Have you put off your travel plans because of news reports about high prices and the fuel crisis?  How about a destination with European flavor, where the dollar still buys something and the weather is pleasantly cool?  Why not discover the charms of our northern neighbors and cruise to the Maritimes and Newfoundland and Labrador.  Where else can travelers watch whales cavort, icebergs float by and the highest tides in the world rise in the Bay of Fundy?

Just a few years ago Atlantic Canada was only a one or two week cruise option in September as ships transited from the Mediterranean to the Caribbean.  Savvy cruise line executives soon realized the region’s potential, and the season now stretches from April to late October.  This year, 18 cruise lines have been calling at the four main ports in Atlantic Canada: Saint John, New Brunswick, St. John’s, Newfoundland, Halifax, Nova Scotia and Charlottetown on Prince Edward Island.  Nearly 600,000 cruise passengers are expected to visit in 2008 – a 44.4 percent increase over 2007.   They come to enjoy the region’s pristine scenic beauty, quaint seaports, fascinating history and warm welcoming people.

Cruise ships appealing to all tastes and travel budgets are sailing in Atlantic Canada, from large to small, luxurious to adventurous.  Carnival, Celebrity, Crystal, Cunard, Holland America, Norwegian, Royal Caribbean, Princess, Silversea, among many others, all have ships calling at ports in the Maritimes and Newfoundland and Labrador.  From August through October, cruise lines are offering a variety of itineraries – and the fall is prime time for fall foliage viewing.

Carnival began sailing from New York to New Brunswick in 2007 and this year is offering 13 departures on two ships: the Triumph and the Victory.  A four-day roundtrip itinerary departing New York on the Carnival Victory on August 28 calling at Saint John, New Brunswick and Halifax, Nova Scotia, starts as low as $449, per person, double occupancy.  Other five and seven-day sailings from New York range from $519 to $549, departing August 9 through September 27.  Next year Carnival will have 24 cruises from New York to Atlantic Canada.

Norwegian Cruise Lines offers a total of 22 six-, seven, and ten-day itineraries from New York, Boston and Philadelphia from August 31 through October 25 calling at ports in Atlantic Canada and New England.  A seven-day cruise on the Norwegian Dream departs Boston visiting Saint John, the Bay of Fundy, Halifax and Sydney in Nova Scotia for only $549.  A seven-day itinerary on the Norwegian Majesty sails from Philadelphia visiting Saint John and Halifax for $529.  A 10-day itinerary departing New York (9/28, 10/08 and 10/18) also stops at Charlottetown with rates starting at $749.

Royal Caribbean offers five- to nine-night itineraries from Boston, Baltimore, Bayonne (Cape Liberty) N.J. and Norfolk from August through October.  A seven-night cruise on the Jewel of the Seas, departs Boston and calls at Saint John and Halifax (plus ports in Maine) with fares as low as $749.  (Sailing dates are: 9/27, 10/04, and 10/11.)

Holland America Cruise is sailing 10-day itineraries out of New York, and seven-day trips out of Boston.  Rates for the ten-day journey on the MS Eurodam departing New York September 1 and calling at Saint John, Halifax, Sydney and Charlottetown begin at $1628.

Celebrity Cruises sails 12- and 13-night cruises from Bayonne in September and October calling at four ports in Atlantic Canada. The 12-night departure on the Celebrity Constellation on September 3 begins at $1199.

For those who want to sail in real luxury, Crystal Cruises has an 11-day itinerary on the Crystal Symphony from Boston to Montréal departing on October 1, calling at Saint John and Halifax with fares beginning at $2575.

With the North Atlantic quickly becoming a trendy new cruise destination, Newfoundland and Labrador is growing increasingly popular with adventure and expedition ship lines.  Cruise passenger arrivals were up 19 percent, to 43,830, and are projected to grow an additional 13 per cent in 2009. The province is a convenient port of call on itineraries sailing to the Arctic or originating in Iceland and Greenland.  Labrador boasts one of Canada’s newest national parks, the largely inaccessible Torngats and Newfoundland has two UNESCO World Heritage sites: Gros Morne National Park and L’Anse aux Meadows, a Viking site that is the earliest known European settlement in North America.   Adventure Canada, Arctic Odysseys, Cruise North Expeditions and Polar Star Expeditions have had ships plying the coasts of Newfoundland and Labrador for several years.  New this year is Canadian Sailing Expeditions’ Caledonia which is sailing on four and seven–day cruises out of Corner Brook in western Newfoundland through August 31.  From September 7 to October 11, the line will offer five Nova Scotia itineraries.  Lindblad Expeditions’ new ship, the National Geographic Explorer, will call here in 2008 and 2009.  www.cruisenewfoundlandandlabrador.com

In Saint John, New Brunswick – Canada’s oldest incorporated city circa 1785 – natural wonders abound alongside its bustling downtown. Visitors can ride in a boat as the highest tides in the world reverse the flow of the mighty Saint John River at Reversing Falls.  Or they can journey through 350 million years of natural history in the New Brunswick Museum – Canada’s oldest continuing museum – after exploring the amazing Bay of Fundy ecosystem on a bird-watch, whale-watch, canoe or kayak tour. In town, cruise passengers can take an invigorating walk to the oldest market in North America (1876) or ride off on a bike to see some of the area’s famed covered bridges.  www.tourismsaintjohn.com

A vibrant city and bustling seaport, Halifax has much to offer the cruise passenger. www.destinationhalifax.com.  They can start off at the Citadel (1826-56) which crowns the city and wander down steep streets past Victorian gardens to the wharf-side Historic Properties – the oldest surviving waterfront warehouses in Canada.  Restored to their 19th century glory, they now house restaurants, bars and shops.  Showcasing the city’s rich sailing heritage, the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic, has a permanent exhibit dedicated to the Titanic. Over 50 years, more than one million immigrants and refugees passed through Pier 21, Canada’s Ellis Island, which today is the country’s immigration museum.

A handsome city which expanded from its colorful waterfront, St. John’s, the capital of Newfoundland has Victorian architecture, heritage shops and a lively arts scene.  Visitors can meander down quaint side streets lined with brightly-colored 19th-century row houses.  Rising up over the harbour, Signal Hill offers great views and is crowned by Cabot Tower.  Dating from 1897, this castle was built for Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee and the 400th anniversary of John Cabot's arrival in the new world. The city’s top cultural attraction, The Rooms, is a striking modern complex housing a museum, an art gallery with 7000 works and historic archives.  www.stjohns.ca

With its pretty Victorian mansions, flower-filled gardens and tree-shaded squares, Charlottetown is a lovely town to wander through.  Disembarking from their ship, passengers can follow the boardwalk to explore quaint boutiques, craft shops or charming cafes.  More active passengers might opt for cycling on part of the island’s 173-mile Confederation Trail which winds through forest, farmland and along sandy beaches. Others of a more literary bent might choose to visit the “home” of Anne of Green Gables, the acclaimed children’s classic set in Prince Edward Island, which is celebrating its 100th anniversary. www.visitcharlottetown.com

The Atlantic Canada Tourism Partnership (ACTP) is a nine member pan-Atlantic partnership comprised of the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency, the four Atlantic Canada Tourism Industry Associations, and the four departments responsible for tourism for the provinces of New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island.