Cruising through the North: Eastern Canada

While they are our neighbors to the North, there's a reason why people love Canada beyond its geographic convenience. From everyone's favorite childhood redhead in pigtails to mouthwatering poutine to rugged and romantic scenery to the independent pioneer spirit, there's a unique beauty in each province that draws parallels to our own American states. To best see the diversity of eastern Canada, experiencing this region by cruise ship is definitely a great way to go for your first visit. Each province boasts its own historical significance, local highlights, delicious treats, and breathtaking views. Take in your travel appetizers now and see the True North is more than maple syrup and hockey.

"Look at that sea, girls -- all silver and shadow and vision of things not seen. We couldn't enjoy its loveliness any more if we had millions of dollars and ropes of diamonds."
- L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables

Cape Breton Island

(by way of Sydney, Nova Scotia)

Thanks to our friends at Cape Breton Island Tourism*, my husband and I were connected to some amazing locals from the Keltic Lodge at the Highlands in Ingonish, so we were able to discover the breathtaking views of the Cabot Trail, one of the most scenic drives you will ever go on that hugs the northeastern coast of Nova Scotia.

With a history in Irish and Scottish heritage, you'll find local traditional fiddle music most anywhere you go at restaurants, bars, and festivals. It's not uncommon to also be invited to a cèilidh (pronounced kay-lee) or "kitchen party," a Gaelic-rooted community gathering with music, dance, and food. For all of us wedding lovers out there, a cèilidh is like a celebration every time and a must attend when in town.

In the heart of the Cape Breton Highlands National Park, the Keltic Lodge at the Highlands sits atop a rocky cliff that overlooks the scenic South Bay Ingonish. For golf aficionados, this resort is like none other when it comes to an award-winning public course. While I'm not one to claim to know about the game since my skill set is strictly planted in miniature putt putt, the view that golfers have would make it a winner.

Out in the middle of seemingly nowhere, we were treated to a taste of exquisite culinary talent in lunch form. While traveling, I unfortunately have a low bar when it comes to gluten-free accommodations since I never know what I'll encounter... and I was utterly romanced and in awe at what was created just for us. There was no low bar here. With a dedication to local and in-season ingredients, Executive Chef Daryl and his team pride themselves on providing authentic flavors and accommodating dietary needs. Gluten-free is not a cringeworthy word here; to them, it was like pouring a glass of water in front of your silk dress without a drop dripped. Effortless, flawless, and professional. I still dream of the gourmet gluten-free lemon cake with coconut cream and white chocolate garnish.

We made hard-fast friends with the general manager Graham, events coordinator Brenda, and the Lodge's marketing guru Danielle, and it was very difficult to pry ourselves back into the car to head back to where our ship waited for us. It's definitely on our bucket list to go back, get to know the resort as overnight guests, and hopefully see a moose or whale!

Quick Tip: A lot of the views you'll see are far away. If bringing a DSLR camera, I would highly recommend packing a long zoom lens (to get those close up shots) as well as a lens that can get wide angle shots (e.g., Nikon 24-70mm is my personal preferred pro lens!).

Prince Edward Island

(by way of Charlottetown)

You'd be hard-pressed to not see a reference to Anne of Green Gables somewhere in relation to Prince Edward Island, and if that's the childhood nostalgic bait to get you there, you will be hook, line, and sinker when you get to know the entire island as a grownup. Rolling hills, rusty red and sunny beaches, and soft blue skies -- that was our experience when driving through the countryside. With some help from our hosts Prince Edward Island Tourism*, they outlined a full day of getting to know what a true magical gem the island was.

Starting in Charlottetown, we immediately took off to Parks Canada's Green Gables Heritage Place, the site that inspired L.M. Montgomery's well-loved tales of Anne, in Cavendish. The idyllic property is beautiful, but those famous green roofs were why we came. After a tour through the house with details only fans would know like the Waterloo kitchen stove restored to match the book's description and a crimson dress with puffed sleeves hanging in Anne's room, a stop into the small cafe for a raspberry cordial is a must. And if you're even more of a diehard fan, the gift shop has a straw hat with red yarn pigtails for you to truly channel your inner Cordelia.

After the trip down memory lane, we headed to the north shore town of Dalvay to enjoy lunch at a historic house turned hotel and restaurant. Built in the late 1800's by a wealthy American businessman, Dalvay By The Sea became a getaway from busy city life for him and his family. Admittedly my face dropped when I looked over the menu and didn't see any gluten-free options listed and thought I was sentenced to a meal of lettuce, but the second I chatted with our server I should have known not to doubt our hosts' recommendation. Gluten-free breads and desserts abounded, but most importantly, the hand-cut twice-cooked parmesan fries were cooked in a dedicated fryer and basil-marinated strawberry Eton Mess was available this side of England! That sealed the deal. Prince Edward Island just had to be Heaven's doorstep.

With full tummies and a need for fresh air, across the street was Dalvay Shore where a field and beach lay open to relaxing and gentle ocean waves. Perfect in breezy September temperature, I could have lounged there all day. Eight hours off the ship just was not enough for PEI.


(by way of La Baie, Quebec)

The coastal gems of the other Canadian provinces contrast with Québec's rugged grandeur -- or what we mostly think of when it comes to Canada. Tall lumbering trees, shimmery rivers, and a quiet beauty that only nature can whisper to its visitors. Created by a glacier from the Ice Age, the Saguenay Fjord (pronounced sag-uh-nay fee-yord) is what brings you into the region. It quickly puts you under its tranquil spell and surprises you with the warmth and friendliness of the locals who are so passionate to tell you about their hometown. Our local tour guides Lynda and Alexandra from Saguenay Tourism* were really what made the visit so wonderful and how we discovered that the place we were about to get to know would be a truly hidden gem that you wouldn't really expect to be on a cruise itinerary. Far from commercialism, this town had every bit of charm you look for in a real relaxing getaway. No bustling crowds, no large signs for cheap eats, and definitely no rush of cars. It was perfect.

The moment you stepped off the boat into the pavilion, locals were dressed up in pioneer costumes and were dancing to traditional music while craftspeople carved, made frozen maple treats, and shared their artisanal talents. I felt like I was back home in historic Williamsburg!

Quick Tip: While it is helpful to know French, most all locals around the cruise terminal are bilingual, particularly those who cater to tourists. If you do know French, it's a great way to practice and bring a smile to the artisans crafting! I loved chatting in French with Monsieur Hovington, an amazing Canadian wood carver, and realized I remembered a lot more French than I thought.

As we traveled to the neighboring town of L'Anse-St-Jean, our guides shared tidbits about Saguenay Fjord National Park, local activities, and general knowledge about why people come to the region. For couples looking for a place no matter what time of year it is, there is always quite a bit to do (though they mentioned winter is definitely a popular time for skiing and other winter sports!).

While the natural beauty speaks for itself, my husband and I were treated to a real hidden gem called Édouard-les-Bains and the mastermind woman behind it all, Lynn Mercure. Modeled after Nordic spas, Finnish saunas, California jacuzzis, and Mongolian yurts, as you look around this tranquil dreamworld, you question whether you are still in Canada. It's a true retreat from the busy world.

Lynn is a reason I love meeting people from the places we visit. Well-traveled with a bright spirit, she said she just dreamed up this peaceful getaway from her adventures around the world to help transform L'Anse-St-Jean into a go-to destination. With massages, steam rooms, and more, you could spend all day channeling your inner zen and recharging all your exhausted travel energy. Though lovely, nearly 10 days on a cruise ship will have you wanting a vacation from the vacation, and Saguenay is where you do it.

Québec City

(by way of Old Québec City, Québec)

Located directly on the Saint Lawrence River, a historic walled city channels all things European. You'll experience your rustic and coastal adventures elsewhere because Québec City is the center of living French history. Museums, cafes, and shops all line up around Old Québec making it a nice, walkable retreat from cruise ship life (hello, WiFi!). The Old Port Marketplace (Le Marché du Vieux-Port Québec) is home to dozens of local farmers, artisans, and delicacies that you might not see elsewhere -- think of it like Philadelphia's famous indoor Reading Terminal Market. Perfect for a snack or lunch while you listen to the waterside sounds and movement from an outdoor bench.

For first time visitors, Château Frontenac is, of course, a favorite, but to not mislead, while it looks like a castle, it's actually an active hotel, so there's not much to tour when you get there. It's definitely much more picturesque from far away and a memorable sight to see.

Because of its being the largest British walled fortress in North America, the Citadel (La Citadelle de Québec) is an experience for anyone with a love for military history and architecture. Since Québec City was first formed as a military town, couples visiting from the Hampton Roads region will especially appreciate this beautiful historic site (think of Fort Monroe but a million times bigger and more robust!).

Right down the road from the cruise terminal is a restaurant called Le Veravin, a bistro that is 100% gluten-free. Oh, while that's a fab detail, that's not the real reason to get excited. Celiacs everywhere will rejoice because they have gluten-free poutine. It bears repeating that poutine can be eaten by Celiacs everywhere. Scout's honor. It has been decades since I've had this quintessential French-Canadian dish, and I can't even lie and not say that this was probably the top 3 favorite experiences this whole cruise trip (even our server laughed and was cheering me on). There's just something about french fries, gravy, and cheese curds, and it is the one thing you must eat while visiting our Northern neighbors. They know what they're talking about when it comes to comfort food.

While cruising around Canada gave us appetizers of Canadian provincial culture, it only made us hungry for more. Perhaps it's because it feels familiar. Perhaps it's because there is something ruggedly otherworldly. Or perhaps it's just the unique charm. Whether you're looking to indulge in childhood memories down Lover's Lane, enjoy coastal beauty, be transported to relaxation in nature, or have a little European-style date, eastern Canada is ready to be discovered by couples looking for something different that's just a boat away.

- Chelsea

Photography: Chelsea LaVere

Disclaimer: Some meals, transportation, and activities were provided to Chelsea to help get to know the cities and areas on her cruise vacation and are noted with an asterisk (*). All opinions are our own authentic thoughts based off of our experiences. All photos and videos in this post were taken by Chelsea LaVere.