If you book one of the increasingly popular fall foliage cruises, that lyric about autumn leaves drifting by your window could be applied to your porthole. Cruising is an easygoing approach to leaf peeping.
This fall, the number of Canada and New England sailings has increased by almost 50% over last year, according to the Cruise Lines International Assn. And two brand-new ships, Carnival's gigantic Carnival Triumph and Norwegian Cruise Line's Norwegian Sky, are offering sailings.
Carnival Triumph plans to offer a series of four- and five-day cruises round trip out of New York City to Halifax, Nova Scotia, and (on the five-day cruises) to St. John, New Brunswick, between July 27 and Oct. 11.
Norwegian Sky makes its American debut with four 10-day fall foliage cruises between Sept. 18 and Oct. 18, sailing round trip from Boston with calls at an interesting and varied collection of ports: Sydney and Halifax, Nova Scotia; Corner Brook, Newfoundland; Quebec City, Quebec; and Bar Harbor, Maine.
We sampled a cross-section of fall foliage cruises last year by spending a few days aboard each of three very different types of vessels: a big mainstream ship, Royal Caribbean's 2,435-passenger Vision of the Seas; a deluxe European expedition vessel, Hapag-Lloyd's 184-passenger Hanseatic; and a sturdy adventure ship, the 122-passenger Clipper Adventurer.
All three visited many of the same ports--Boston and Bar Harbor; Newport; Halifax and Sydney; and Quebec City and the Saguenay River in Canada--but each provided a different experience on board and ashore.
Aboard the Clipper Adventurer, with its deep, 16-foot draft, we were not able to tie up alongside the pier in smaller ports and were often taken ashore in Zodiacs, inflatable rubber landing craft, which gave us a yachtsman's-eye view of colorful lobster ports like Bar Harbor and Camden. The Zodiacs were also used for exploring remote spots such as Nova Scotia's Sable Island, where black seals frolic offshore. The Clipper Adventurer, which enforces a no-smoking-indoors policy on the ship, provides advance reading lists and on-board lecturers to make the cruise an educational as well as entertaining holiday. Dress is casual throughout the sailing.
The New England/Canada portion we sampled is only the first part of Clipper Adventurer's 22-day Great American Odyssey, which sails from Halifax Sept. 2 and arrives in Port Everglades, Fla., Sept. 24 after calls in New York and the South.
The Hanseatic also used Zodiacs but much more sparingly, more often ferrying passengers ashore by ship's tender. Here, too, lecturers expound on the history, flora and fauna of the region. But on this ship, passengers need to dress up more often. They can also dance to the music played by a trio at cocktail time and after dinner.
The Hanseatic offers a similar itinerary this year, sailing from Quebec City Sept. 12 and arriving in Boston 10 days later.
Vision of the Seas provided the usual busy program of shipboard casino, shopping, spa and entertainment activities, plus a panoply of shore excursions--more than 36 for the seven-day sailing, with both morning and afternoon departures available for several of the most popular--priced from $14.50 for a "Step Back in Time" walking tour of Bar Harbor to $100 for a four-hour boat tour along the Humber River in Newfoundland.
(This season, Vision of the Seas is replaced on the New England and Canada sailings by its sister ship Splendour of the Seas.)
Cruise lines offering New England and Canada fall foliage cruises this season include Carnival Cruise Lines, Clipper, Cunard, Holland America Line, Norwegian Cruise Line, Premier Cruises, Princess Cruises, Regal Cruises, Royal Caribbean International, Seabourn Cruise Line and Silversea Cruises.
If it's your first visit to New England and Canada, look for itineraries that include Bar Harbor and Acadia National Park in Maine. If you love lobster, skip the more expensive restaurants and head for Bar Harbor's casual lobster pound, only steps away from the harbor where your tender or Zodiac comes in. There you can order freshly caught lobster at a modest by-weight price. (Watch out for the gulls that swoop in to steal or beg for scraps.)
In Nova Scotia, don't miss Fortress Louisbourg (a $32 tour from Vision of the Seas), a re-creation of an 18th century French fortress staffed by costumed guides representing historic figures. A scenic all-day drive around Cape Breton (about $85 including lunch) is another popular shore excursion.
While New England and Canada usually offer the most striking foliage displays, the U.S. heartland can also put on a show. The paddle wheelers of Delta Queen Steamboat Co. offer five-to-seven-night sailings on the Mississippi, Ohio and Cumberland rivers between St. Louis and St. Paul, Cincinnati and Pittsburgh, Memphis and Nashville, Nashville and Cincinnati, and St. Louis and Cincinnati.
And Norway's Bergen Line visits 30 ports of call along that country's western shore, sailing by fiords that reflect snowcapped mountains and hillsides bright with gold and scarlet autumn leaves.
For more fall foliage cruise information, see a travel agent. You can use the Web site of the Cruise Lines International Assn. at http://www.cruising.org to find member travel agents if you click on the Travel Agency Locater. You can also click through to individual cruise lines for information.