Downtown Bar Harbor Maine.

What to do in Bar Harbor on a Canada and New England Cruise

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By late afternoon, our Holland America Canada and New England cruise departed from rainy Boston. Bar Harbor, Maine was the first cruise port on this itinerary. 

This very-New England town is famous for its salt water taffy, blueberry pie plus lobster and other seafood, of course.

Holland America Maasdam leaving Cruiseport Boston
Heading to Bar Harbor, Maine on a rainy afternoon.

As night fell, a thick shroud of fog and mist enveloped the ship. Then a northeast breeze picked up speed. The seas became rough. Or at least rough by the standards of many first time cruisers.

To paraphrase the Christmas poem, “…The barf bags were hung by the railings with care, in hopes that the passengers knew they were there.” Seriously, it was that rough. 

I was fine and enjoyed my first dinner in the somewhat empty dining room.

Bar Harbor Maine Cruise Port 

By morning, though the sun wasn’t shining, at least the ocean had calmed. Our ship was too large to dock, so at dawn the Maasdam’s anchor was dropped. Shortly after breakfast the tenders would begin to take passengers into downtown Bar Harbor cruise port. More like a small dock, it was a convenient place to begin a day of walking. And eating. 

Not everyone chose to go ashore or if they did, many decided not to take a Holland America Bar Harbor shore excursion. The weather was too blustery to enjoy scenic rides into the countryside. All I wanted to do was spend the day getting to know this sleepy, seasonal town, with a rain parka and umbrella.

In the lifeboat to get to Bar Harbor Maine
Taking the lifeboat from the ship to Bar Harbor cruise dock.

Because Bar Harbor is a tender port, we boarded a lifeboat for a bouncy ten minute ride to the dock. Captain Ane Smit positioned the ship in such a way that stepping into the lifeboat was as easy as in the Caribbean. 

Once our lifeboat was full, off we went, bumping through the waves til we reached the pier.

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Things to do in Charming Bar Harbor 

This was my first time here and my goal was (as it always seems to be on a Canada New England cruise) to find the best seafood chowder and lobster roll. No shore excursions for me in Bar Harbor.

Downtown Bar Harbor

There was that constant drizzle which at times, due to the wind, blew horizontal. Most people signed up for a tour to/around Acadia National Park, hopefully a view of Cadillac Mountain and eat and learn about lobster. I’d do this shore excursion on my next visit.

Explore Downtown Bar Harbor

Off I went to explore the downtown, only steps from the dock. Bar Harbor is a small summer tourist town on Mount Desert Island. Laid out grid-like, it’s very easy to explore on foot. 

There are plenty of things to do in Bar Harbor when it rains. With umbrella in tow and camera tucked into my bag, I wandered up one street and down the next, making a mental note of where I wanted to return to after lunch.

Then I spotted a familiar store; Del Sol, which sells sun-sensitive color-changing clothes. What it was doing that far from the Caribbean was anyone’s guess. But I wandered in and started a conversation with a couple of the shop girls. 

Turned out one of them lives about an hour from my home in Florida, and works in Bar Harbor during her college summer breaks. She would be perfect to glean information from for my seafood chowder quest. 

She suggested that I should head to the Thirsty Whale for lunch. Then the Opera House Internet Cafe across the street for wifi. Done.

Lobster roll and seafood chowder at Thirsty Whale
Enjoying an excellent lobster roll and seafood chowder at Thirsty Whale.

Lunch was excellent, the atmosphere at the Thirsty Whale was more locals than tourists, at least for a while. I loved the bowl of thick, rich seafood chowder and a perfectly chilled lobster roll. 

The Thirsty Whale was a winner.


Bar Harbor Opera House Internet Cafe
Bar Harbor Opera House Internet Cafe.

Dodging raindrops, I splashed over to the Opera House internet cafe across the street and into what was probably the more unique internet cafe ever. More like a rustic cabin in the mountains somewhere.

All I really needed to do was do a few things on my iPhone over wifi to save data charges. I bought a hot mint tea, sat down and worked on my phone while listening to all sorts of locals’ conversations. Sort of felt like Aunt Bea would walk in any minute asking for Andy.

Ben and Bills Chocolate Emporium Bar Harbor
You have to bring home a box of Salt Water Taffy from Bar Harbor, Maine!

The rain had stopped (but not for long) so I retraced my steps to Ben and Bill’s Chocolate Emporium to pick up a box of assorted chocolates for the front desk staff on the Maasdam. That’s something I do on every cruise. 

Once inside the store, I couldn’t pass up a box of authentic Bar Harbor salt water taffy for my kids and a couple of dark chocolate-covered pretzels for me.

Back to the Cruise Port

Keep in mind that this really isn’t your typical cruise ship port. With wood pilings and gangway, it’s also a dock used by locals and their sailing boats. 

With an early 2:30pm all-aboard time, it was soon time to head back to the cruise port without time to spare. Apparently the rain decided that we weren’t already wet enough so right when the last hundred of us were queuing up for the tender back to the ship, it began to pour in buckets. 

Luckily, there was awning-like  covering near the gangway to the boat, so most of the already-soaked people quickly scooted under the canopy. I went into the little bakery right there at the port. 

Along with seven other cruise guests, I ordered a slice of home-baked Maine blueberry pie and a coffee. Not a bad alternative to standing in the cold and rain. I guess the rest of those waiting for the tender didn’t want to spend a few dollars for warmth, food and conversation.

I made it back to the ship with plenty of time for a hot shower and a nap before getting ready for formal night. This was another sailaway event that would be better viewed from indoors. The sailaway from Bar Harbor was a weather repeat from Boston.

On Board Holland America Maasdam

Pinnacle Grill on the Maasdam

I don’t pack any glitzy long dresses anymore and no one else seems to do so either. My trusty plain black cocktail dress works fine every time. Throw on a fancy scarf or pashmina and it’s a new outfit. 

Dinner tonight would be in the Pinnacle Grill specialty restaurant and I was looking forward to a superb meal.

Dungeness crab cakes at the Pinnacle Grill on the Maasdam

I wasn’t disappointed. Starting with the amuse bouche – a little expresso cup filled with a steaming mushroom “cappuccino,” – and segueing into the warm Dungeness Crab Cakes with duck sauce and spicy mayo, we were off to a running start. I’d take one of each course on the menu.

Next was the Arugula Salad with chopped egg and cherry tomatoes which led to the spicy chicken and coconut milk soup with lemongrass. OK…so I veered a bit off course with my vegetarian habits, but it was only soup, right?

Baked Alaska in Pinnacle Grill

My main entree put me back on the wagon with two handmade vegetable skewers of tofu, squash, zucchini, red onion and mushrooms, flamed at table-side with vodka and brandy. Amazingly good and a nice mini-show, too. Not to go unnoticed, I was offered to sample the black cod with shrimp scampi. Went nicely with the vodka-veggies. Dessert, of course, was an individual Baked Alaska.

Showroom at Sea aboard the Maasdam

By the time I was finished in the Pinnacle Grill, it was only a matter of minutes until showtime in the Showroom at Sea for Mackie’s Broadway gala production. Note to self: arrive earlier than one minute to curtain time to get a seat. This was one of two major shows this week and there wasn’t an empty seat anywhere. I stood along the back, resting against the wall for most of the show. It was that good.

First towel animal of the cruise

Goodnight from the Maasdam. Tomorrow would be Halifax, Nova Scotia, in the Canadian Maritimes, an island kind of hanging out there in the North Atlantic. Weather reports predicted more of the same. Good thing I packed a lightweight coat with plenty of room for layers. And gloves.

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  1. Thanks for the insight. I’m going on NCL cruise this month, stopping in Bar Harbor, Portland, Bay of Fundy and Halifax. Your post is very informative about the Maine stops. Did you stop at these places in Canada? Any info on them?

  2. I love the picture of the restaurant with the taxi above. We were there and I have a picture at the restaurant steps. The Maasdam was great!

  3. Hi Rick,

    Thanks for reading the article. The Maasdam, in my opinion, is a very very nice ship. Enjoy the cruise!


  4. Thanks for sharing! I’ll be doing this exact itinerary next month and while I’m a bit hesitant for the size and age of the Maasdam, I’m still very much excited for the cruise!

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