A cruise visit to Portland Maine is a wonderful way to spend the day.
A typical Canada and New England cruise spends seven days en route to Quebec City or Montreal and if it’s a round-trip, then another seven days to return. The cruises begin or end in the New York City area or Boston. Portland, Maine is not on all Canada and New England cruise itineraries but in my opinion, it should be. Here’s why…
Portland was the second port call on my late October Canada and New England cruise. Luck and weather were on our side. A bright blue mid-morning sky foretold of a beautiful, crisp fall day in the Northeast. Although the sun was shining as we entered Portland harbor, the temperature was hovering around forty-five degrees. With a bit of skillful layering of clothes, it was sure to be a perfect fall afternoon.
If you’ve even been on a European river cruise, you know the convenience when your river ship docks in the heart of the city center. The Old Port in downtown Portland is the same; just steps away from entering the city.
While cruise ships offer wonderfully scenic trips into the main countryside, not to mention a shopping trip to the L.L. Bean outlet, you might want to consider a leisurely day roaming around downtown Portland.
As you exit the secured port area, there is a guest information booth where you can pick up a self-guided walking tour map. As you walk along Commercial St. or Fore St, you’ll find wonderful little souvenir shops selling everything from nautical jewelry to handmade wool scarves and mittens. Restaurants abound, some catering to just locals and others garner the tourists. Explore the smaller side streets for even more local flavor.
If you decide to take a short rest, head over to the The Maine Narrow Gauge Railroad Museum and go for a train ride. The Museum is located in the Old Port at the foot of Munjoy Hill in Portland’s East End. The scenic forty-minute journey aboard the antique train chugs along Portland’s working waterfront, showcasing spectacular views of Casco Bay.
Getting back to food, my biggest decision for the day was where to sample the local lobster and chowder. A visit to Portland Maine without sampling fresh lobster and seafood would be a regret. I didn’t want to walk into one of the tourist diners. I was looking for the real deal. Somewhere off the beaten path, perhaps. So here’s what I did.
When I’m looking for a non-touristy restaurant, I’ll ask a local. Rather than stop and ask random people on the street, I make a point of buying something at a small shop and then at check-out, ask for a suggestion for lunch.
On this particular afternoon, a trendy designer consignment boutique beckoned. When my “new” DKNY full-length, wool-lined, all-weather coat was paid for and nicely wrapped (for a mere $26), I thought the timing was right to ask my usual eatery question.
The sales woman directed me to Gilbert’s, a small hole-in-the-wall on Commercial St. just a couple of blocks from the port. Good location since we had an all-aboard time of 3:30. Even if I stayed late at Gilbert’s, I could make a quick dash to the ship without worrying about catching a taxi or tour bus. Although Commercial St. was swarming with our cruise ship’s guests, I took her advice.
Gilbert’s looked like something out of a Norman Rockwell painting. As I suspected, everyone sounded like the Gorton’s fisherman and I knew I was in the right place.
The lobster roll ($13.95) was piled high with off-the-boat-fresh, succulent Maine lobster.
Gilbert’s home-made seafood chowder (a measly $4.50) was deliciously overloaded with shrimp, scallops, white fish and still more lobster.
While I enjoyed my counter-lunch I struck up a conversation with a couple of the customers and the counter-waiter. I spent an hour listening to local banter and shared my cruise itinerary when asked where I was headed to next. Most were in disbelief that we were headed to Quebec City.
With snow predicted for the next two days, surely there would be snow across the deck when we docked there. I intended to send my new coat to the ship’s laundry for cleaning as soon as I was back on board. It would be sorely needed with snow and sleet ahead.
A quick glance at the old school-house clock on the wall behind the counter, reminded me that it was time to leave. Everyone bade me a bon voyage, I waved good-bye and in ten minutes I was back on the ship. Just in time for a late afternoon sailaway and an invitation to experience it from the helipad. Hot chocolate and champagne all around!
Tomorrow would be Halifax and another day of walking up and down through the harbor area. Hopefully, as in Portland, there will be more vibrant fall foliage.
The photo above was taken three days after leaving Portland Maine. Sure enough, we were treated to snow, sleet and wind. It was so unique and so much fun especially for the crew, many of whom had never seen snow.
If a Canada/New England cruise is on your to-do list, find one that includes a stop in Portland, Maine. Don’t feel compelled to sign up for a shore excursion. Simply exit the Old Port and leisurely stroll through the downtown area. Sample a “real” New England seafood lunch. Shop for unique “Made in Maine” handicrafts and hand-knit woolens. If you’d prefer a cold weather experience to fall foliage, choose one of the last sailings of the year. Maybe you’ll get lucky too and experience a snowy cruise.
Portland, Maine, one of the nicest American ports of call; friendly, accessible and delicious.
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