North America and Canada
There are few regions in the world that offer the diverse range of experiences found in North America and Canada. Whether you’re dreaming of the bustling metropolises of Boston and Los Angeles, or if you’re looking to surround yourself with the mesmerising mountains and lakes of British Columbia, you will find that a cruise around North America will offer you both. Typically, the region is divided between the East and the West Coasts of the United States and Canada. Covering both the Northern and Western Hemispheres, the continent is the world’s third-largest. It has a complex history, spanning from the indigenous populations of the Pre-Columbian era through the Age of Discovery in 1492 and beyond. Although America achieved independence in 1776, the impact of European occupation still dominates the region, and a plethora of languages are spoken across North America. Canada is officially bilingual, with the French language being the official language of the Province of Québec. The USA’s close proximity to Mexico has also given rise to Spanish influences in the Southern states.
Why cruise North America and Canada
The great coastlines of North America make it the perfect location for a catch-all cruise for infrequent travellers to the region. Cruisers are able to experience North America’s thriving cities, as well as its exquisite landscapes and diverse culture, from an array of ports across the continent. There are few more efficient ways to see North America’s wonders in one trip. Iconic locations along the East Coast stretch from Montreal, Québec City and New York down to Miami and Key West. On the other side of the continent, cruisers will encounter the West Coast heavyweights of Los Angeles and San Francisco, all the way up to Canada’s great city of Vancouver. Owing to its size, North America’s climate also varies greatly across the continent. Cruisers can experience the lavish sunshine of Florida and California, as well as the sometimes bitterly cold northwestern territories of Canada and Alaska.
Top cruising countries in North America and Canada
The United States is made up of a patchwork of attractions, from the fast-paced urban jungles of New York, Chicago and Boston through to the sun-soaked shores of Hawaii and to the chilly wilderness of Alaska. Birthplace of the great American road trip, the USA is also full to the brim with exquisite and varied landscapes. Red-rock deserts and canyons litter the states of Arizona, Utah and Wyoming, while thick vegetation and dense rainforests swamp the Pacific Northwest. For culture-vultures and art-lovers, there is no shortage of art galleries and museums. Take a sneak peek inside New York’s Guggenheim Museum or the National Gallery of Art in Washington to find the masterpieces of America’s artistic greats such as Georgia O’Keefe and Jackson Pollock. America’s states are also shaped by the eclectic range of music that forms their identity. Take for example, the Mississippi Delta, renowned for the sounds of its soulful blues, or country and folk which music found their roots in the Southern states of Texas and New Mexico.
Nicknamed the Great White North, Canada’s breath-taking natural wonders have made it an absolute must-see. This enormous country is wild-life rich and boasts a compelling variety of natural landscapes from the spectacular Canadian Rockies to the limpid Five Great Lakes of Superior, Michigan, Huron, Erie and Ontario. Perhaps most extraordinary of all, the famous Northern Lights can be seen from much of Canada, the gorgeous colours filling the dark skies in winter. An array of local furry characters roam Canada, such as white-tailed deer, moose and grizzly bears. If you’re lucky, you might even come across a polar bear or two. Canada’s quirky and old-fashioned characteristics originate from its colonial and indigenous history. For example, the European-style Old Town in Quebec City is reminiscent of the time of French occupation, while the old fishing town of St Anthony in Newfoundland and Labrador retains the personality of its founder, the French explorer Jacques Cartier. However, some of Canada’s cities are also multi-cultural, such as Vancouver with its Asian Night Market, and Haida Gwaii with its indigenous villages. The country is also no stranger to the arts. Contemporary Canada hosts the world’s second-largest International Fringe Theatre Festival in Edmonton, whilst the glamorous film festival of Toronto draws in global audiences.
Iconic ports in region
Montreal is one of Canada’s cool, metropolitan cities. As the former industrial and financial centre of Canada, history has made its mark on Montreal in the form of old factories, warehouses and mills. Today, the city is Canada’s cultural trophy, a bilingual haven of breath taking architecture with a melting pot of artists, writers and musicians. A day trip in Montreal might take the form of a stroll or cycle down the Canal de Lachine, or a visit to the Basilique Notre Dame. Despite its chilly temperatures, Montreal is a city of friendliness and warmth where energetic young Canadians gather at sugar shacks and visitors are made to feel at home.
Old Port (Quebec), Canada
Docking into the Old Port of Quebec, travellers will be enchanted by this charming fairy-tale like city. Historic houses and shops line the cobbled streets, which were previously home to grain merchants and wholesale grocers. Old Port is sometimes referred to as the 'cradle of New France', and it certainly has that feel, with its French place names and architecture. Place des Canotiers is a tourist-favourite. The urban park is surrounding by stunning buildings such as the Chateau Frontenac, the Petit-Champlain and the Old Port districts. Explore this picture-perfect city, with its French-era brewery cellars and the magnificent Silo No.5 which is illuminated by night.
The capital city of Nova Scotia, Halifax is a busy port with one of the deepest natural harbours of North America. Proudly maintaining its colonial history, Halifax is the oldest British town on the Canadian mainland. What was previously a huge stone Citadel, is now full of cruise ships, fishing boats and yachts. Halifax has the feel of an old maritime town, with one of its top attractions being the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic. The museum is a shrine to Samuel Cunard who founded the Cunard Steam Ship Company which carried royal mail. Empty former warehouses have been transformed into trendy shops and restaurants, while old fortifications and churches have been preserved from the 18th century.
This humming urban epicentre of grassroots activity is Canada’s shining jewel. Full of small independent galleries, up and coming creatives and alternative live music, the city has an bohemian feel to it. For a downtown Vancouver experience, visit Gastown where local businesses have revitalised old structures and transformed the interior into cool bars and restaurants. Vancouver has also embraced its waterfront and shown it to its full beauty by creating a walkway lined with trees. Taking a stroll along here will lead you to Stanley Park, which is bordered by sky-high mountains on one side, and dense forest on the other.
Those who live in Britain will find themselves particularly at home in Victoria. The low-rise, quaint city still has a strong British influence. You will find yourself surrounded by double-decker buses, afternoon tea and games of cricket in the summer. However, in recent days Victoria has undergone a transformation to become a more modern city with its own identity. Beacon Hill Park is the city’s central attraction and the largest green space, while further downtown visitors can also explore Emily Carr House, the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria. Victoria also enjoys the mildest climate in Canada, which makes it a fantastic destination on a winter cruise.
Boston is a city of sports, with the (five-time world-champion) Patriots, the Red Sox basketball team and the Celtics hockey club. However, Boston has a lot more to offer than just its sporting successes. The arts have continued to blossom in Boston from the 19th century and onwards. Boston boasts world famous institutions including the Boston Museum of Fine Arts and the Boston Symphony Orchestra. Contemporary Boston has a wealth of museums, theatres and libraries for visitors to enjoy. The city is also ranked fifth in the world for innovation and is ever-increasingly accessible by bicycle or foot.
New York City, USA
In the city that never sleeps, it is certainly hard to be bored! An architectural, multicultural sanctuary, New York is the urban behemoth of the East Coast. Manhattan is the epicentre of the American arts, with world-famous galleries such as The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Museum of Modern Art and the Guggenheim. Iconic skyscrapers such as the Empire State Building carve out its famous skyline, while the large Central Park creates a natural haven in the middle of this legendary metropolis. And Long Island and upstate New York should also not be missed. Long Island is peppered with gentle beach towns, and the 425-mile Erie Canal glides towards Lake Erie, passing through Niagara Falls, Buffalo and Rochester.
Miami oozes with glamour, charm and allure. The famous Miami Beach is often seen as its top attraction, but further exploration will unveil a whole new experience of Miami. From art and design to cutting edge architecture, Miami is a creative city dotted with poolside terraces, nightclubs and restaurants serving global cuisine. The city is a party-dweller’s dream as, when the sun starts to set, the evening bars and clubs light up. Miami is also a city of natural beauty. Walking trails weave along white sandy beaches and tropical gardens. It is also wild-life rich and offers visitors the opportunity to spot manatees off Virginia Key.
San Francisco, USA
Positioned at California’s thumb, San Francisco is a city of quirkiness and character. Lombard Street is reflective of the city’s unique style, as it is known for its crooked shape and attracting tourist attention all year round. San Francisco is of course also home to the gigantic Golden Gate Bridge which sits gloriously on the Pacific Ocean, connecting San Francisco to California. The city is awash with historic saloons and speakeasies, reminiscent of the Wild West Saloons in the years running up to prohibition. Today, the Wine Country provides a steady flow of liquor into the city.
Marked by the large Space Needle, Seattle is a futuristic city that is forward-thinking and boundary-pushing. Third-wave coffee shops, microbreweries with tasting rooms and specialist piemakers are just some of the weird and wonderful treats that Seattle’s streets have to offer. Just walking through the main city centre, visitors will come across all kinds of strange entities, from a rocket sticking out of a building to fish-tossing market traders and a mural made of chewing gum.
The wintery wilderness of Alaska is an intriguing place. There are few places in the world which can offer visitors the opportunity to see brown bears on the hunt, moose strolling by the road and grey wolves skulking in the distance. Alaska is largely devoid of human residents and visitors are scarce, but that is just one of the things that makes it so magical. Imagine climbing a mountain on which no one else has ever set foot or hiking in unguarded backcountry surrounded by Alaska’s native creatures. With glaciers, mountains and gallons of snow, Alaska is one of the world’s most ethereal places.
Best cruising experiences in North America and Canada
Explore epic landscapes
The United States boasts some of the most varied natural landscapes in the world. Everglades National Park in Florida is home to a wide marsh that extends south from Lake Okeechobee. Taking a trip up the river on an ‘airboat’ can expose visitors to alligators, panthers and hundreds of species of birds. In contrast, Glacier Bay National Park in Alaska shows off striking blue glaciers surrounded by rainforest vegetation. For a more autumnal feel, head into Vermont in New England. The rich mural of trees bursts forth in different ‘fall’ colours and envelops a variety of quaint towns. For something really spectacular, Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming is boasts waterfalls, geysers and hot springs. As the world’s first designated national park, it also holds a special place in the hearts of Americans. Similarly, Canada can offer all sorts of natural gems, including Jasper National Park and Queen Charlotte Islands. Take a ride on the Jasper Skytram to reach dizzying heights up Whistlers Mountain where you will be enchanted by the scenic views. Visit Haida Gwaii on Queen Charlotte Islands to find summer festivals, undertake birdwatching and take in the Delkatla Wildlife Sanctuary. Another standout location is Banff National Park which borders Alberta and British Columbia. Lake Louise stands in the middle, a sparkling blue delight against a rocky mountain backdrop.
Try local cuisine
The endless choice of local cuisine on North America’s menu reflects the varying heritage of each area within the region. One evening you might be enjoying a classic deep-dish Chicago Pizza and New York cheesecake, and the next a meal of Texas smoky barbecue, fried chicken and cornmeal in a traditional Southern diner. The United States is also home to the world-renowned apple pie, hence the phrase ‘American as Apple Pie’. Although it may not have the international recognition of Italian or French cuisines, Canada does in fact offer its own unique range of delicious delicacies. Wild salmon and scallops are a must-eat in British Columbia, while Québec is home to poutine, French fries topped with gravy and cheese curds. Ontario and British Colombia are also the two largest wine-producing provinces in Canada, so make sure to treat yourself to a little tipple when visiting their great vineyards.
Take part in adventurous activities
Canada’s soft, snowy terrain makes it the ideal home for several ski resorts. In Vancouver, visitors will find Cypress and Grouse Mountain, both perfect locations for a single daytrip on the slopes. There are also countless opportunities to hire a canoe and take a trip around Canada’s stunning lakes and rivers. In the waters of the North-west territories, you can paddle down the South Nahanni river and even dip your toes in the Nahanni Canyon. For thrill-seekers, bungee-jumping is also a popular sport in Canada, with Great Canadian Bungee offering the highest jump in the whole country. If the idea of free-falling off a cliff does not quite appeal but you’re still up for a little adventure, try climbing the Canadian Rockies instead. The jagged mountain tops are sprinkled with beautiful turquoise lakes, swathes of forest and unique wildlife.
The United States also offers plentiful activities for enthusiastic travellers. The Grand Canyon’s Skywalk and Eagle Point bridge extend over the rim of the Grand Canyon. Walking onto this glassy walkway allows visitors to see the deep canyon below them, although those not keen on heights might want to take a back seat on this one. Another fabulous find is Lake Powell, which straddles Utah and Arizona. It provides kayaking, scuba diving, water skiing and hiking, and the lake’s winding path makes it an exciting experience. If you find yourself at the popular tourist site of Yosemite Valley, look out for the Mist Trail Route that leads to the top of the cliff face. This hike is the perfect activity for avid climbers, and the aerial view of the park from the top is a fabulous reward for the nerve-jingling climb.
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Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada