Canada and New England are the "new Alaska" when it comes to cruising, offering breathtaking landscapes closer to home. Most embarkation ports are along the Eastern Seaboard, making it easier for people on the eastern half of the country to experience a natural, outdoorsy cruise in a shorter length of time. Past voyages of at least 10 days, though still available, are trending towards four- to seven-day trips. Of course, longer trips of up to 14 nights stop at more ports and travel further up the coast. The area also has a slightly longer season than Alaska, from May until the end of October. Most popular departure points include Boston, New York, Baltimore and Norfolk, Va.
Most cruise lines travel to Canada and New England, including Norwegian Cruise Line, Princess, Royal Caribbean, Carnival and Celebrity Cruises. The choice will depend on the type of cruise experience you want. Some run large ships with more children's amenities, while others like Celebrity send mid-sized ships.
Canada and New England cruises are not just for admiring fall's changing leaves. Families can enjoy nature hikes, speedboat rides, nature cycling, whale watching and white-water rafting. Quirky and historical attractions are popular with families who stop in Massachusetts, such as the witches' stocks in Old Salem and Boston's Freedom Trail that Paul Revere took to warn of British invasion. Fenway Park, the house that Babe Ruth began in, is one of the country's oldest baseball parks and a must-visit for any sports fan in your brood.
Newport, R.I., is home to some of the biggest mansions in North America. The Breakers, The Elms, Rosecliff and Chateau-sur-Mer are a few options. Families tend to gravitate toward The Breakers, as it has a reputation of extravagance. The summer cottage of the Vanderbilt family, the mansion exhibits Italian-Renaissance decors. The Vanderbilt's themselves were comprised of seven children. Another family-friendly activity is hiking the Cliff Walk. The well-trodden walk takes families high in the air to beautiful vantage points along the shoreline. This trek isn't for the weak, as it is 3.5 miles in total; however, two-thirds of it is easy walking and hikers can break off and venture into town at any point. The views are worth it. In Portsmouth, a 20-minute drive up the coast, perfect manicured gardens feature topiary shaped like animals is referred to as Rhode Island's "Green Animals." Popular with families, the attraction's historical component appeases parents and the animals entertain kids.
When visiting Bar Harbor, Maine at the edge of Acadia National Park, families quickly meet Lenny, a 1,700-pound moose carved out of chocolate at Len Libby's. Down the road, Ben and Bill's Chocolate Emporium serves lobster with ice cream. Late summer and fall months are ideal times to spy whales outside your window at sea. Bar Harbor is a prime town for launching whale-watching expeditions. Families can witness humpbacks, minke whales or finback whales. Dolphins and even the elusive narwhal can be spotted, as well. Portland, Maine, is L.L. Bean country. The famous, outdoor sports store is up the road in Freeport, and a regional wetland protection program offers two-hour paddling excursions from Wolf Neck Farm to Cisco Bay. Families can see seals, osprey and cormorants along the way. The trip is best for kids over age 8 who enjoy nature.
Quebec City hosts a rail ride that leads into Lower Town near the docks. The ride is short, but steep and thrilling for kids. Sugar Shack Tours are a must for any family. They explore the Maple Museum and show kids how maple sugar is made. Buffet meals served family style are also included, while musicians, storytellers and dancers entertain. At the end of the tour, kids receive a sample to chew on, which brings the process full circle. Another Canadian gem, Montreal's French street signs and high fashion boutiques will make you think you've gone to Europe. The safe and friendly city is Canada's second largest. It hosts an annual Jazz festival and comedy competition, but the kids will enjoy playing on Mont Royal, the city's mountain from which it is named.
St. John's, Newfoundland is one of the easternmost areas of North America. Set on the Avalon Peninsula, the town has rich folklore about fairies. There's nothing like a bit of mysticism and intrigue to excite children. Many towns on the peninsula start with the word "Fairy" and locals tell mythological stories that make the creatures seem real.For fun, families can visit the Railway Coastal Museum, get an underwater view of the river at Fluvarium Family Underwater Adventure or spend time at Rotary Young Children's Playground. Also, Aquarena is a year-round, community center with an Olympic-sized pool and two indoor waterslides.
Sydney, Nova Scotia is situated in the Bras d'Or Channel. The Bird Islands display dramatic rock pillars and a variety of exciting wildlife inhabitants. Cape Breton hosts tours that bring families close to bald eagles, puffins, kittiwakes and seals. The area is a haven for endangered animals, and guests can meet more than 300 pairs of Atlantic Puffins that reside in the area. Royal Caribbean also offers a tugboat tour in Nova Scotia's Halifax Harbor for children. Peggy's Cove displays striking views of a lighthouse atop boulders worn down by the waves. The area is one of the early settlements in the 1800s. Kids can have fun climbing around the boulders.
For more information on Canada or New England check out our Canada and New England destination pages. Planning a cruise for your family? Read our Family Cruises article. For more information on Canada and New England cruises, visit our sister site Cruise Critic.