While a Canada and New England cruise has many exciting and diverse cruise ports to entice discerning cruisers, these are among my favorite New England cruise ports. They all offer incredible food, plenty of natural attractions, charming downtowns and worthwhile outdoor activities.
Read on to learn which of these New England ports should be on your must-visit list.
8 Scenic New England Cruise Ports
It was not easy to narrow down to just eight of these unique ports. Since many cruises to Canada and New England depart from New York I didn’t include the Big Apple. However, there are just as many cruises that depart from Boston or visit Boston, so I’ve included it in the list.
When Do Cruise Lines Visit New England?
With a shorter cruise season – typically from April to October – cruise lines pack a full itinerary to visit as many New England cruise ports as possible on a single cruise.
You can visit cities steeped in U.S. history, explore national parks, bike along rugged coastlines and relax at quaint cafés. If brushing up on history and indulging in a freshly baked pie piques your interest, then New England cruise ports should be on your travel list.
Read on to discover my pick of not-to-be-missed New England cruise ports.
Explore Bar Harbor, Maine
Bar Harbor is one of the few New England cruise ports that requires all cruise ships to anchor offshore. Popular cruise lines, including Holland America Line and Regent Seven Seas, deploy tenders (lifeboats) to ferry guests between the cruise ship and the harbor.
Located on Mount Desert Island, Bar Harbor was once the summer refuge of the rich and famous. Today, Bar Harbor attracts visitors with its spectacular mountains, lakes, cliffs and beaches. It’s a totally walkable town, if that’s what you prefer to do.
During your visit, try an excursion into Acadia National Park and head to Cadillac Mountain. Or spend time in downtown Bar Harbor for shopping and a bite to eat before heading back to meet the tender to your ship.
Newport, Rhode Island
Many smaller cruise ships include Newport on their New England itineraries. Almost everyone has heard of Newport, once nicknamed the “American Versailles” with the glamorous mansions of the Vanderbilts, the Astors and the Morgans that line Bellevue Avenue.
Visitors still marvel at the opulence and splendor of a bygone era. Your cruise ship may offer the option to purchase mansion tour tickets onboard.
While you’ll likely want to tour at least one of the storied mansions, other activities could include exploring Rose Island Lighthouse and strolling along the Cliff Walk. This dramatic promenade extends for 3.5 miles and bisects the backyards of the mansions on Bellevue Avenue and the rocky Atlantic coastline.
Walk Through History in Boston, Massachusetts
For history lovers, Boston is a treasure trove filled with storied landmarks, an immense library, public park and a heritage that extends back hundreds of years. Today, cruise lines such as Holland America, Princess Cruises and Cunard Line offer itineraries to Beantown. Cruise visitors can step back in time as they walk the city’s cobbled streets and gaslight districts.
Walk or hop on a trolley to explore Boston’s famous Freedom Trail. Then head to Little Italy for delicious homemade cannoli and coffee.
Many cruise lines offer shore excursion outside of Boston, too. Visit Salem, home of the 1692 witch trials and the Salem Witch Museum. Try a walk through the ivy-covered grounds of Harvard University in nearby Cambridge.
Nestled in Casco Bay, Portland, Maine is a popular cruise port stop in New England. Some of the cruise lines that visit Portland include American Cruise Lines, Celebrity, Holland America, MSC, Norwegian, Oceania, Princess and more.
The birthplace of America poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Portland prides itself on its beautiful Victorian brick homes, storefronts and museums. Downtown Portland, located just steps away from the cruise ship terminal, impresses visitors with its 19th-century buildings at the Old Port Exchange.
Stop at the Wadsworth-Longfellow House and explore the poet’s childhood home. Even better, two classic New England small towns brimming with Victorian mansions and colorful fishing boats – Kennebunkport and Yarmouth – are just a short drive away.
Taste the Mustard in Eastport, Maine
If you want to visit the easternmost city in the continental U.S., consider a cruise to Eastport. It’s a destination entirely comprised of islands.
Eastport’s cruise port is located on Moose Island, the largest island in the archipelago. Cruise ships dock in the heart of downtown, within walking distance to the town’s main street.
From there, explore the beautifully preserved 19th-century Italianate architecture, which is on the National Register of Historic Places. Another must-see is to tour Roosevelt Campobello International Park and visit Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s beloved summer cottage.
Finally, for a memorable souvenir, pick up a jar of Raye’s mustard from the only remaining traditional stoneground mustard mill in North America.
Nestled in Penobscot Bay, Rockland is nicknamed the Jewel of the Maine Coast. And it’s about as charming a New England town as you can find. Cruise lines such as Norwegian and American Cruise Lines offer itineraries to Rockland.
Historic landmarks abound, including nine schooners of the Maine Windjammer fleet, over a dozen lighthouses and the beautifully preserved Rockland Main Street. Rockland’s most popular indoor attraction is the Farnsworth Art Museum and the Wyeth Center art collection. These buildings house three generations of Wyeth artwork.
If you’re a car buff, visit nearby Owls Head Transportation Museum to check out the first aircraft and automobiles from the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Gloucester, Massachusetts and Its Historic Seaport
Located just north of Boston, on the Cape Ann promontory, Gloucester is the oldest working seaport in America. Enjoy a leisurely stroll along the 1.2 mile Harbor Walk before making your way downtown to embark on a self-guided historic and cultural tour of Gloucester.
Artists have been drawn to this iconic seaside town for decades, and the result is a thriving modern-day community. The Rocky Neck Art Colony is the go-to place for handcrafted souvenirs, paintings and ceramics.
If there’s enough time, step aboard The Lannon, a 65-foot schooner, for a two-hour harbor cruise. Cruise lines to Gloucester include American Cruise Lines, offering sailings to Gloucester on its New England itineraries.
Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts
Located seven miles off the coast of Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard is known for its stately lighthouses, gingerbread cottages and charming towns. You’ll want to explore historic Edgartown before making your way to Oak Bluffs to admire Victorian cottages and take a spin on Flying Horses Carousel. It’s the oldest continuously operating carousel in the country.
If you arrive hungry, rest assured. The island offers everything from home-made honey-covered donuts to freshly steamed lobster and old-time ice cream parlors.
Of course, you won’t want to miss grabbing a bite at the legendary Black Dog Tavern in Vineyard Haven.
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