The best time for a Canada and New England cruise

10 April 2023

Leaf peeping, whale watching or warm-weather outdoor activities? The best time for a Canada and New England cruise depends on which of those pursuits you prioritize.

The limited cruise season in Canada and New England begins in April and ends in October, with the peak season falling between August and October. Cruise ships reposition back to the Caribbean and Mexico to avoid winter’s cold and snow.

Every month from April through October has its highlights and perks. Some offer better weather, while others lure budget travelers with shoulder season pricing. Peak-season sailings feature more options for ships and itineraries but may cost more, depending on the cruise line and voyage.

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We’ve broken down the sailing season in Canada and New England month by month, so you’ll know what to expect regarding weather, special events, crowds and pricing. Ultimately, you must decide the best time to cruise based on the type of trip you’re looking for, what you’d like to experience and your budget.

April

The beautiful Portland Head Light is the oldest lighthouse in Maine. BKAMPRATH/GETTY IMAGES

April is a great time to cruise to Canada and New England to avoid the crowds and take advantage of shoulder season pricing, both on the cruise fare and on pre- or post-cruise stays ashore.

Holland America, Viking and small ship operator American Queen Voyages offer sailings of seven days and longer during April.

As spring emerges in New England, cruisers will find high temperatures in the 50s earlier in the month and closer to the 60s by the end of April. It’s the ideal weather and season to wear layers outdoors to explore off the ship, especially if you enjoy hiking and biking.

There may be rainy days in the forecast, so it’s a good idea to bring rain gear, including waterproof boots, as this time of year is also known as mud season. It may even snow in early spring.

If you’re a Red Sox fan, take in a game at Boston’s Fenway Park. In Maine, stores and businesses will be gearing up for the season. Acadia National Park is open year-round. However, some park loop roads open in mid-April, and the unpaved roads are closed until May 15.

The temperatures will be slightly cooler in Canada, so pack accordingly. You may see snow as you head north to the chillier destinations on your cruise.

April is a transition month in Canada, so plan to enjoy a few traditional last-minute winter and early springtime activities during your visit to Quebec.

Visit a sugar shack for a sweet maple treat, check out the hydrotherapy treatments at a Nordic spa or watch the annual migration of tens of thousands of greater snow geese at the Cap Tourmente National Wildlife Area, about 30 miles from Quebec City.

May

German-based luxury cruise line Hapag-Lloyd in Quebec, Canada. HAPAG-LLOYD CRUISES/FACEBOOK

For shoulder-season pricing and fewer crowds but a bit more choice of lines and itineraries, plan your Eastern Seaboard cruise for May.

More cruise lines move ships to the area this month, including large companies like Norwegian Cruise Line and Royal Caribbean, luxury cruise line Regent Seven Seas Cruises and German-based luxury and expedition line Hapag-Lloyd Cruises.

Springtime is in full bloom in New England by May. Many seasonal businesses are open by then, at least on weekends, and the tourism season ramps up as the temperatures warm, getting closer to summer. Daytime highs are in the mid-to-high 60s, with moderate rainfall. Red Sox baseball season is in full swing in Boston.

In Canada, temperatures are a bit cooler in May, with highs in the low 60s, with some rain showers. This is the month when flowering plants start to bloom, leaves fill the trees, and the landscapes are vibrant green.

If you’re cruising in late May, Nova Scotia hosts the Annapolis Valley Apple Blossom Festival, which features parades, a car show, a kids’ carnival, fireworks and more. Along the Bay of Fundy, Annapolis Valley is home to Nova Scotia’s wine country.

Related: 5 small Canadian cities you can use points and miles to visit this year

May is also the beginning of whale watching season in Newfoundland and Labrador, which is regarded as one of the most incredible places on Earth to view these magnificent creatures. Every year humpback and 21 other species of whales and dolphins return to this area to feed on krill, squid and capelin. Book a whale-watching tour from the Port of St. John’s to the Witless Bay Ecological Reserve.

May through mid-September is also puffin season. You may also see an iceberg floating by from May through mid to late June.

Know that black fly season can be an issue in Maine from May through October and in Canada, especially Nova Scotia, from the second week of May to mid-June or even into early July.

Black flies are more than pesky flying insects. They are relentless, and their bites can cause you to swell up and itch. If you’re planning outdoor excursions, such as hiking in wooded areas or fishing or kayaking on freshwater lakes, consider wearing high-neck, long-sleeved shirts and long pants and potentially even a head net. Insect repellant is a must.

June

Cunard’s Queen Mary 2 in Halifax, Nova Scotia. CUNARD/FACEBOOK

June is not yet the peak season for cruising in Canada, so prices are still lower on the larger vessels. Also, there likely won’t be as many tourists as there are at the end of June and into July.

A few more lines reposition ships to the region during the month, including Cunard with a seven-day itinerary from New York. American Cruise Lines has a weeklong sailing from Portland, Maine, and a 10-day voyage from Boston. However, neither of these itineraries stops at ports in Canada.

High temperatures in early summer in New England are typically in the 70s, and you can expect some rainfall. Cruisers will also have at least 15 hours of daylight to explore quintessential coastal towns or enjoy the pleasant temperatures while hiking or biking outdoors.

Wildlife enthusiasts can spot snowshoe hares, mink, beavers, bobcats, coyotes and otters in Acadia National Park.

Related: 6 national parks you can reach by cruise ship

June’s landscape in New England is lush, and the coastal towns are back in business for the summer. It’s strawberry season, with festivals celebrating those sweet and juicy red berries. June is also LGBTQ Pride Month, so you can attend events like Boston’s Pride parade in early June in the city.

It’s officially summertime in Canada by mid-June. Days are long and high temperatures are in the low 70s — and with high humidity that’s common for Atlantic Canada.

Most everything has thawed by now, so it’s an ideal time to explore the great outdoors in places like Cape Breton Highlands National Park in Nova Scotia.

Don’t miss the panoramic ocean views and look for wildlife, such as bears and moose, in the valleys and river canyons. Summertime also brings the opportunity to look for seals along the coast of Prince Edward Island.

The Montreal International Jazz Festival starts at the end of the month. It’s the world’s largest jazz festival, according to the “Guinness World Book of Records.” The city will be bustling with jazz buffs by the last weekend of June. If you’re a Formula 1 race fan, plan your cruise dates around the Canada Grand Prix, which takes place in mid-June.

July

Humpback whale near Saint Lawrence and Saguenay rivers near Quebec, Canada. NETADEGANY/GETTY IMAGES

July is the beginning of peak tourist season in Canada and New England, so attractions and historic sites will be busier with kids out of school and on family vacations.

It’s not leaf season for cruises to New England and Canada. However, it’s a great time to visit for whale watching and for time outdoors during the sunny and hot summer days. Princess Cruises joins the other ships in Canada and New England with a sailing from Fort Lauderdale in late July.

July in New England brings soaring temperatures that average around the mid-80s. There may be an occasional high near 100 degrees. It’s not typical but be prepared for hot weather when packing for your cruise. Coastal breezes are welcome, but it can be humid along the shoreline.

The Fourth of July is a fun time to be in New England ports, especially Boston. Queen Mary 2 overnights in the city for the festivities and fireworks.

July is also an excellent month for eating fresh lobster in Maine and other parts of New England, as most of the delectable crustaceans are harvested in Maine and New Hampshire between late June and December. Try a whole steamed lobster and snag a few Maine-style “lobsta” rolls while in port.

Related: A day trip to Maine; The fun way we found to use the elusive Delta companion certificate

The weather is cooler up the coast in Canada, with highs typically in the high 70s. Pack a variety of warm-weather clothes and light layers for when the temperatures dip down as you head north, especially in the evenings.

The warm but pleasant, long days are perfect for outdoor pursuits like boating, fishing and hiking. It’s also great weather for walking along the pier in downtown Halifax, visiting the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Old Town Lunenburg or capturing shots of the scenic harbor at Mahone Bay. You can also whale watch in the Bay of Fundy from June to September.

August

Silversea features an 11-day itinerary that also includes several stops in Iceland. LUCA LOCATELLI/SILVERSEA

If you desire a summertime sailing, August has the most choice of ships offering Canada and New England itineraries. Celebrity Cruises, Carnival Cruise Line and smaller luxury and expedition lines like Oceania Cruises, Seabourn, Silversea Cruises, Lindblad and Ponant arrive in the area come August.

Some smaller ships include calls at ports that the larger ships can’t access, so you might want to consider booking a voyage on a smaller vessel or yacht. Silversea also features an 11-day itinerary that includes several stops in Iceland.

August is the hottest summer month in New England, with temperatures in the high 80s and, as mentioned above, the rare off-the-charts hot day soaring toward 100 degrees. August is also a busy month in port, with tourists enjoying the last of their summer vacations.

With the high temperatures, it’s a good time to stay along the coast — and maybe even head to a beach — to appreciate the coastal breezes and New England’s cool ocean waters. A windjammer cruise in Maine is another excellent option for sightseeing along the rocky shoreline and staying cooler while at sea. Afterward, find a restaurant with air-conditioning that’s not too busy to have one more lobster roll or basket of fried whole-belly clams before returning to the ship.

Temperatures in Canada typically range between the high 60s for the lows to the mid-to-high 80s during the days by August. Pack a lightweight sweater or jacket for cooler evenings after the sun goes down.

It’s still the high summer season, so be prepared for crowds. However, the warm temperatures make this an ideal time for outdoor activities like kayaking.

If you prefer a more laidback activity, take a scenic boat cruise to look for whales and seals. Grab lunch at a cafe in one of the coastal towns to sample a selection of Atlantic Canada’s fresh local shellfish, like scallops, clams or oysters. Try one of the beers brewed in Halifax or a glass of wine from the nearby Eastern Annapolis Valley.

September

Cunard cruise ship in New York. CUNARD/FACEBOOK

September brings the busy fall and leaf-peeping season, with more options for ships and itineraries in New England and Canada.

In addition to the cruise lines mentioned above, MSC Cruises, Cunard, Windstar Cruises, Disney Cruise Line, Regent Seven Seas, expedition operator Swan Hellenic and a new luxury cruise line, Explora Journeys, will have ships based on the Eastern Seaboard.

It’s hard to predict the exact timing of the peak colors. However, you can expect to see a gorgeous display beginning at the end of September and into the first week of October in places like Bar Harbor, Nova Scotia and Quebec City. You’ll have to wait until October for peak colors in Boston.

Temperatures in New England begin to drop in September, with average highs between 70 and 75 degrees and lows in the 50s. Fall is definitely in the air as the leaves are beginning to transform into their vibrant autumn hues. Pack sweaters and light jackets for cool mornings and evenings off the ship.

There are fewer families vacationing now that kids are back in school, but many people love traveling to this part of the country in the fall. It will be busy in the port towns and at the attractions, with more cruisers and tourists making the trip as it gets closer to peak leaf season from mid-September and into October.

Related: Where to see gorgeous fall foliage this year

If one of your cruise stops is in Newport, Rhode Island, fall is an ideal time to visit the iconic mansions and take a scenic stroll along the Cliff Walk. Enjoy the last of the warm weather at the outdoor beer gardens and markets in Boston, or grab a bowl of clam chowder in Faneuil Hall to warm up on one of the cooler September days. In mid-September, check out Bar Harbor’s Acadia Night Sky Festival.

Autumn in Canada brings slightly cooler temperatures than in New England, with highs in the mid-to-upper 60s or as high as 70 degrees. The lows are often in the 40s, so bring some heavier pieces of clothing for your time outdoors in Nova Scotia or Quebec.

Mid-September is harvest season in Nova Scotia’s wine country. The many fall festivals and events include the Prince Edward Island International Shellfish Festival in mid-September in Charlottetown. It’s also a beautiful time to explore port towns like Sydney, head out to picturesque Peggy’s Cove or visit the impressive living museum at the Fortress of Louisbourg National Historic Site.

October

Fall colors in New England. WINDSTAR CRUISES/FACEBOOK

October is the best time to cruise to Canada and New England to enjoy fall’s kaleidoscope of colors. The precise time that the leaves will peak can vary.

However, you should have beautiful fall foliage for your cruise in October, especially when you visit Acadia National Park, one of the best places in the country to see the vibrant colors of autumn. Similar to Boston, Prince Edward Island and Montreal are two of the last places to experience the peak colors of leaf season.

This busy month offers an excellent selection of itineraries, including two sailings with Crystal, to visit Canada and New England before the leaves fall from the trees and the long, cold winter sets in. Most cruise lines run their last Canada/New England cruises during the final full week of October — often one-way sailings that end in Florida. However, a few lines offer their last departures at the very end of October or the first week of November.

Related: TPG’s favorite fall cruise itineraries

New England temperatures will be warmer earlier in the month, with afternoon highs in the upper 60s and lows in the lower 50s. Cooler weather by the end of the month will bring highs in the 50s and overnight temperatures in the low 40s.

Fall, and especially October, is a special time in New England with the crisp cool days, vibrant autumn leaves and charming coastal fishing villages decorated with harvest and Halloween decorations. Stores in towns like Bar Harbor are closing out items for the season, so it’s a great time to pick up souvenirs on sale. Some seafood shacks may already be closed by now. If not, it’s your chance to have one more local seafood specialty.

In Canada, the highs in the 50s and lows in the 40s may require warmer gear for going outdoors, especially if you hike or bike through Cape Bretons Highlands National Park for some of the most incredible leaf-peeping in North America. You’ll also want to stay warm as you peruse the local markets with abundant fall harvests filled with apples, pumpkins and other colorful fresh produce or wander the bustling streets of Halifax.

For a unique October activity, hire a guide to drive you to some of the wineries, cideries, breweries and distilleries along Nova Scotia’s Good Cheer Trail, which has a passport app that you can download. It’s the perfect way to see the countryside and taste the regionally made beverages in this part of Canada.

If you’re a fan of Gaelic music, fiddling and bagpiping, or want to learn more about the local traditions – and one of your ports of call is Sydney in Nova Scotia – plan your cruise in early October when you can attend some of the festivities and concerts during the weeklong Celtic Colours International Festival on Cape Breton Island.

Bottom line

The best month for your cruise will depend on what’s most important to you and what you want to see and do during your time in New England and Canada.

The best weather in this region is in the summer, with highs mainly in the 70s and 80s. June, July and August are great months to explore the outdoors with activities like hiking and biking. It’s also the ideal time for wildlife viewing to see whales, seals and birds like the Atlantic puffin. Summer is the best time to enjoy freshly caught local lobster and take in some of the local festivals.

 If you’re cruising the Eastern Seaboard to see the brilliant fall foliage, book your trip somewhere between mid-September through the end of October. These popular months are also the busiest time to cruise to the region, and you can expect crowds and high prices.

If price is the biggest factor to consider, or you want to avoid crowds, cruise before the height of the summer from April to early June. There are still plenty of things to see and do; it’s just a bit cool. However, you will only have a limited choice of ships during this season.

You may also find lower fares in the early summer before hitting the peak summer month of August and leaf season in the fall.

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