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Learning Vacations

The Gaelic College of Celtic Arts and Crafts, St. Ann's, NS (tel. 902/295-3411; www.gaeliccollege.edu), offers programs for children and adults that specialize in local culture -- such as Highland bagpiping, dancing, drumming, and Cape Breton fiddling -- on its campus near Baddeck. The College also sometimes sponsors Elderhostel/Exploritas-associated programs and trips, such as half-day fall walking trips on Cape Breton Island.

At Kings Landing, near Fredericton, NB (tel. 506/363-4999; www.kingslanding.nb.ca), children dress up in period costume and learn about how the early Loyalist settlers lived. The programs range from a few hours to a week, from early June through mid-October. Admission is charged to all visitors. Adult programs are also offered.

Sunbury Shores Arts & Nature Centre, St. Andrews, NB (tel. 506/529-3386; www.sunburyshores.org), offers day- and weeklong trips and classes on various topics: plant dyes, printmaking, mosaic work, raku pottery, and watercolor and oil painting. Some summer classes and programs are specially geared toward children and teenagers. The center is located on the water in St. Andrews; lodging can be arranged locally, as well.

At Village Historique Acadien, near Caraquet, NB (tel. 877/721-2200 or 506/726-2600; www.villagehistoriqueacadien.com), the lives and arts of early Acadian settlers are the focus of programs held at a re-created historic village. The continuous program of events includes various skits, theatrical performances, storytelling sessions, and popular reenactments of typical events in the Acadian settlers' lives (such as the arrival of the mail, or the birth of a child). The historic village is open from early June through mid-September.

Adventure Travel

Adventure travel is now a growth industry in eastern Canada, and specialized adventure tour outfitters can be helpful if you're arriving by air -- it's simply too much trouble for most of us to fly to Canada with our bikes, canoes, kayaks, and so forth.

Here's a sampling of well-regarded outfitters operating in Canada's Maritime Provinces.

  • Backroads, Berkeley, CA (tel. 800/462-2848 or 510/527-1555; www.backroads.com): One of North America's largest adventure travel companies offers, for example, walking and biking trips through southeast Nova Scotia, among other programs in the eastern provinces. Pick according to your budget and inclination: You can stay at luxury inns or opt for more rustic camping trips.
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  • Coastal Adventures, Tangier, NS (tel. 877/404-2774 or 902/772-2774; www.coastaladventures.com): Sea kayak expert Scott Cunningham and his staff lead great trips ranging from 2-day paddles to weeklong adventures throughout the Maritimes and Newfoundland. Scott's a marine biologist and avid paddler who's been doing this for nearly 30 years; this is probably the top local outfit in eastern Canada for a paddle. His wife Gayle Wilson assists with everything -- including the kayaking. Coastal also runs a local B&B, which is convenient given how thin on the ground lodging is around here.
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  • Freewheeling Adventures, Hubbards, NS (tel. 800/672-0775 or 902/857-3600; www.freewheeling.ca): This popular outfitter based near Halifax offers excellent guided biking, kayaking, and hiking tours throughout Nova Scotia, as well as on Prince Edward Island and two challenging, exceptionally scenic areas of Newfoundland. It's operated by Cathy Guest, a former competitive cycler, who has been doing this since 1987. Freewheeling also has a reputation for traveling lightly. It's top rate.

Escorted General-Interest Tours

You can alternately choose to take an escorted tour of eastern Canada, a structured group tour with a leader. The price of this kind of tour usually includes everything from airfare to hotels, meals, tours, admission costs, and local transportation.

Despite the fact that these tours require big deposits -- and predetermine all your hotels, restaurants, and itineraries -- some travelers enjoy the structure they offer. Basically, you sit back and enjoy the trip without having to worry about planning (or local transportation). Be aware that such tours usually bring groups to a large number of famous sights in a short time, without lingering much. They're especially convenient for people with limited mobility, and can be a great way to make new friends. (On the downside, you get little opportunity for spontaneous interactions with locals; the tours tend to leave little room for individual sightseeing; and you won't see off the beaten track spots.)

Two firms offer especially good escorted tours of eastern Canada.

  • Maxxim Vacations, St. John's, NF (tel. 800/567-6666 or 709/754-6666; www.maxximvacations.com): A big travel package outfit based in Newfoundland? Yes. The province's largest travel provider has a top-rate reputation and offers a huge range of trips throughout the four Atlantic Provinces, just as you'd expect, including plenty of both guided and unguided excursions. From a "PEI Golf Getaway" to a "Romantic New Brunswick" (thankfully unescorted) tour, Scott and Judy Sparkes' family-owned company offers it all, professionally and well. And the prices of your tours helpfully come with airfare from your home city already factored into the equation. Call and ask for their extensive and colorful brochure.
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  • Collette Vacations, Pawtucket, RI (tel. 800/340-5158; www.collettevacations.com): Collette offers a number of excellent tours of eastern Canada (about 10 days each, on average) that range from fly/drive packages to the escorted everything's-done-for-you variety throughout the Maritimes. Sample tour names include "Canada's Atlantic Coast Featuring the Cabot Trail" (touching three provinces); "Hidden Treasures of the Maritimes" (which does bring in some lesser-known sights); and "Natural Newfoundland and Legendary Labrador" (which is pretty self-explanatory). Additional side trips -- such as to lovely Conception Bay, Newfoundland -- are even possible on Collette tours for an extra fee, but note that your airfare isn't included in the quoted base package prices. In addition to the Rhode Island HQ, this company maintains satellite offices in suburban Toronto, Vancouver, and London -- helpful if you happen to live in one of those three cities.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.