Whether you plan to taste-test lobster rolls during a family cruise vacation in July or August or survey the region’s spectacular autumnal landscape on a leaf-peeping voyage in late September or October, you’ll need to do some strategic planning about what to pack for a Canada and New England cruise.
The region, known for its rugged coastlines, active outdoor lifestyle and maritime traditions, is equally famous for its changeable weather. Bright and sunny days can quickly turn blustery, and bathing suit weather can become sweater weather the moment the sun sets and temperatures drop.
Here’s a packing guide to help you choose the essentials you’ll need to make sure you’re comfortable and appropriately dressed for whatever you encounter on your Canada and New England cruise. Charming ports in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Maine and the Canadian provinces of New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and Quebec await, so here’s what you should take along to best enjoy them.
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What to pack for a Canada and New England cruise
Cruises to Canada and New England take place from April to October, with August to October considered peak season and April to June pegged as shoulder season. Most sailings embark in New York, Boston, Quebec City or Montreal.
Voyages in the summer months are popular with both couples and families seeking to enjoy coastal activities such as beach visits, sailing and whale watching or who are eager to explore the region’s scenic landscape on hiking, zip lining or wildlife-spotting excursions.
By September and October, these sailings primarily attract more mature couples who want a leisurely way to experience beautiful autumn foliage, enjoy historic walking tours and try local restaurants.
No matter when you cruise, you’ll be spending a lot of time outdoors on any Canada and New England itinerary. That means practical attire, from swimsuits and quick-dry athletic shirts to cozy sweaters and waterproof jackets, is a must.
Evenings on board offer an opportunity to break out chicer attire. These sailings do, however, tend to be more casual than most Mediterranean and Caribbean cruises, though not quite as casual as an Alaska voyage.
Sturdy shoes and sandals should be your mantra
For your Canada and New England cruise, you’ll want to pack sports sandals instead of slides, as well as sturdy sneakers or hiking boots instead of flimsy flats. Not only will you be walking over a variety of uneven surfaces — such as rocky coastlines in Saint John, New Brunswick’s Bay of Fundy, cobblestone streets in Quebec City and wooden docks and gravel trails in Bar Harbor, Maine — but many places you’ll visit are tender ports. This means you’ll need to go ashore by transferring into a smaller vessel, typically one of the ship’s lifeboats, which require steady footing when loading and unloading.
Can you pack a pair of cute sandals or heels for evenings on board? Of course, and guys can toss in their favorite slip-on casual loafer or boat shoe. But the primary goals of footwear in this region should be function and comfort.
Pack items you can layer
This advice may seem like a given for a fall cruise in Canada and New England, but summer weather can also be notoriously fickle. Mornings, even in July and August, can be cool (as low as the mid-50s), and shorts or leggings paired with sweatshirts are typical a.m. attire.
If you’re cruising in July or August, pack plenty of T-shirts and shorts along with lightweight sweatshirts or sweaters that you can easily remove once the midday sun warms things up. It can get pretty warm (into the high 80s) in cities like Montreal, Boston and Newport, Rhode Island, while you can expect mid-70s in Halifax, Nova Scotia, and Charlottetown on Prince Edward Island.
In late September and October — peak time for foliage cruises — daytime temperatures average 50 to 60 degrees and nights can dip into the high 30s and 40s. Pack long-sleeve T-shirts paired with leggings, travel pants or jeans and topped by sweatshirts or sweaters. Your final layer should be a wind-resistant jacket since coastal New England can be unexpectedly breezy and damp. Women can also bring a pashmina or cozy wrap that can add warmth but still look chic for nights on board.
A rain jacket and umbrella are musts
We don’t want to rain on your cruise parade, but facts are facts. New England and Canada’s Maritime Provinces experience an average of eight to 12 days of precipitation per month during summer and fall. This doesn’t mean your entire cruise will be a washout. Some rainfall will be gentle momentary showers, and a streak of brilliant blue-sky days is not out of the question.
That said, both New England and the Maritimes can be affected during the Atlantic hurricane season, mostly from August through October. Cruise lines are prepared for adverse conditions, and you should be, too. Pack a waterproof rain jacket with a hood and an umbrella.
Choose cotton, wool or breathable activewear fabrics
The best way to deal with changing temperatures throughout the day is to pack clothes made of natural fibers, such as cotton in summer and lightweight wool in fall, as well as breathable activewear with wicking properties designed for running and hiking. The latter will dry faster if you get caught in a rain shower or splashed during a water-based excursion.
If you own leggings, throw a few into your bag. They don’t take up as much space as jeans and can be paired with sneakers and tunic-length T-shirts in summer and longer hoodies or sweaters in fall for active daytime excursions involving hiking or biking.
Denim jeans, Bermuda-style shorts and capri-length pants will be fine for exploring the region’s top cities, where casual dress is pretty standard year-round.
Prepare to battle the bugs
When packing for a New England and Canada cruise, you’ll want to prepare to encounter some insects. Certain ports, including those in Maine, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, are known for swarming insects from May to October, but especially from May through August. These include black flies, mosquitos, midges, deer flies and houseflies. Not only are they pesky, but they also bite and can cause pain, itching and inflammation.
Pack ample bug spray, long-sleeve tops and pants. In summer, convertible pants with zip-on-and-off legs are a practical option. If you plan to do any day hikes, you may also want to pack a hat and an elasticized head net that secures around your lower neck.
Canada and New England cruise packing list
Here’s a full packing list to help you keep track of everything you need to bring on your Canada and New England cruise.
- Lightweight cotton or moisture-wicking T-shirts for each day of your cruise, including several with long sleeves
- Several pairs of shorts, plus leggings, jeans or lightweight travel pants (perhaps even a zip-off pair that converts to shorts) for daytime wear
- Two swimsuits — one to wear while the other is drying — as well as a rash guard or an old T-shirt to wear in the water if you plan to swim or enjoy water activities such as kayaking
- A swim cover-up
- A lightweight sweater, sweatshirt or fleece to layer on cool mornings or breezy evenings
- Light rain jacket or poncho with a hood and a small umbrella
- Lightweight shawl for chilly airplanes and onboard venues
- A pair of waterproof beach shoes, such as flip-flops or sports sandals
- Baseball cap or sun hat
Spring and fall
- Long-sleeve cotton or moisture-wicking T-shirts for each day of your cruise
- Several pairs of comfortable travel pants and leggings, plus a pair of jeans for daytime wear
- One swimsuit — your ship may have an indoor pool or a heated outdoor pool; you’ll also need swimwear to enjoy the thermal suite in the spa
- Several sweaters, sweatshirts or fleeces for layering
- A denim jacket or zip-up fleece
- Waterproof rain jacket with hood and a small umbrella
- Cozy sweater or shawl for chilly airplanes and onboard venues
- Baseball cap or wool hat
- Nice jeans, slacks, collared shirts or nice T-shirts, blouses, skirts, jumpsuits or dresses for most evenings on board
- Optional: a cocktail dress or button-down shirt for an elegant night or special-occasion dinner
- Pajamas, underwear and socks
- Additional athletic wear if you plan to hit the ship’s gym
- A good pair of walking shoes or sneakers (or lightweight hiking boots if you plan to hit the trails)
- A nice pair of dress shoes or sandals for evenings on board
- Toiletries, makeup, prescription medicine and a first-aid kit
- Sunscreen and bug spray
- Lightweight day pack, beach bag or shoulder tote (depending on your planned activities)
- Nylon belt bag (aka fanny pack)
- Reusable water bottle
- Waterproof phone case, dry bag, Ziploc bag or anything to keep your valuables dry during a water-based excursion or beach day
- Phone, camera, e-reader or tablet, as well as all the chargers that go with those electronics and a cruise-compliant power strip
- Binoculars if you plan on going whale watching or are a birder
Before packing, check the onboard evening dress code for the cruise line you are sailing with, as well as the weather forecast for each port in advance of your Canada and New England cruise.
You may see a range of temperature forecasts as well as icons for raindrops and clouds. Don’t be discouraged, but do be prepared given that the region’s weather is extremely changeable. As Connecticut resident Mark Twain once said, “If you don’t like the weather in New England, just wait a few minutes.”
In other words, get ready for a coastal adventure that’s far from predictable but filled with spectacular scenery, plentiful wildlife, historic sites and some wicked good seafood.
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