We heard that a lot during our cruise, as we apparently rode a fine jet of globally warmed air throughout Canada and New England. No rain, a little fog, and a lot of sun (too much in Boston).
I've already posted 360-some photos, so I won't go too detail-crazy here, but I thought I'd post a little about each of the ports and the cruise itself.
My parents had already been here several times and they really like it. Our tour started with Victoria Mansion, which I don't have any photos of because nearly everything inside is antique or a painstakingly done reproduction, but this crazy-ornate mansion was really interesting to see.
The rest of the tour was totally disorganized, although kind of hilarious. It consisted primarily of the woman who was our tour guide trying to decide where to go next, and then telling the bus driver when it was almost too late for him to do anything about it. She was all, "Turn here! Wait, no, turn left there!" We kept waiting for the driver to turn down a street and get stuck, thus having to back out. That didn't happen, but he did run a red light, and at another point the tour guide actually shushed my sister, who was not talking loudly at all. The whole thing did beg the question — hadn't they done this tour before? And if not, why didn't they plan it out in advance.
Portland, though, was very nice, despite our chaotic route through it. After the tour, we walked around and did some shopping. I bought blueberry wine, which I've yet to drink, but I find very intriguing. One thing that was really cool about Portland is that most of the shops and even the restaurants allow dogs. As a result, there are dogs EVERYWHERE. Most of them were very quiet and well-behaved. It's too bad we didn't have Rex for this portion of the trip. I told my Mom she'd just have to bring him back.
Bar Harbor, Maine
There had been a little bit of fog heading in to Portland, but nothing like what we woke up to heading in to Bar Harbor. It was solid fog, and the ship was sounding the fog horn regularly. The fog was so bad that when we got there, they had to delay the ship's tenders (Bar Harbor was the only port where the ship couldn't dock). We had an early tour and it was canceled because no one could get to shore. No, I don't have any idea why they didn't just delay it.
Because we still had tour tickets, we were able to take the first tender once they started running them, and got on an Ollie's Trolley tour of Acadia National Park. The Park was really beautiful, and we were lucky that the fog lifted enough for us to go to the top of Cadillac Mountain (which is really more of a hill, but is still apparently the tallest point on the east coast) and see.
After the tour, we went to a little sandwich stand for lobster rolls. I believe it's called the Lobster Claw, but I could be wrong on that one. If you're ever in Bar Harbor, definitely go. It's not much in the line of space or decor, but it reinforces that theory that the best seafood is in the the places that look like a hole. We got the rolls that are just fresh lobster on lettuce and bread, with some butter on the side to drizzle over it. Definitely the best lobster I've ever had.
Fortified for shopping, we did just that. Bar Harbor is a small but really charming town. It reminds me of a cross between Key West and Put-in-Bay.
Saint John, Canada
So, in hindsight, an error in strategy. My Dad, sister and I, as the family beer drinkers, had pegged the city highlights and Moosehead beer tasting tour as something we wanted to do. Tour + beer = good.
So the tour starts with us going over to the Reversing Falls. Now, the Reversing Falls is a really interesting phenomenon, caused by huge tide changes, but you apparently have to see it several times in one day (at high tide and low tide) to really get the impact. When we went, it was slack tide, which means we just saw a big boring body of water. Also, what we didn't realize about the Reversing Falls is that on the opposite side of the river from the viewing platform is a giant factory, which was dumping something into the river. I have no idea what that something is and if it's okay or bad for the environment, but the whole thing is not very picturesque. Does Canada have an EPA?
After the Reversing Falls, we drove around some and then the tour dropped us off at the market. The market is extremely old and was built by a wooden shipbuilder (the ceiling is just like an upside-down ship). It was bigger than Eastern Market in DC and definitely bustling.
Then it was time for the beer tasting. I'm all for beer tasting, but I think we all agreed by this time that we would have been better off just skipping the tour and going to a bar and drinking Moosehead. Perhaps with a trip to the market or some more fresh lobster.
We did a hop-on, hop-off British double decker bus tour here. I originally thought this was going to be on British-style double-decker buses. But they actually turned out to be old London buses, complete with Transport for London stickers and the driver (and exits, somewhat dangerously) on the wrong side for Canada. Awesome.
I like hop-on, hop-off better than standard tours, because if you like things, you can stay as long as you want, and if they're lame, you're not stuck there. Our first stop was the Citadel, and it was actually the best one. The Citadel is a fort on the top of a hill, and it vaguely reminded me of a smaller Tower of London, except with no crown jewels. There were "soldiers" (all of them were actually civilians) drilling in kilts, and a series of mini-museums in the walls of the fort on various aspects of Canadian and British warfare. It was very well-done.
Our next hop-off was the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic, which had a lot more hype — maybe more than anything could have stood up to. It was still nice, though. There was a signal ship, the CSS Acadia, that you could walk through, and a series of exhibits. One of the exhibits was on the Titanic (Halifax was instrumental in the rescue effort, and many of the dead are buried there). People were quick to point out that none of the items in the museum were pulled up from the ship — they're all things that were found floating during the rescue effort. I personally was hoping there'd be a little more of a British bent to things. Maybe I'll have to go to Greenwich some day for that.
We finished our day shopping at Pier 21, which was where the cruise ship docked. It was a major immigration center for Canada.
It was HOT in Boston — we heard it got up to 100 degrees, and I'd believe it. If it hadn't been so hot, I'd say that the tour we took was not the way to go. Boston, like any major city, has major traffic, and our tour bus spent a lot of time navigating that traffic and not actually covering a lot of ground. But it was air-conditioned, which was a major bonus.
Our first stop was a Trinity Church, but only briefly. The tour guide said that if you'd seen any of the major churches in England, it wouldn't be very impressive, and he was right. After last year's London trip, I felt pretty eh about it.
The tour went over to Cambridge to the Harvard campus. The campus itself, at least the old portion, wasn't as expansive as I thought it was going to be. My sister wondered why it looked so much bigger than the movies. Memorial Hall, though, was very impressive — it looks like a church, but was built as a memorial to alumni who died in the Civil War. In addition to the memorial, it houses more pedestrian things like a cafeteria.
The next stop was at Old North Church, where the church sexton hung a lantern on the night of Paul Revere's ride to warn everyone that the British were coming. At that point it was the highest place in Boston. The inside of the church is still much as it was then, and although it's not as large or grand as even Trinity Church, I enjoyed it because it had such a role in history and was so well-preserved.
We got a glimpse of the USS Constitution before the tour dropped those who wanted to get off at Quincy Market. We opted to get off there, and grabbed some lunch. There was going to be some definite shopping involved after lunch by my mom and sister, but as I'm a ship nerd, I wasn't about to pass up a chance to see the Constitution, so I walked over to see the ship. It was HOT, but it actually felt really good to walk on land.
The Constitution was hands down my favorite thing from the trip. It is the oldest floating commissioned ship in the world, at 209 years old, and it is just amazing to me that something that old not only floats, but actually goes out for the occasional sail, and even has her guns fired occasionally. I did the guided tour, which meant we got to go down to the gun deck and the berth deck.
Seeing "Old Ironsides" is probably the most literary geeky thing I've ever done, but I am so glad I went. The ship is contemporary to, and even part of one of Patrick O'Brian's Aubrey-Maturin novels, and to actually stand in it and get an idea of the perspective of the ships already so well described by O'Brian was awesome. That aside, it's a huge part of United States history, and really a miracle of preservation.
The cruise ship
We were on the Grandeur of the Seas again. We previously sailed on that ship two years ago to go to the Caribbean (it sails out of Baltimore, so it was convenient then, and was even more convenient now).
This time, though, I actually got seasick for the first time in six cruises. It was on the day I was walking around in the heat in Boston, which may have been a contributing factor, but my sister got sick as well. We were both sitting "backwards" at dinner, and the more the ship moved and the more I ate the more I felt like I might throw up. Generally I have no problem with rough seas -- I didn't get sick at all on the Century when we went through a storm with pretty big waves for a cruise ship to handle. But in this not-very-rough sea, the ship had this weird side-to-side vibration thing going. Normally the thing to do if you're getting seasick is to look at the waves and the horizon, but the waves and horizon weren't in synch with the motion of the ship. Ugh.
Although I've had a lot of fun during the cruise portion of our previous cruises, I think this was the one that reinforced that land-based vacations are really more my thing. Royal Caribbean, at least on this ship, is a little light on entertainment, particularly decent music performers. Unlike on land, you can't just go to a bar and drink. You can just go to a bar and drink on a cruise ship, but you'll have to listen to the easy-listening duo cover "I'm just a gigolo" for the 405th time. Uh, pass on that. I don't know why more cruise ships don't do what the S/S Norway did, which is to create an actual club and play actual good music during hours that make sense. The Norway's club didn't have any windows, and it actually looked like a club — you really felt like you were in a real land-based club.
The food was generally good, but there's always a certain point in a cruise where I actually get tired of eating. Except dessert. Heh. This is actually one of the things that amuses me about Royal Caribbean, though. You see their commercials and it's all, "You're exercising! You're jet-skiing! You're climbing a rock wall! You're walking on glaciers! You're not a normal cruiser!" And then you get on the actual cruise and people are all like, "What time is the midnight buffet?" This is actually a legitimate question, although cruise directors never fail to make fun of it, because the midnight buffet NEVER ACTUALLY STARTS AT MIDNIGHT. Anyway, maybe the people on Alaskan cruises are more active or something.
There were definitely some enjoyable things on the cruise itself. The Grandeur had a very good Beatles cover band (I think they make a loop on the Royal Caribbean ships in the area) the last time we were on the ship, and they played again. A Beatles cover band is a great idea. There should be more. But only if they don't suck. I didn't read quite as many books as I'd brought, but I got through quite a few, often in the "Solarium," a very nice enclosed pool, or in a lounge chair on the lower side deck.
So, all in all, a great trip. Now I need to start planning a new one. At this time last year I still had London to look forward to. Guess I need to get back to work on learning to speak Italian.