Port Guide: What to do in Bar Harbor on a Canada and New England cruise

Holland America Maasdam leaving Cruiseport Boston

Bar Harbor Maine is a gem of a New England port city.

Our first night of the cruise from Boston and let’s just say the weather was interesting. We left Boston for Bar Harbor, Maine, enveloped in a shroud of fog and mist in addition to a brisk breeze. As Holland America’s Maasdam headed out into the Atlantic, the seas became somewhat rough. Or at least rough by the standards of many first time cruisers.

To paraphrase a popular 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 but I was fine and enjoyed my first dinner in the somewhat empty dining room.

Weather report for Bar Harbor Maine on iPhone

Heading northeast, morning light came early.

Though the sun still wasn’t shining, at least the ocean had calmed.  We had already dropped anchor at our first port – Bar Harbor, Maine. A knock on my door meant that room service had arrived.  This would be the first of seven mornings with room service. I never made it to the dining room or the Lido buffet for breakfast the entire trip.

It was a drizzly, cool and windy day and for those who opted to stay on board, there were a least two activities every hour with something for everyone.  From a crafts class, to photo editing and Salsa dance lessons, ship activities were scheduled every half hour.

In the lifeboat to get to Bar Harbor Maine

This was a tender port, meaning we’d have to get into 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.

Bar Harbor is a charm.

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 and besides, 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, view Cadillac Mountain and eat and learn about lobster.  I’d do this next cruise.

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.  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, but works there during her college summer breaks.  She would be perfect to glean information from for my seafood chowder quest.  I’d head to the Thirsty Whale for food and then the Opera House Internet Cafe across the street for wifi. Done.

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. Had my seafood chowder and lobster roll.  Of course, knowing that whatever restaurant or diner I am at the time, always has the best seafood chowder, this place was a winner.

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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

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

Time to head back to the ship; it was an early 2:30pm all-aboard time.  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 and along with seven other cruise guests, ordered a slice of home-baked Maine blueberry pie and a coffee. Not a bad alternative to standing in the cold and rain. Guess most 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.

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.

Begin at Day One – Embarkation Day from Boston.



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