Bar Harbor, Salem, Boston, Newport then Charleston, South Carolina and Fort Lauderdale, Florida
Many thanks to Seabourn for the aerial image of the Seabourn Quest by : Michel Verdure. Copyright Seabourn
The USA is one of our favourite destinations. Having visited the west coast numerous times, it was time to explore elsewhere. This time,we had the American Eastern seaboard and New England on our sights. Many travellers say that the east coast of America is at its best in autumn. It was a good excuse as any to see what the fuss is all about. To be honest, it was in fact a very good reason why we chose the Seabourn Atlantic Coast cruise to see this part of America.Having already experienced other cruises with the Seabourn in Northern Europe and the Baltic Sea, we were certain this voyage would be just as interesting and comfortable.
The cruise started in Montreal, then a stop in Quebec City and the rest of Canada’s eastern ports in the Atlantic Ocean. From St John New Brunswick in Canada, we reluctantly departed the beautiful and rugged Canadian Maritime Provinces and continued our journey on board the Seabourn Quest to head south along the eastern seaboard of America.
The next morning, we found ourselves anchored on Frenchman Bay in Bar Harbor Maine, the largest community in Mt Desert Island, home to Acadia national park and America’s millionaires’ row way back in the 19th century. From the deck, our first glimpse of Bar Harbor was a delightful scene to behold. Bar Harbor’s rock-strewn coastline, light houses, surrounding forest with beautiful autumn foliage of red, gold and orange hues, proved that autumn is indeed a good time to be in eastern USA. The sight that greeted us was spectacular.
We had a full day to explore the small town. There was so much to experience and we were told not to miss places such as the Acadia National Park, Thunder Hole, Jordan Pond House, the numerous islands on the Gulf of Maine and many more…but time was an issue. We instead chose to stroll through the quaint town to learn and appreciate why Bar Harbor was New England’s premier summer resort in the 19th century. Summer estates of America’s rich and famous – the Vanderbilts, Fords, Rockefellers you name it… were built in Bar Harbor. Although many of the palatial homes were burned down during a fire in 1947, there are still impressive houses along West Street.
If a visitor only had a day to visit, this walking map is a very useful guide to have. Shopping too was interesting. The bell shaped wind chime and warm jackets we purchased will always remind us of this gorgeous coastal town on Frenchman Bay.
Back on board the Seabourn Quest, we enjoyed the sunset from the Observation Bar (our favourite spot) where the bartender intuitively handed us our favourite cocktail- classic frozen margarita- the moment we walked in.
It was a great way to say goodbye to Bar Harbour, a place I wouldn’t mind going back to someday soon.
Some of the many things we like about the Seabourn are their open bars, the selection of fine wines and exceptional gourmet meals, designed to reflect the food and specialty of the destinations. The chef and his crew work on fresh ingredients sourced from the suppliers in the destinations where we anchor for the day. Sure enough, that evening, we dined sumptuously on lobsters and many other choices typical of New England fare. As always, the dining experience on the Seabourn was exquisite.
The next morning, we docked at Salem harbour, the very first of many cruise liners to do so. We had a quick glimpse of this small town in Massachusetts, known for the witchcraft trials in 1692 before boarding our tour bus to spend a day in Boston. Luckily, we were in Salem just days before the celebrated Halloween in America because this was very much in evidence in Salem. Although ‘witch’ themed walking tours are available all year round, we didn’t have time to go on one. However, as a consolation prize, from our bus, we were treated to sights of elaborate Halloween displays along the streets.
Within an hour, we arrived in Boston, capital of Massachusetts and the largest city of one of the oldest original colonies in the USA. It certainly is one of the most historic, where events leading to the American Revolution took place. Paul Revere’s midnight ride, the Boston Tea Party, Boston massacre, the siege of Boston…all these underline Boston’s historic significance.
We planned our day to include the Freedom Trail, the 4-kilometre path within the heart of downtown Boston and stopped at the 16 locations that had significance and connections to the American Revolution. Next was at another iconic place in Boston, the Faneuil Hall marketplace, set in a promenade of cobblestones. Entertained by street performers, we soaked in the ambience of this bustling meeting place despite the freezing cold wind. Adjacent were North and South markets and Quincy market where we sampled Boston’s famous clam chowder and potpies at ‘Boston Chowda’. We still had time to walk around the Back Bay area to see the controversial John Hancock Tower which stands790 feet high and the tallest building in Boston.
Our final excursion was to the Ivy League Harvard University in Cambridge Massachusetts, which was established in 1636 and named after its first benefactor, John Harvard. A quick walking tour to the notable landmarks made us appreciate why this influential and prestigious private university boasts of an endowment of USD 37.6 billion to date.
Excursion completed, most of us were eager to get back to our tour bus just to get away from the cold, freezing Boston weather. Personally, I was looking forward to a warm bath in the privacy of our suite on the Seabourn Quest followed by drinks at the Observation bar to wave goodbye to Salem and head down to Newport overnight. The locals and the media gave us a grand farewell as we started to sail away from the harbour of Salem. We were apparently the first cruise ship to dock in their port. The fireworks were an unexpected treat.
That evening we enjoyed another ‘regionally themed’ and sumptuous meal from the Seabourn’s galley; choices from the main dining room, the formal and intimate ‘Restaurant 2’, the cafe/bistro ambience of the Colonnade and even the casual Patio grill reflected the specialties of the places we called on. Delicious fresh seafood, fruit and vegetables was brought in daily ( except of course on sea days) to the ship.
The next port of call was Newport, Rhode Island, the ‘city by the sea’, its annual regattas and the America’s cup and last but not least, home of the massive summer mansions of the seriously wealthy industrialists. These were built in the 19th century during the ‘Gilded Age’ and became their playground. Newport was America’s first resort to the seriously wealthy, the likes of Cornelius Vanderbilt II, the Astors and Doris Duke. We anchored in the bay and were ferried across to the port. We were really looking forward to experience this resort town.
Rhode Island in fact plays an important role in America’s history, being one of the original 13 British colonies on the east coast of North America. It was the first British colony in America to formally declare its independence on May 4, 1776, although Newport itself was founded in 1639 by a group of first officers and English settlers. Because of its rich history there were many choices of things to do and see but given only a full day to see the sights, our priority was to visit a few of the 10 mansions owned and managed by ‘The Preservation Society of Newport County’ that used to belong to America’s well known magnates.
Stupendous, ostentatious and opulent came to mind when we did our tour of the mansions on Bellevue Avenue. The first one naturally was the grandest of them all; ‘ The Breakers ’ built in 1893 to 1895 at a cost of over 7 million dollars (equivalent to over $150 million today). This mansion was the summer cottage of Cornelius Vanderbilt II, favourite grandson of Commander Cornelius Vanderbilt, son of William Vanderbilt, the richest man in the world during his time. The Vanderbilts made their fortune on steamships and the New York Central railroad. Set on a 13 acre property, the 70 room mansion faces the ocean and is open daily except for Christmas and Thanksgiving Day.
For more information ,look up this link.
Having seen the places where the elite met to sleep and play, we went back to our own luxurious floating digs. It was a great day to remember and from this excursion alone, my husband and I now believe the trivia we once read that only 1% of America’s population own something like 40% of its assets. Hard to imagine but after seeing the mansions and imagining how the wealthy Americans lived, how can this not be true?
It took the Seabourn Quest two days at sea to reach the port of Charleston, South Carolina. A very good reason to enjoy the amenities on the Seabourn…a day at the Spa, a game of bridge, a session at the gym to work off the indulgences and last but not least, attend the informative lecture or ‘conversation’ nights from esteemed experts. The evenings in fact are never dull on the Seabourn. There are pre-dinner drinks at the deck where the casual dining Patio Grill is located or any bar venue of your choice. There are several options for dining and of course the entertainment right after dinner for those who want to party on.
Finally, we reached the port of Charleston and once again, we didn’t waste time. As soon as we were allowed to leave the ship, we set off. This port of call was how I imagined the oldest city in South Carolina to be. Think ‘Gone with the Wind’ and you will easily visualise the stately antebellum homes, plantations and beautifully maintained gardens, the cobblestoned streets, horse-drawn carriages in the French quarter and Battery street.
There was so much to see and explore in Charleston and thankfully we were given practically 14 hours to check out the places of interest. First up on our list was the tour to the Magnolia Gardens, Charleston’s most visited plantation. Founded in 1676 by the Drayton family, it was the Reverend John Drayton who turned the former cypress swamp into a lush garden that is now considered to be ‘America’s Last Large-scale Romantic-style Garden’. Only about 13 miles from downtown, the plantation is located on the Ashley River, across from North Charleston, South Carolina. On arrival, the first thing we did was to take a 45 minute guided stroll around the lush and beautifully maintained gardens with its variety of native plants and flowers such as Camellia, Hibiscus, Canna Lilies, Hydrangea, Impatiens and many more. Even in October there were so many species of flowers in bloom. The same family has owned the plantation for more than three centuries and with each generation, their own personal favourite plants have been added to the gardens. Whether one is a lover of plants and blooms, a garden enthusiast or an amateur botanist, it cannot be said that the Magnolia Gardens is ordinary. In fact we thought it was so beautiful and warranted the concept of ‘making you forget’ your worries in your day to day affairs…a notion associated with the creation of ‘romantic style gardens’.
We then hopped on the guided ‘nature train’ which lasted for 45 minutes. During this very interesting and informative tram tour around the Audubon Swamp Garden our guide pointed out all the wildlife including the alligators in their native habitats as well as the turtles, herons, egrets and many more who have made this planation their home in the south.
Finally, we made it to the stately Magnolia House, giving us a glimpse of what plantation life must have been like in the 19th century. The house features a collection of gorgeous early American antiques.
There was still plenty of time to see this elegant southern city so on our return back to Charleston we wandered about downtown. We strolled towards the bustling French Quarter and Battery areas to check out and admire the elegant townhouses built by wealthy planters and merchants in the 18th and 19th centuries.
Other historic landmarks that we were told not to miss included St Michael’s Episcopal Church, located at Broad and Meeting streets. Built between 1752 and 1761, it is known to be the oldest surviving religious structure in Charleston. Its bells have crossed the Atlantic seven times. There are quite a few churches of different denominations and because of this, Charleston has earned the moniker of ‘Holy City’.
Also of historic significance are the Old Exchange and the Provost Dungeon, (otherwise known as the Custom House) where the British held Revolutionary Prisoners captive during the Revolutionary War and Civil War. This beautiful building belies the fact that it was also where slaves and prisoners were chained to its dungeon walls, often sick with all kinds of horrible diseases.
Not to be missed is the Fireproof Building, also known as the County Records Building located at 100 Meeting Street. Built in 1827, it has the distinction of being designed by the same architect responsible for the Washington Monument. It is believed to be the oldest fire resistant building in America.
Finally, to end our day at Charleston we took a stroll through the Old City Market. This public market has been operational for more than 200 years. It occupies four city blocks from Market Street to East Bay Street. In its early days the market was a hub for farmers and plantation owners who sold their produce. It also served as a social place to catch up with friends and network with other merchants. When we were there the only disappointment was that most of the stalls were really geared up for tourists looking for souvenirs.
After going through the ‘must see’ list, we took our time to wander back to the ship, via the Battery promenade and Waterfront Park , both overlooking Charleston Harbour.
Charleston is indeed one of the most beautiful and historic cities in the American South and we appreciated the fact that we had all day to make a call on this town.
We then sailed forth towards Fort Lauderdale that evening and had another sumptuous selection of dishes inspired by the delicacies of South Carolina. On the menu that evening which I couldn’t resist were the shrimps and oysters. In South Carolina, oysters are aplenty from September and October, the months with the letter “R” in the name (much like the mud crab season in Queensland, Australia). This was really a decadent way to end our Seabourn Atlantic Coast Harbours cruise (from Montreal to Fort Lauderdale).
As they say, all good things must come to an end. The port of disembarkation of our glorious cruise was Fort Lauderdale . We arrived at the port early morning after spending another sea day from Charleston, South Carolina on the Seabourn Quest. The weather was just gorgeous; sunny yet with a cool, fresh crisp autumn breez and the sky was a vivid bright blue. My old school friend, now a resident of Fort Lauderdale met us and took us to our hotel. Sensing the need to spend time with a very dear friend whom I haven’t seen since high school days, my husband decided to venture downtown on his own. I on the other hand, spent quality time with Lani and reminisced many of the follies of our youth, over a typical Mexican inspired meal.
That evening, my husband and I discovered ‘Chart House’, just a few blocks away from our ocean front hotel, The Pelican Grand Beach Resort. This waterfront restaurant on 3000 Northeast 32nd Avenue, Fort Lauderdale Florida is also accessible by water taxis that ply through Fort Lauderdale’s canals. The menu boasts of creative seafood cuisine making use of local seafood catches. My husband had the Ahi tuna, grilled with olive oil and served with Furikake rice, wasabi cream & ginger soy and I couldn’t go past the Basil Citrus Grilled Mahi served with lemon scented sticky rice, green gazpacho relish, rich tomato coulis. Just delicious! Now I know why Ernst Hemingway loved Florida and would have wanted to go and visit his house in the Key West but we had planned to see Fort Lauderdale from the canals , via the water taxi, a fun and inexpensive way to explore the city.
Much like the hop on-hop off buses in big cities, the water taxis take you along the waterways, to see the millionaires’ row and places of interest along the waterfront. This experience makes one appreciate why Fort Lauderdale has been given- the name, ‘Venice of America’. We spent a good part of the day enjoying the sights and stopping for lunch at the 15th street Fisheries. We chose to have our late lunch at their ‘dockside,’ a casual dining experience where we could also see and enjoy the vista of many of the yachts, fishing vessels and other boats either sailing past or anchored. My husband had a mouth watering light meal of Lauderdale Lobster, a salad Roll of Maine lobster salad with celery and mayo and avocado served on a brioche hoagie, served with his choice of a side- French fries, what else. I had the most delicious fresh mahi-mahi tacos- grilled mahi-mahi meat with mango pico de gallo, fresh summer slaw (with lime juice), cilantro, guacamole and chipotle sour cream on warm grilled flour tortillas. Washed down with frozen margarita, what else can one wish for?
The unexpected treat and surprise for the day was the visit to Bahia Mar Marina where the International Boat Show was held. My husband who has a keen interest on boats and fishing was like a little boy let loose in Disneyland. With yachts like these ( see images) you can understand why. The Fort Lauderdale International boat show is an annual event.
On our last day, we rented a car on my friend’s advice and drove to Sawgrass Mills, home of outlet stores and a very popular destination for those wanting some retail therapy.
Here is some useful information:
12801 W Sunrise Blvd, 33323-4020
Fort Lauderdale, FL
Palm Beach, FL
20 minutes west of Fort Lauderdale, 40 minutes north of Miami, 40 minutes south of Palm Beach
This mall has 151 outlet stores
Sun:11:00 am-8:00 pm
Mon – Sat:10:00 am-9:30 pm
We shopped for really well priced quality items and thought that the day was well spent.
That evening, we were too tired to go out for our dinner so we happily had our last meal in Florida at our hotel’s casual lunge bar/restaurant, the O2K lounge.
A perfect way to end our Atlantic Coast sojourn.