Cameron MacDonald, who never knew Edward Palmer, is busy trashing the man: “He was a politician, and a landowner who taxed his tenants, and he was a pretty horrible man!”
Looking comfortable in his mid-1800s frock coat and tall hat, MacDonald actually is portraying Palmer. Young MacDonald’s acting troupe explains to tourists how isolated Charlottetown initiated the effort to unite all of sea-to-sea Canada.
Chances are if you’ve sailed a typical cruise — this example came during a Montreal-to-Boston trip aboard Holland America Line — you weren’t looking primarily for a history lesson.
Nor do the majority of cruises offer an in-depth look at their ports: The visits seldom last more than 8 hours.
But I was shown around by MacDonald because I had contacted the city’s visitors bureau looking for more about the island than a canned lecture aboard a ship’s tour bus to the Anne of Green Gables house. I wound up with a one-on-one tour when no others showed up for our departure.
How can you get the most out of a cruise’s port calls? You may be headed on a vacation, but before departure you’ll need to research. Try these tips:
Increasingly, passengers want to see, taste, touch — by cooking regional foods, attending wine tastings, visiting a cheese maker, creating costume jewelry, learning to paint in a famous setting.
And destination web sites are likely to promote activities such as fishing, sailing, hiking, visiting a farm, even sharing a meal or a church service with locals.
That’s how I learned that my 90-minute sail on a Nova Scotia lake sold for just $35 if bought locally, while Holland America priced the sail — and a 50-mile bus ride to and from the sailboat — at more than four times that. But a rental car to get me to the sailboat was another $69.
Finally, I weighed the drive through an unfamiliar area with a deadline to board the sailboat and return vs the prime advantages of buying any ship’s excursion — convenience and peace of mind.
So I bought the ship’s tour, on which our two local escorts, former miners, serenaded us with work and union songs.
The main disadvantage is that cruise lines charge a sometimes-hefty middleman fee. Conversely, ship’s excursions may be better monetarily than buying local, an advantage of volume purchasing
First, be sure that agent is familiar with the relevant cruise lines; do ask how the agent knows about a specific line’s excursions.
The agent may advise, for instance, that because of a typically older passenger demographic, a certain cruise line’s excursions require little more activity that walking a few blocks to the castle gate, when you would rather trek up the hill.
Speaking of stamina, major lines are adding strenuous activities on excursions such as kayaking, rock-climbing, glacier-trekking, ziplining, and donning a diving helmet with its underwater breathing apparatus, then strolling across the ocean floor. Holland America’s Ellen Lynch, director of Shore Excursions, said the line added a “trapeze school” on its San Juan calls “with excellent reviews.’’
But without researching online or consulting a travel agent, you might not be aware such an esoteric activity is offered and thus might book on a ship not boasting that excursion.
Former travel editor Robert N. Jenkins has a series of e-book anthologies of his travels; for more information, go to www.smashwords.com/author/robertjenkins.