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It's almost August, which means Labor Day's around the corner. School starts right after that and before you know it, the days are shorter and you've swapped those Madras Bermuda shorts for a fleece and your favorite boots. In the spirit of "it's never too early to start planning," it may be time to noodle on some September and October leaf-peeping cruises along the coast of New England and Eastern Canada.

Think old money mansions, rustic fishing boats and bearded old men in yellow rain coats and Wellingtons; rocky bluffs, crashing surf and lobster traps are all a part of the classic scene. History rears up both on shore and inland in the form of centuries-old crumbling fortresses and churches, Paul Revere's Boston House, the Titanic exhibit at the Maritime Museum in Halifax and Québec City's 17th-century Notre-Dame des Victoires Church.

The pace of a New England/Eastern Canada cruise is slow and easy, the antithesis to the hot and sizzling party-hearty Caribbean cruise vibe. The temperature will be cool and the sun may not always be shining; these routes are for those with an appreciation for the simple pleasures of being on a ship at sea.

Depending on the size of the ship and the length of the cruise, itineraries may include passing through Nantucket Sound, around Cape Cod, or into the Bay of Fundy or Gulf of St. Lawrence. Some ships traverse the St. Lawrence Seaway or the smaller Saguenay River. New England/Canada cruises range from 4 nights to about 12 nights, with most sailing to or from New York, Boston, Montréal, and Québec City.

Keep in mind, on a giant mega ship, you won't be cruising close enough to the coast to get a glimpse of the brilliant foliage; you'll have to wait until you pull into a port of call. On the other hand, the smaller ships of lines like Seabourn, will often be close enough to the shore to see the brilliant hues of the changing leaves.

Here's a roundup of the main players plying the coastal waters of New England and eastern Canada during late summer and fall 2007.

Carnival Cruise Lines (tel. 888/CARNIVAL; www.carnival.com). Through late Sept. the 2,758-passenger Carnival Victory, travels round-trip from New York City.

  • 4 nighters call on Saint John (New Brunswick)
  • 5 nighters Halifax and Saint John
  • 7 nighters Halifax, Saint John, Boston and Portland

Celebrity Cruises (tel. 800/647-2251; www.celebrity.com). Sept.-Oct., 1,950-passenger Constellation, round-trip from Cape Liberty, New Jersey.

  • 13 nighters call on Newport, Portland, Bar Harbor,Halifax, Quebec City, Prince Edward Island and Boston

Crystal Cruises (tel. 888/799-4625; www.crystalcruises.com) Sept.-Oct., 940-passenger Crystal Symphony, round-trip from New York or between New York and Montréal

  • 7 nighter calls on Halifax, Boston, Bar Harbor and Newport
  • 11 nighters visit Halifax, Boston, Bar Harbor, Newport, Quebec City, and Saint John

Cunard (tel. 800/7-CUNARD; www.cunard.com). Sept., 2,620-passenger QM2, round-trip from Brooklyn, New York.

  • 9 nighter calling on Halifax, Boston, Bar Harbor and Quebec City

Holland America (tel. 877/SAIL HAL; www.hollandamerica.com). Through Oct., 1,266- passenger Veendam and Maasdam, between Montréal and Boston, between Montréal and New York, or round-trip from Boston.

  • 7 nighters (Maasdam) call on Halifax, Bar Harbor, Sydney (Nova Scotia), Prince Edward Island and Québec City
  • 10 nighters (Veendam) visit Boston, Halifax, Sydney, Prince Edward Island, Québec City, and either Bar Harbor, Newport, Saguenay and/or New London (CT).

Norwegian Cruise Line (tel. 800/327-7030; www.ncl.com). Sept.-Oct., 1,966-passenger Norwegian Spirit, round-trip from New York.

  • 6 nighters call on Martha's Vineyard, Halifax, Boston and Bar Harbor or Saint John

Princess Cruises (tel. 800/PRINCESS; www.princess.com). Sept.-Oct., 3,080-passenger Crown Princess on 7 nighters round-trip out of New York and 2,600-passenger Grand Princess on 10 nighters between New York and Quebec City.

  • 7 nighters call on Newport, Boston, Bar Harbor, Saint John and Halifax
  • 10 nighters visit Prince Edward Island, Sydney, Halifax, Saint John, Bar Harbor, Boston and Newport

Royal Caribbean (tel. 866/562-7625; www.royalcaribbean.com). Sept.-Oct., 3,114-passenger Explorer of the Seas on 9 nighters round-trip from Cape Liberty, New Jersey, and 1,950-passenger Grandeur of the Seas on 9 nighters round-trip from Baltimore.

  • 9 nighters on Explorer call on Portland, Bar Harbor, Halifax, New London, Saint John and Boston
  • 9 nighters on Grandeur call on Portland, Bar Harbor, Halifax, Saint John and Boston

Seabourn (tel. 800/929-9391; www.seabourn.com). Sept.-Oct., 208-passenger Seabourn Pride, between Montréal and Gloucester/Boston.

  • 10 nighter calls on Lunenburg and Baddeck (Nova Scotia), Prince Edward Island, Port Saguenay, and Quebec City or calls on Quebec City, Gaspe, St. Pierre & Miquelon, Louisbourg (Nova Scotia), Halifax and Portland

The Marquee Ports

There's plenty of good old fashioned down home charm in the region's Victorian mansions, cobblestone streets, lighthouses and bustling harbors. Most ports in New England and eastern Canada are places you can explore on foot, strolling along historic streets dotted with cafes, gift shops and local museums. Walking tours are popular excursions here as are bus tours to neighboring communities.

Bar Harbor, Maine

A far cry from its heyday 100 years ago when Bar Harbor was the place for posh families to get away from it all, the humble port is still appealing, you're just more likely to find ice-cream parlors, lobster shacks and t-shirt shops than a socialite out for a morning stroll. Overlooking Frenchman's Bay from its perch on Mt. Desert Island, which is connected to the mainland via a bridge, Bar Harbor's real pull is its accessibility to the lush Acadia National Park, which covers most of the 13- by 16-mile island.

Once in town -- ships either dock or anchor about 10 minutes from the shore -- typical tours of the Park include guided walks, bike excursions, horse-drawn carriage rides, or bus tours along Arcadia's 27-mile Park Loop Road, which wends around 1,530-foot-high Cadillac Mountain, the highest point on the Atlantic coast.

Halifax, Nova Scotia

Just about all ships call here at the city's natural deep-water port with an especially pleasing harborside setting and tree-lined streets. Halifax's identity is a stew of French and British heritage, mixed together with a strong shipbuilding, trading and military history.

Within walking distance of the docks is Pier 21, Halifax's version of Ellis Island, where more than a million immigrants have entered Canada. A few steps from here is the very worthwhile Maritime Museum of the Atlantic, where exhibits include an impressive collection of Titanic artifacts and ship models -- Titanic victims were brought to Halifax after the ill-fated sinking. For panoramic views of the area, head to the Halifax Citadel, built in the early 19th century in the shape of a star.

Other tour options include pub crawls, city walking and bus tours, and excursions to Peggy's Cove, a picturesque hamlet along the rugged Atlantic shoreline, and the Fairview Cemetery just outside of town, where 120 Titanic victims were buried in 1912.

Newport, Rhode Island

Newport is classic New England. With a scenic rocky coastline and picture perfect harbor, it's no surprise fat cats like the Vanderbilts to the Astors built summer mansions in Newport a century ago. Yachting was the favorite pastime of the Newport elite and has remained a big part of the town's identity. As you're shuttled through Newport's colorful harbor between your ship anchored offshore and the downtown pier, you can see the handful of 12-meter America's Cup racing yachts moored there. In town, cobblestone streets, shady trees, cute cafes, and 18th- and 19th-century colonial, Federal, and Victorian houses, make the sightseeing here quite worthwhile.

Oh, and let's not forget about those famous mansions (Listings, opening hours and maps at www.newportmansions.org), which include the Marble House, featuring more than 500,000 square feet of white marble, and The Breakers, an over-the-top Italian Renaissance-inspired palace, which has two rooms originally constructed in France and reassembled in Newport. All ships offer guided excursions to see them. A great way to visit the mansions and have a scenic walk to boot is to follow the 3.5-mile Cliff Walk, which meanders between Newport's rocky coastline and many of the town's Gilded Age mansion estates. It provides better views of many of them than can be seen from the street.

Saint John, New Brunswick

Saint John is another main port on the big ship circuit because of its convenient deep-water harbor. Set along the Bay of Fundy at the mouth of the St. John River, the restored historic district known as Trinity Royal and the City Market, are the best places to see the city's heritage, though overall, Saint John lacks Halifax's charm and more impressive historical attractions.

Among the most worthwhile ways to spend the day is to take a gander at the Reversing Falls Rapids, a much-photographed spot where the Bay of Fundy meets the St. John River, and strong tidal conditions cause harbor currents to reverse. You can also tour the city by San Francisco-style trolley or an open-air carriage that seats just a handful of couples, with the guide discusses the sights along the way.

The Offbeat Ports

Founded 350 years ago, New London, Connecticut offers a taste of Colonial history in its vintage 17th-, 18th-, and 19th-century homes and buildings. If you're willing to travel a few miles, other nearby attractions include Mystic Seaport, Eugene O'Neill's summer home, and the Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods casinos.

Martha's Vineyard, in Massachusetts, is New England's largest island. Besides its handsome old towns, the Vineyard is a haven for nature lovers. You'll find great beaches, though many are private, as well as dramatic cliffs and meadows that make for great long walks and bicycle rides.

Maine's largest city, Portland, is set on a peninsula in scenic Casco Bay. The top attractions include the Portland Headlight, America's oldest lighthouse in continuous use, and that bastion of practical outdoor ware, L.L.Bean, located in nearby Freeport.

Just southwest of Halifax is Lunenburg, Nova Scotia's main fishing port and a great area to spot whales. The 19th-century architecture that survives in this former British Colonial settlement landed Lunenburg on the prestigious UNESCO World Heritage list.

Head for the hills when you debark in industrial Sydney, on Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia. It's the Cape Breton Highlands where you want to spend your time. The 175-mile-long Cabot Trail, all lakes, dramatic cliffs, and panoramic vistas, is the island's main attraction. You'll see Acadian fishing ports, pristine valleys, and some of the most picturesque coastline anywhere. If you're lucky, you'll spot moose, bald eagles, puffin, and humpback whales in the waters of the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

In Charlottetown on Prince Edward Island, Canada's smallest province and the birthplace of Canada in 1867, you can visit historical sites, including the house of Lucy Maud Montgomery, who wrote the well-known novel Anne of Green Gables about the innocence and beauty of turn-of-the-20th-century life on the island. Or opt for a drive along one of the island's scenic highways, which wend past sandstone cliffs, rocky coves, lovely beaches, and fishing villages.

The string of humble towns along the beautiful Gaspe Peninsula on the southern shores of the St. Lawrence River, are set amidst the best of nature's bounty. Search for whales, go birding, or enjoy a walk along a seaside trail in Gaspe, Perce, or Bonaventure Island.

Not to be confused with Saint John, New Brunswick, a port that sees much more traffic than this small outpost, St. John's is the capital of Newfoundland and the oldest city in all of Canada, dating back to 1582. The landscape in these parts is brooding and soulful, it's not surprise that the film The Shipping News, a montage of stunning seascapes, was filmed in Newfoundland.

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