North America offers a bounty of great cruising options. From New York City, one writer heads north and another cruises south-east, on two very different adventures.
NYC to Montreal
By Louise Goldsbury
Lady Liberty looks like she's punching the air in joy. Yesss, let's go, it's time to cruise! The feeling of freedom is palpable as Viking Neptune heads north to cross the border to Canada.
For the first day of the itinerary, the ship docks overnight at Manhattan Cruise Terminal, allowing time to experience New York after dark. Some of the 850 guests go to Broadway shows or take a tour of the city sights lit up at night, while others stay onboard to enjoy sunset on the Hudson.
At a poolside table outside the Aquavit Terrace, I sip a martini as planes disappear behind the glowing clouds in a rosy-pink sky and boats zip along the busy waterway. In the morning, there's a guided tour of the Metropolitan Museum of Art before it opens to the public or a visit to the 9/11 Memorial.
Heading up the US Eastern Seaboard, the main draw of this trip is the almost-constant coastal scenery. Unusual for an ocean cruise, the ship sails close to shore as it makes its way through the Cape Cod Canal to Boston. The journey continues to Halifax, Nova Scotia and then loops around the gulf to the St Lawrence River to reach Quebec and Montreal. To drive directly between New York and Montreal takes only six hours; our cruise is a leisurely 13 days.
As Viking Neptune slowly creeps along the manmade canal, we pass Cape Cod's waterfront mansions and squeeze under the century-old Sagamore, Bourne and Railroad bridges. Arriving in Boston for another overnight stay, we have time for tours on both days. As the birthplace of the American Revolution, the city holds a remarkable repository of history. Among the many sights are the Old South Meeting House, where Samuel Adams started the Boston Tea Party, and the Old North Church, where lanterns were hung in the steeple to warn of the approaching British army.
The cruise line offers a free bus tour of these historic sites, as well as a Revolutionary-era walk (extra cost) along the Freedom Trail. Another excursion ventures to the Salem Witch Museum to learn about the hysteria of 1692 when more than 200 people were executed for alleged witchcraft. A lighter option is strolling along the waterfront and savouring a hot buttered lobster roll.
Back onboard, the restaurant serves complimentary lobster and other local specialties such as New England clam chowder, as we sail around the coastlines of Nova Scotia and Maine. The ship spends the whole next day at sea, so I indulge in the spa's complex of saunas, snow room, icy-cold plunge pools and a bubbling, heated hydrotherapy pool.
In Halifax, I join a hop-on/hop-off bus for an easy way to see the hilltop Fort George, St Mary's Basilica, the beautiful Public Gardens and Fairview Lawn Cemetery where victims of the Titanic are buried. A highlight is the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic, with excellent exhibits of the Titanic, steamships, war ships and the devastating 1917 explosion of a cargo ship in Halifax Harbour that killed or blinded thousands of sailors and local residents.
The next day sees more scenic cruising around the Gulf of St Lawrence, so I partake in the daily program of trivia, lectures, afternoon tea and tastings of bourbon and armagnac. In the evening, I head to the theatre for a French-Canadian concert and then dance to a jazz band performing in Torshavn nightclub.
The smaller ports are delightful escapes into the wilderness. In Saguenay, guests choose between a seaplane over the fjord or a high-speed boat ride by Zodiac. In Gaspe, we explore the indigenous culture at Micmac Interpretation Site, followed by a stop in Forillon National Park, renowned for its birdwatching and humpback whales.
Quebec, hailed as the most authentically French city outside France, is the loveliest city on the trip. Viking's included tour reveals the Old Town's cobblestoned charms and breathtaking views of the Laurentian Mountains. The final stretch to Montreal on the St Lawrence River, surrounded by forest greenery, caps off this unique hybrid cruise of the ocean, rivers and canals.
My summer sailing, in July, delivers sunny days with foggy patches that are marked by the sounding of the ship's horn every two minutes. Most of next year's cruises take place in autumn when New England's famous autumn foliage should be blooming in glorious shades of orange, red and gold in a riot of "leaf-peeping" perfection.
The writer was a guest of Viking Cruises. The 12-night Eastern Seaboard Explorer has four departures in 2024. Two sailings have sold out, but cabins are available on the September 24 cruise, and a cruise in the reverse direction, departing Montreal on September 12. Fares start at $11,495 per person twin-share, with a $2500 flight credit per couple. See vikingcruises.com.au
NYC to Bermuda
By Kristie Kellahan
Bermuda, Bahama, come on pretty mama... Thanks to The Beach Boys, the island paradise of Bermuda is a sun-drenched daydream in my mind, years before I have an opportunity to visit.
Now that I'm here, sipping on a rum cocktail, walking on the pastel-pink sand beach at Horseshoe Bay, I understand why they immortalised it as a place you go when you wanna get away from it all.
The beaches are amazing, the weather is perfect year-round, the people are friendly and the seafood is delicious. Many people assume it's part of the Caribbean, but Bermuda is far from it, located 1500 kilometres away in the North Atlantic Ocean.
The Beach Boys suggested getting there fast and then taking it slow, but I take the longer, more scenic, route. Bermuda is just a two-hour flight from New York City, yet cruising there over a couple of days gives me the chance to really unwind and enjoy the comforts of ship life.
Norwegian Breakaway, launched a decade ago, is a fun place to while away the sea days. Twenty restaurants, bars and lounges run the gamut of pub-style fare and live sports broadcasts in O'Sheehan's to Asian favourites in Shanghai's Noodle Bar and fine dining in Cagney's Steakhouse.
NCL's freestyle approach to cruising means no set dining times or pre-assigned seating and no stuffy dress codes. The ship has capacity for a maximum of 4028 passengers but on this voyage we're sailing with about half that number, ensuring no lines or crowds at the theatre, restaurants or poolside.
Departing from Manhattan Cruise Terminal on the west side of Hell's Kitchen is a convenient embarkation for passengers in New York City. NCL is the only cruise line to operate year-round itineraries from Manhattan. The sail-out is more like a sunset sightseeing cruise, as we race up to the top deck to snap photos of the glittering midtown skyscrapers and the Financial District.
After a couple of nights watching live shows and eating more prawns than is probably recommended, we arrive in Bermuda's capital, Hamilton. Walking off the ship at Royal Naval Dockyard is like stepping back in time to a period when Bermuda was a strategic military base for the Brits.
The oldest self-governing overseas territory in the British Commonwealth, Bermuda has had an internal self-government since 1968, while the British Government continues to hold responsibility for external affairs, defence and security. Historic buildings and fortresses at the dockyard now house craft markets, jewellery stores, restaurants and a well-curated museum.
There's a polite formality in the way locals interact that may have something to do with that British heritage. As I hop on and off public buses all day to explore the small island, I notice many Bermudans greet their fellow riders when boarding ("Good afternoon, everyone"), and are greeted in reply with "Good afternoon to you", en masse.
The bus takes me to historic St George's, a UNESCO World Heritage site and former capital of Bermuda. Settled in 1612, it's home to St Peter's Church, the oldest surviving Anglican church in continuous use outside the British Isles.
Back in the heart of Hamilton, I stroll along the colourful Front Street, browsing the stores where Bermuda shorts, antiques, rum cake and souvenirs are sold. The beauty of having three nights in a single port - an almost unheard-of luxury of time in the world of cruising - is that there's no rush. I can go out for a relaxed dinner without keeping an eye on the clock, as I normally would in anticipation of the ship sailing away. I can also return to my favourite beach at Horseshoe Bay daily, which is exactly what I do.
After an invigorating swim with the colourful fish, I head back to the ship and put my feet up on the balcony to enjoy the Fanta-orange sunset. Still salty and cool from the ocean, I can hear the smooth sound of Bob Marley's voice drift up from one of the bars on the dock.
"Don't worry about a thing, 'cos every little thing is gonna be alright," he sings.
Thanks to this cruise to paradise, I now have a new song to sing.
There are a total of 16 voyages departing New York to Bermuda in 2023 and 2024 ranging from four- to 12-day itineraries across five NCL ships. Cruise fares start from $1845 per person for a seven-day Bermuda cruise from New York on Norwegian Breakaway, with departures on November 3 and 10, 2024. See ncl.com
Want more of the Americas?
From Alaska to Panama, here are five more great cruises, writes Kristie Kellahan.
1. Panama Canal and wildlife
Savour the adventure of small-ship expedition cruising on National Geographic Quest's voyage to Costa Rica and the Panama Canal. Departing from San Jose, Costa Rica, and disembarking in Panama City, the eight-day cruise visits extraordinary national parks, the historic canal and a wildlife tracking project. The compact expedition ship can navigate passageways inaccessible to larger ships, embracing a flexible schedule that allows for impromptu opportunities to spot wildlife and other natural wonders. Adventure doesn't mean roughing it, with lots of creature comforts on the ship, including complimentary beer and wine. nationalgeographic.com
2. Alaskan glaciers and fjords
Of the myriad ways to visit Alaska - mega-ship, expedition vessel, no-frills, ultra-luxury cruise, land package - Seabourn's 14-day Alaska Glaciers, Fjords and Inside Passage voyage is one worth splurging on. The itinerary combines active adventure port stops with more laidback sea days on the ship to take in the spectacular scenery of Queen Charlotte Sound, Snow Pass and Whale Channel. Seabourn likes to say they offer "clairvoyant service", with butlers who know what guests want before they do. The attention to detail is exceptional and will have you feeling pampered from the moment you step aboard. seabourn.com
3. Steamboat to the South
Immerse yourself in the tales, tastes and sounds of the US South on American Queen Voyages' nine-day river cruise, beginning and ending in the great city of New Orleans, making several stops along the way in Louisiana and Mississippi. The classic , is a nostalgic step back in time to an era when author Mark Twain took inspiration from the Mississippi River for his characters. A resident "riverlorian", a historian well versed in the history of the river, spins tales throughout the cruise. aqvoyages.com.au
4. Great Lakes exploration
The extraordinary ships are reason enough to make the journey. Cruise the Great Lakes of the US and Canada aboard Viking Octantis and Viking Polaris, two sophisticated ships designed to take passengers to some of the remotest parts of the world in thrilling style. Equipped with the latest technology, toys and tools for science research, the ships bring to life the journey and joy of exploration. Various Great Lakes itineraries combine urban skylines, city visits (Detroit, Toronto, Cleveland and more), car-less islands, spectacular waterways and incomparable sights such as Niagara Falls. vikingcruises.com.au
5. Mexican beaches from LA
Tacos and tequila are in order on Celebrity Eclipse's sun-soaked roundtrip cruise from Los Angeles to the Mexican Riviera. Enjoy port stops in resort towns Cabo San Lucas, Mazatlan and Puerto Vallarta. The eight-night itinerary is at a relaxed pace, including extended hours in port and an overnight stay in Cabo San Lucas. Celebrity's all-inclusive offering of drinks, WiFi and gratuities is good value. The line's food and entertainment is some of the best you'll find at sea. celebrity.com/au
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