For being such a large country, Canada is a little known cruise destination. Most people’s minds immediately go to tropical destinations like the Caribbean or Mediterranean when they think of cruising; however, a cruise farther north is just as fun and memorable. Canada cruises confirm this by offering an array of attractions both onboard and in port. Experience delectable cuisine and sumptuous accommodations on the ship, then explore both the rustic and cosmopolitan aspects of Canada’s gorgeous countryside, mountains and cities.
Unless you’re on a world cruise, you’ll need to play favorites with Canada’s coastlines and choose just one for a particular cruise trip: do you want to experience the wild west atmosphere of Canada’s western coastline or the big cities and tranquil countryside of the eastern coast?
The West Coast: More than Just Vancouver
The port of call that gets the most visitors on Canada’s west coast is the city of Vancouver, British Columbia. Situated right on the coast, Vancouver boasts an incredible piece of real estate with the ocean to one side and rugged green mountains capped in snow jutting up in the distance. The downtown area of Vancouver is essentially an island and is situated on a small area of land that juts out into the water in a lopsided circle. This alone gives the city a special, intimate feel, but exploring the city is where you find the real magic.
Vancouver is known for being a haven for foodies with a dynamic mix of seafood, organic offerings and fusion cuisine. Food lovers should try the Small-Group Granville Island Market Tour. During the excursion, you’ll get to learn about the market’s history, try seasonal and regional food samples and see a lovely part of Vancouver.
For those who want to experience more of an overview of Vancouver, the private Vancouver City Sightseeing tour is a great option. You’ll be picked up straight from your cruise ship and will see Stanley Park, the Lions Gate Bridge and several of Vancouver’s diverse neighborhoods, including Chinatown, Gastown and Granville Island. You’ll also stop at Vancouver’s Lookout Tower, which offers a birds-eye view of all of Vancouver.
Just south of Vancouver is the small city of Victoria, British Columbia, located right on the southern tip of the province. Be an explorer while in Victoria and sail through the seas on a charter boat looking for whales during the Whale-Watching Cruise with Expert Naturalist Guides excursion. If you’re lucky, you’ll see orca whales frolicking in the ocean. Victoria is also home to the impressive Craigdarroch Castle. The castle was originally built in the early 1900’s for the richest man in British Columbia at the time, and today visitors can tour it and get a taste of Victorian living at the turn of the last century.
Many western Canada cruises start or end in Vancouver, and it’s a popular jumping off point for Alaska cruises. However, if it’s more of Canada you’re looking for, there are several cruise itineraries that offer stops to see Canada’s expansive Yukon region. The Yukon is the most western territory of Canada. Many itineraries that sail to the Yukon also offer pre- and post-cruise land tours you can participate in that are a great conjunction to a Canada west coast cruise. When traveling in the Yukon, popular activities include hiking, canoeing, whitewater rafting and even panning for gold.
The East Coast: Cosmopolitan Cities and Cozy Fishing Towns
The east coast of Canada combines wide wilderness with colonial charm and urban excitement for spectacular views and action packed socializing opportunities in cities that are on the cutting edge of trends.
The most popular ports of call for cruise lines to stop at during a Canada east coast itinerary are Montreal, Quebec City and Halifax.
For those wanting to see the city side of life, there are a multitude of activities to do in each city. In fashion-forward and urban Montreal, Quebec, take the Walking Tour of Old Montreal or Downtown Montreal and discover the art, history and architecture of the city, which is also a UNESCO City of Design. If you’re looking for a more active way to spend your time in the city, opt for the Half-Day Bike Tours to explore Montreal.
The French-infused Quebec City, Quebec, is a riverfront city that is one of the oldest in North America. Like Montreal, Quebec City also has a tour that gives you a good overview of the destination with the Grand Walking Tour of Quebec City. There is also a Small-Group Food Walking Tour available for those who want to try some samples of some of Quebec City’s delightful French cuisine and other delectable treats. For a different view of the city, fly up in the air on the City Helicopter Tour of Quebec City.
The seaside city of Halifax, Nova Scotia, greets you with vibrant waterside houses and remnants of its Scottish past as some of the first settlers were from the Scottish Highlands. As such, if you participate in the Halifax City Tour, you’ll be led around Halifax by a kilted guide, who will teach you about Halifax’s history while showing you some of Halifax’s most popular sights, such as the Government House and Victorian Halifax Public Gardens.
Cruisers wanting to bypass the city bustle and get into the nature found outside the city centers are also in luck. In Quebec City, see waterfalls and more on the Half-Day Tour to Montmorency Falls and Ste-Anne-de-Beaupré. You’ll have the chance to see Quebec’s stunning countryside while visiting museums, basilicas and even a chocolate shop. In Halifax, learn about the city’s nearby wine region on the Small-Group Wine and Food Tour, during which you can sip local wine varietals and pair it with artisan cheese while visiting local wineries. Small-town lovers will enjoy the Lunenburg and Mahone Bay Day Trip from Halifax, which will transport you to the historical towns of Lunenburg and Mahone Bay. You’ll learn about the history of boat making and fishing in the area, and have time to tour the pretty towns – Lunenburg is a UNESCO World-Heritage listed port town and Mahone Bay is known for its historical waterfront churches.
Cruise Lines in Canada
Cruise lines that sail around Canada include family friendly lines such as Carnival, Royal Caribbean, and Norwegian Cruise Line. Premium cruise lines Holland America, Princess Cruises and Celebrity Cruises also sail to Canada. If you’re looking for a luxury cruise line, look into Canada itineraries with Silversea Cruises, Seabourn Cruises, Regent Seven Seas Cruises and Oceania Cruises. Keep in mind that some of the itineraries with ports of call on Canada’s west coast will be labeled as an Alaska cruise.
When to Cruise Canada
Due to harsh winters most cruise itineraries to Canada only sail in late spring, summer and early fall. Foliage cruises in the fall are especially popular for east coast Canada and New England itineraries and some cruise lines only offer sailings to the east coast of Canada during the fall months. Due to limited sailing dates, the ships can fill up quickly so booking early will help ensure you get your ideal stateroom type in a desirable location on the ship.
If it’s in your budget, upgrading to a balcony stateroom is wise, especially for the scenic cruises of the west coast, which often sail through stunning passages that you don’t want to miss views of. Though you can watch the passing landscape from the public decks, it’s nice to have the option of watching the scenery on your own private verandah. Also, many cruise itineraries in Canada start and stop in different ports so check flights before booking to make sure travel logistics work for you.
There are some itineraries that are roundtrip, though they’re often longer sailings. When it comes to packing, keep in mind that even in summer, weather can be unpredictable in Canada, particularly if heading out on excursions into Canada’s west coast wilderness. Bring layers with you, plus a pair of waterproof shoes in case it rains while you’re hiking or walking around a city.
Whether you want rugged and wild mountains, sweet fishing villages or dance clubs until dawn, you can find it on a Canada cruise. The hard part is deciding which itinerary to choose. The great thing about cruises to Canada is that you can often experience all three and much more whether sailing the west or the east side of this diverse and exciting country.