”
Erik Elvejord, director of public relations for Holland America Lines, has seen demand for these cruises increase over the years. In response to customer demand, Holland America Line this year offered its most extensive Canada and New England program to date, with 48 sailings during the spring, summer and fall.
Holland America’s fall cruises, which range from seven to 15 days, depart from Boston, Montreal, Quebec City and New York City. Prices start at $399.
“These cruises offer a very diverse mix of ports,” said Elvejord. “Quebec has a very European feel, Halifax is very British, Prince Edward Island is so quaint, so Anne of Green Gables. Passengers get a European experience without leaving North America.”
Bethlehem, Conn., residents Lisa Rommel and Robin Kenna sailed on a Holland American cruise from Boston to Montreal earlier this summer and enjoyed the coastline scenery and the stops along the way.
“We were surprised how walkable the ports were,” Rommel said. “We had a lobster roll in Bar Harbor, walked the boardwalk along the riverfront in Halifax, strolled the pedestrian mall with all its cafes and shops in Charlottetown. All great. The boat cruised the St. Lawrence, which was beautiful. We ended the cruise in Quebec City, which we loved. Add in fall foliage and it must be spectacular.”
American Cruise Lines, a small ship line based in Guilford, Conn., offers its passengers a different leaf-peeping – and cruising – experience. Unlike larger cruise ships, which can carry thousands of people, American Cruise Line ships carry just 100 passengers.
In September and October, the line offers six- and seven-night, round-trip cruises that depart from New York City and travel along the Hudson River. Stops include such ports as West Point, Catskill and Sleepy Hollow.
Onboard educational programs and port excursions explore the history of the Hudson River Valley. Three special themed fall foliage cruises depart on Sept. 28, Oct. 18 and Oct. 25. Prices start at $3,860, double occupancy.