Regent Cruise to Iceland, Part 3: New England and Canada
Last week, I wrote about the conclusion of my Bermuda cruise on Regent's Seven Seas Navigator, in New York. For the first time in my life, I remained on the ship as virtually all the other passengers disembarked and a new crowd came onboard. I said goodbye to new friends as they waited in lounges for their luggage-tag colors to be called, then walked down the block for a close-up view of the brand new Pride of America, docked next door. I've been writing about that ship since it was a bucket of bolts in a Mississippi shipyard, so it was closure in a sense for me to see her gleaming and new, fresh from her crossing from Europe and ready to enter service. Someday I hope to see her again in Hawaii -- her final destination -- as a passenger, of course.
Back onboard the Navigator, we sailed by the Statue of Liberty and began our northern journey to Iceland, the land of the Midnight Sun. Almost on cue, the leading edge of a cold front washed over the ship, and our string of 8 consecutive days in the 80s and 90s came to an end. By the time we docked in Boston the next morning, temperatures were in the mid 50s. Under gray skies that threatened but never delivered rain, we took the ship's tour of the Freedom Trail, starting at Paul Revere's House, near the Old North Church. The tour is packed with American history and famous landmarks, and I highly recommend it.
That evening we sailed for Maine, pushing further into the weather. As every cruiser knows, there are two types of people on ships, those who enjoy the motion and those who don't. I'll never have the sea legs of a true mariner, but I do look forward to the motion. In our cabin far forward, the rocking of the ship is stronger than midships. After the very calm seas to and from Bermuda, I enjoyed that gentle, up-and-down ride as it rocked me to sleep.
In a few hours, I heard a long, low blast of the ship's horn. A few minutes later, it came again, and I knew we were sailing in fog. I opened the curtains to find that we were moving slowly through a mist, passing low islands dense with conifers, the tallest of which disappeared into the fog. We were approaching the lovely town of Bar Harbor, where the temperature was in the mid 40s.
We bundled ourselves in our warmest clothes and jackets, and headed into the Acadia National Forest for a hike, followed by a visit to Cadillac Mountain. At 1500 feet, Cadillac Mountain is the tallest point on the Atlantic seaboard, and with its easterly position, it is the first spot in America to see the sun rise. Today, however, we were greeted by a howling Nor'easter at the summit, a horizontal rain, and wind chill temperatures in the 20s. Cadillac Mountain is known for its fabulous views of the harbor, but on this day, the fog was so thick we could not see the bus from 75 feet away. For someone escaping the sweltering heat of a Houston summer, it was invigorating, to say the least.
Back down the mountain, we toured the scenic town of Bar Harbor and promised ourselves we'd come back someday in July or August. That night we sailed for Halifax, Nova Scotia.
Arriving on a gray morning, we were met by a band on the dock, a warm welcome from a hospitable city. We took the ship's tour to Lower Prospect, a picturesque coastal community near a series of secluded coves and inlets. There we donned life jackets and climbed into kayaks for a glide across the glassy water. In protected coves with no waves, the water was crystal clear, and we could see mussels, jellyfish and even an occasional starfish. The fog confined our visibility to perhaps a quarter mile, adding mystery and a bit of solitude to the mood. Though the water was still, we could hear the roar of the surf from beyond the wall of white.
After paddling for 30 minutes, the fog lifted, and for the first time in 3 days, we saw sunlight and blue skies. Suddenly we could see low, uninhabited islands with trees and boulders, in almost every direction, lobster traps stacked on an old pier, and in the distance, waves breaking on a reef.
Later we returned to town and visited the Maritime Museum, where we were drawn to a section devoted to a ship that never called on Halifax, but one that still had a profound influence on the city: the Titanic.
Nearly 100 years ago, Halifax was the closest city with ships capable of responding to the Titanic disaster. While the Carpathia picked up 705 survivors and sailed to New York, victims found floating on the surface were brought here. The city lost one of its most prominent citizens in the sinking, and 150 victims are buried in 1 of 3 cemeteries in Halifax. The short film and the exhibits are worth seeing.
If you've seen the latest Titanic movie, the depiction of third class passengers being kept away from the lifeboat deck is historically accurate. Forget "women and children first", the survival rate for men in first class far exceeded that of women and children in third class. That class system was evident even in death, as the rescue ships hired by the White Star Line, upon returning to Halifax, removed the bodies of first class passengers in coffins, while the bodies of second and third class passengers came off the ships in canvas bags, and the bodies of crew members were removed on open stretchers.
That night we sailed from Halifax to the sound of a lone bagpiper on the dock, another gracious touch from our Canadian hosts, and again headed north.
Newfoundland and Labrador is Canada's easternmost province, and as we sailed along the coast of Newfoundland, I was suddenly struck by the vastness of our northern neighbor. We arrived at L'anse aux Meadows, a UNESCO World Heritage Site on the northern coast, on a day that brought new meaning to the word "blustery". This is the site of the first known European settlement in the New World, around 1000AD, and the Vikings who settled here stayed only a few years. They built long wooden houses covered with sod and grass, heated by open fires, and accommodating about 30. All of the work of the settlement -- mostly cooking, weaving and ship repair -- was done indoors, which is easily understood after only a few hours outdoors in June. Our time there was spent in full view of an iceberg that was easily 8 cruise ship decks high, and probably an additional 25 decks below water. As we left the harbor, we passed close enough to see blue glacial ice formed thousands of years ago.
As I close this newsletter, it is 11:00pm, and in our corner of the North Atlantic, seas are calm, the sun has just set, and there is nothing between our ship and Iceland but several hundred miles of cold, gray seas.
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Regent Cruise to Iceland, Part 1: The Adventure Begins
Regent Cruise to Iceland, Part 2: Highlights of Bermuda
Regent Cruise to Iceland, Part 4: En Route to Iceland
Regent Cruise to Iceland, Part 5: The Land of Fire and Ice
Regent Cruise to Iceland, Part 6: Glacier Trekking