Friday, June 12, 2009

Halifax, Nova Scotia

When one thinks about cruising out of northeast cities, the ports of call in Florida, Bahamas, Bermuda, and the Caribbean come to mind. Little thought is given to Eastern Canada, a fascinating part of North America, which includes several provinces on the Atlantic Ocean that are accessible via cruise ship. Halifax and New Brunswick are two of these intriguing ports of call.
Halifax, the capital city of Nova Scotia, is always the most popular port of call on a Canada-New England cruise, and it’s no wonder! Just steps from your ship you can begin a stroll along the world’s longest boardwalk. It zigzags along the harbor and is lined with quaint shops, restaurants, and attractions. Take in the lovely views as you battle the crisp fall air with a cup of delicious clam chowder or a yummy fish sandwich.

History enthusiasts will find lots to explore in Halifax. Just steps from the cruise ship terminal is Pier 21. This newly restored historic site and museum was Canada’s “front door” to over one million immigrants that passed through between 1928 and 1971. The museum does a fine job of telling the story of the emotional immigration experience.

A short five minute walk from the waterfront, on Lower Water Street and Prince Street, is the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic. The collections housed here include artifacts, images, charts and plans relating to the marine history of Nova Scotia. The main attraction is an exhibition dedicated to the Titanic. The city of Halifax played a key role during the tragedy's aftermath and became the final resting place of many of her unclaimed victims. The exhibit features artifacts collected at the scene of the disaster, including one of the only Titanic deck chairs known to exist. Another highlight is the exhibit on the catastrophic Halifax explosion of 1917, when two warships collided in Halifax harbor not far from the museum, detonating tons of TNT.
The Citadel stands proudly atop a hill overlooking the city and is about a thirty minute steep climb from the pier. The present Citadel was built in 1856, and is a fourth in a series of fortifications constructed here since 1749 to defend the city and harbor. The views from the ramparts are incredible and there are interpreters dressed as members of the 78th Highlanders regiment that re-enact military drills. However, you’ll first encounter the Citadel’s pipers and drummers as they greet cruisers as they disembark. Check your ship’s offerings of shore excursions for the opportunity to play “Soldier for a Day.”
If history holds no interest for you, the Halifax Public Gardens may. Meander the winding paths of this 17 acre Victorian landscaped park while admiring the trees, shrubs, breathtaking flower beds, and sparkling fountains. Located in the heart of town, the gardens are also a perfect stop for shoppers to rest their weary feet.
You can visit all the above sights and more by taking a city tour on an authentic London style red double-decker bus. The 1½-hour tour covers the downtown area and includes 15 stops along the route. The informative commentary gives an overview of the history of the city and some facts about what you are seeing. Passengers can stay on board for the complete tour or get on or off at any stop. Tickets can be purchased at any stop, the closest to the cruise ship terminal being at Pier 21.

Another alternative for getting around is FRED (Free Rides Everywhere Downtown), Halifax's free shuttle bus. FRED transports residents and visitors around the downtown area and runs from July 4 to October 23, 2009, seven-days-a-week from 10:30 am to 5:00 pm. The bright green bus is easy to spot, as are the green signs that mark bus stops. You can also pick up this bus at Pier 21. Keep in mind that since this is not strictly for tourists, there is no commentary and the stops do not necessarily coincide with all the attractions you may want to visit.

On my visit to Halifax with my son, we chose to sight-see via the Harbour Hopper. This fully narrated tour in a quirky looking amphibious vehicle was lots of fun! We viewed all the above mentioned points of interest on the historic downtown streets, and then plunged into Halifax Harbor for a mariner’s view. This 55 minute tour was loads of laughs for children and adults alike! We purchased our ticket at a kiosk on the boardwalk and boarded the vehicle on a side street close by. This left us plenty of time to check out all the waterfront shops, take in the Titanic exhibit and even a morning ship excursion to Peggy’s Cove (a rustic fishing village about 45 minutes away, known for its dramatic lighthouse)! We enjoyed Halifax so much that we have vowed to return in order to explore further.

You can visit Halifax as a port of call on Royal Caribbean, Carnival, Celebrity, or an NCL cruise this summer and fall. They depart from NYC, Cape Liberty, Philadelphia, and Boston.
Next week I’ll share some information on St John, New Brunswick, another great port of call on a Canada / New England cruise.

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