Petit-Champlain Street is picture postcard perfect, with cute boutiques selling everything from locally made moccasins to sculptures, jewellery, and terroir products. Strings of lights hang year-round, making it feel like you’re in a Hallmark Christmas film. From the street you can ride the funicular up to the Dufferin Terrace which looks down on the St Lawrence River and wraps the Chateau Frontenac, the world’s most photographed hotel – you may recognise it from Alfred Hitchcock’s classic I, Confess. After a few hours in the city my partner Steve and I try the local poutine – chips with gravy and cheese curd – at the usefully named Poutineville. Well, I say ‘we’ but Steve isn’t a fan, so while I gobble the ‘Hangover Cure’ which comes with added bacon, sausage and minced beef, he has a very swanky hot dog.
Next day we join the ship, the Norwegian Pearl, a 15-deck cruise liner from NCL. Embarkation is super smooth, we‘re on the ship in no time at all and eating in O’Sheehan’s, the ‘Irish pub’. Our quarters for the week is a mini-suite stateroom with everything you could want – roomy bathroom, wardrobe space aplenty, TV, settee and, best of all, a very comfy double bed. As for the balcony itself, it’s big enough to stretch out with a drink and a good book and watch the sun go down. Heaven.
Our first port of call isn’t for a couple of days, giving us time to get to know the ship. It’s surprising how quickly you can familiarise yourself with 13 restaurants, 17 bars, a theatre, casino, spa, gym, two swimming pools… There’s also a video arcade, while teens and toddlers have their own areas, Metro Centre and Splash Academy. If parents want some peace and quiet, kids can be palmed off – sorry, ‘left in the care of’ – the very patient cruise director staff, who will entertain them all day long. There’s a sports court, jogging track, hot tubs, games room, chapel… the Pearl isn’t just a floating hotel, it’s a mini-city, but the friendliest, safest one you could wish for.
The Stardust Theatre nightly offers a variety of entertainment from Broadway-style show Legends, featuring Madonna, Michael and Tina tributes to comic Rodney Laney and singers Asijah Pickett and Tony K Irving. There’s also music throughout the ship, while the atrium area is used for late night films. And if you fancy a game show such as Deal or No Deal or Newly Wed, Not So Newly Wed (Mr & Mrs but slightly smuttier), they’re up in the Spinnaker Lounge, a bar at the top of the ship with stunning 360-degree views.
There’s an eatery for every taste – Italian, Japanese, Brazilian, you name it – but our favourite is the French-themed Le Bistro, which offers Gallic favourites in a very stylish setting. Le Bistro is one of a handful of ‘extra pay’ restaurants, but you won’t be culinarily short changed if you stick to the other eateries – main dining rooms such as Summer Palace and Indigo offer a similar level of food quality and service, while the Lotus Garden’s Asian fare is superb, and as for the aforementioned O’Sheehan’s, you could literally spend 24-hours enjoying the likes of Irish Stew, mini-cottage pies and carrot cake. The Garden Cafe, the main buffet offering a variety of cuisines, stretches outside to the back of the ship, where there’s a bar to help you use your drinks package.
Our first stop is Prince Edward Island, one of Canada’s Maritime Provinces, famed as the setting for children’s classic Anne of Green Gables. You can take an Anne excursion, but we’re happy to wander around the capital, Charlottetown where, admittedly, we snap up a marvellously creepy Anne doll. The central area isn’t massive if you’re a shopaholic, but what gift shops there are, are charming, and there are a surprising number of independent bookshops.
Our next stop is Sydney, former capital of Cape Breton. Its pretty suburban streets host a couple of fascinating museums – the Jost House and Cossit House Museum. Both are 18th-century homes full of original furniture and artefacts, with guides in period garb. The Jost House is especially good on bedbugs. And if you visit Cossit House Museum, ask the guide about the ghosts around the property opposite… The shopping area nearby isn’t huge, but there’s a nice selection of restaurants and gift shops.
Halifax, our next port of call, couldn’t be more different from Sydney, being the capital of Nova Scotia and a bustling city. We spend a few hours exploring the area, with a highlight being the 2.5m boardwalk by the sea, with its eateries, leisure facilities, sculptures and shops. It’s a great place to just plonk yourself down, take the air and watch vessels coming in and out of the marina. We take a walk up the city’s steeper-than-Edinburgh streets to visit Halifax Citadel, a 19th-century star fort on the site of three earlier fortresses – the area was the focus for Anglo-French rivalry for a long time. Today you can look around the buildings, wink at the sentries and cower at the loudness of the 12 o’clock gun… the Edinburgh Castle vibe is undeniable.
Next day, we’re in the United States, the small city of Portland, Maine, to be exact. The tourist guide talks of its ‘heady mixture of artistic and outdoor adventures’. I think ‘heady’ refers to the fact that since we were last here cannabis use has been legalised for over-21s, but only in private residences. Yeah, right… an awful lot of people on the streets are noticeably ‘relaxed’ – Steve and I nearly trip over a pile of folk on one corner, and we’re stopped by one guy looking to beg some weed. Apparently the tourist industry has had a real fillip since the 2016 rule change, but we stick to exploring the arty shops around the central area. You might prefer an excursion – every destination comes with a choice of trips to local attractions, which you can organise in advance via the NCL app, on board the ship, via your travel agent – or just do it yourself online. Maine is especially great for lighthouses and lobsters.
Ever watched a US telly show such as Murder, She Wrote or Gilmore Girls and wished you could step into the set? Then our next destination, Bar Harbor – still in Maine – is the spot for you. ‘Picture postcard’ doesn’t do it justice, with its delightful B&Bs, artisan shops, wooden churches, bustling eateries, cute cinema and even a picturesque bandstand. You won’t want to leave.
But we did, and the Pearl next took us to our final stop, Boston, Massachusetts, where we disembarked. Via NCL, we’ve booked a couple of nights in the central Boston Marriott hotel. We spotted a duck boat tour going from just across the street, and had a whale of a time as our World War Two guide ‘Robin the Riveter’ gave us loads of local history in super-sassy style. Boston Duck Tours used to favour original US Navy submersibles, but time and tide means we’re in replicas. Whizzing past landmarks before diving into the Charles River proves exhilarating.
Another outing worth considering is the Freedom Trail, a 2.5mile pedestrian tour linking 16 history sights – be sure to tell your guide – Paul Revere, Benjamin Franklin or some other upstart – that they’d be better off still under the British.
The Boston Tea Party may be the reason you can’t get a decent cuppa in the city, but Steve and I have a brilliant time touring the local supermarkets – US products are weirdly fascinating. As far as excursions go, they don’t come any cheaper.
We do fit in a couple of local restaurants – The Cheesecake Factory, a chain boasting massive portions of tastiness, and The Salty Pig, a ‘pork-focused bistro’ with a real Boston buzz. Yum.
Too soon we’re flying back to Scotland, our Canadian and US trip over but plans for another cruise already forming.
Norwegian Cruise Line offers a variety of cruise options taking in Canada and New England, visit ncl.com for itineraries and offers. Martin Gray booked with Connoisseur Travel, Edinburgh, tel. 0800 170 7233
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