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A chill in the air, a color besides green on the trees, squirrels frantically storing up nuts -- it's fall, folks, and fall means foliage, and foliage is practically synonymous with New England and its neighbors to the north, the Canadian provinces of Nova Scotia and New Brunswick.

While most of the big cruise lines sail fall foliage cruises from one or another of the East Coast hubs (New York, Boston, Montréal, and Qúebec), seeing the colors from a few miles offshore isn't exactly ideal. So, what's true of Southeast Alaska, British Columbia, the Sea of Cortez, and several other particularly scenic cruise destinations is true here as well: All in all, it's a region best visited by small ships, which can hug the craggy coast and explore the small bays and inland waterways up close and personal.

Following up on my recent articles on small-ship options in Alaska and sailing-ship options in the Caribbean, here's a rundown of the small-ship options available in New England/Canada, this fall and beyond. A number of them sail regionally through October, but some have already packed up and headed south toward their winter cruising grounds. Where that's the case, consider this a preview for summer and fall 2010, when all of these lines offer full seasons of fantastic regional cruising, foliage or no foliage.

American Canadian Caribbean Line (http://accl-smallships.com): A family-owned New England line, ACCL operates three tiny, nearly identical, no-frills ships that carry between 84 and 100 extremely casual, down-to-earth, and almost uniformly older passengers (the average age is around 72). It's a "what you see is what you get" experience, with spartan staterooms, just two public rooms (a lounge and dining room), and a money-saving on-board BYOB policy -- passengers can bring aboard what they like and keep it in the bar area, labeled with their cabin number. The line was started in 1966 by the late Rhode Island shipbuilder Luther Blount, who saw a demand for small-ship sailing on the rivers, canals, and coast of New England and Canada. Today, that's still the line's bread-and-butter region, with cruises focused on exploring small, historically rich ports and natural areas. Innovative features built into the line's ships help them go where few others can: a shallow draft and retractable wheelhouse let them sail through shallow canals and under low bridges, bow ramps let them pull right up to pristine dockless beaches, and a platform in the stern allows swimming and is a launch pad for the ships' glass-bottom boats. This month (and then again next fall), ACCL is offering several 12-night Northeastern Fall Foliage cruises sailing between its Warren, Rhode Island home base and Qúebec City, and visiting sites such as the Statue of Liberty and West Point, a number of small New York river towns, and Montréal. Rates start around $3,185. In summer and fall the line offers cruises on the Maine Coast, New England coastal islands, the Great Lakes, and Canada's Atlantic Provinces.

American Cruise Lines (www.americancruiselines.com): Take some great East Coast destinations, throw in some very comfortable small ships, add a few enrichment lectures and complimentary cocktails and a boatload of uniformly older passengers, and you end up with American Cruise Lines. Operating exclusively along the Eastern seaboard, the company's four 49- to 100-passenger ships are designed to poke into the smallest and most scenic ports, docking at sailboat marinas or within a few blocks of museums, shops, and historic districts. Itineraries are port intensive, with the ships underway for only a few hours in the morning or afternoon, usually putting in to the evening's port before dinnertime and spending the night at dock. Neither a luxury cruise nor an adventure cruise, the company offers ships are far younger and roomier than the competition's, boasting some of the largest cabins in the small-ship market, many of them with balconies. Guest lecturers provide some enrichment, helping passengers learn about their destination, and chefs from the Culinary Institute of America prepare good regional selections. This month, the 49-passenger American Glory and 100-passenger American Star are sailing 7-night Hudson River fall foliage cruises, with rates starting from $3,295 per person, double occupancy. Those vessels' sister ships, American Eagle and American Star, are currently offering 7-night cruises a little farther south, in Chesapeake Bay. In summer, the line concentrates on New England islands and Maine coastal cruises.

Canadian Sailing Expeditions (www.canadiansailingexpeditions.com): Founded in 2000, Canadian Sailing Expeditions operates the 245-foot, 77-passenger square-rigged barkentine Caledonia. Built in 1949 as a commercial fishing boat, the ship was rebuilt for passenger service in 2002, a process that added cabins, masts, and sails (the ship had previously sailed under diesel power alone) and brought everything into compliance with international safety-at-sea regulations. Interiors are more utilitarian than stylish, but cabins are relatively roomy as sailing ships go. The ship has already completed its Northeastern season, in which it sailed eight 4- to 14-day cruises in Newfoundland and Labrador, but keep them in mind for next year since this is one of the rare ships that cruises these rough, beautiful areas. They also offer river cruises round-trip from Qúebec in September. Prices start at a little over $2,000 per person (double occupancy) for 7-night cruises.

Classic Cruises of Newport (www.cruisearabella.com): Newly launched in 2001, the three-masted staysail schooner Arabella is a sleekly modern tall ship that carries 40 passengers in yachtlike comfort, with a hot tub on deck, kayaks and snorkel gear for off-vessel fun, and cozy cabins with portholes. Arabella has already moved south to Chesapeake Bay for fall (before heading to the Caribbean in December), but for 2010 you can book her for New England cruises from June through September, with rates starting from $1,095 for 5-night cruises.

Hapag-Lloyd (www.hl-cruises.com): This one's a bit of a ringer for all you expedition-cruise junkies -- not a fall foliage cruise at all but rather a grand tour of Canada's Atlantic Provinces. Setting sail round-trip from Halifax on May 29, 2010, this 15-night cruise visits Prince Edward Island, Qúebec City, St. Pierre, and Louisbourg (Nova Scotia), then spends six days sailing around Newfoundland. The ship is the 184-passenger Hanseatic, an expedition vessel launched in 1991 for Hanseatic Tours and sailing since 1997 for Hapag-Lloyd, a German line with roots that go back to the old Hamburg-Amerikanische Packetfahrt-Aktien-Gesellschaft line (created in 1847) and North German Lloyd (formed in 1856). Per-person prices start from around $7,700, cruise only. This and a number of other Hapag-Lloyd cruises are designated bilingual, with all onboard announcements and other business conducted in both English and German.

Liberty Fleet of Tall Ships (www.libertyfleet.com): Founded in 1995, this clumsily named line has since offered day sailings and multi-day cruises in Boston, the New England coast, Chesapeake Bay, and the Bahamas. The line's two-masted, 28-passenger schooner Liberty Clipper was launched in 1983 as a replica of a 19th-century Baltimore clipper. Though her hull is steel, she carries her old-fashioned air well, with a beautiful wooden deck and woody, period interiors. Cabins are small and offer bunk beds and a private marine-head style toilet/shower combos. For off-vessel fun, the ship carries snorkeling equipment, small sailboats and rowboats, and inflatable sea kayaks. Like Classic Cruises' Arabella, Liberty Clipper had already left New England at this writing, but she's still got several 3- to 5-day Chesapeake Bay cruises to go before that season ends in early November. Three-day cruises are priced at $550, 4-day at $700, and 5-day at $975. The ship's summer 2010 schedule hasn't yet been posted, but expect trips from Boston Harbor north toward the Maine coast and south to Cape Cod, Martha's Vineyard, and Nantucket.

The Maine Windjammers: The Maine Windjammers aren't a cruise line at all; rather, they're a collection of owner-operated vessels -- mostly schooners, some classic (going back as far as 1871) and others more modern re-creations -- that sail the Maine coast between May and mid-October. Those that haven't folded their sails for the season will be doing to in the next few days, so consider this a preview of what you can book next year. The experience is one of my favorites: 2 to 6 nights, departing from Rockport, Rockland, or Camden, Maine, and spending the majority of days just sailing, following the winds where they take you. By day, passengers are free to help with the sailing or just laze around. In early evening, they make anchor in any of a large number of quiet, protected harbors; prepare dinner on a wood stove in the galley; then serve it on deck as the sun starts dipping toward night. After that, it's conversation or music (if the crew or passengers have brought instruments), plus a drink or two if you've BYOB, then early-to-bed in the tiny, rustic cabins, which are only large enough for bunk beds and a sink, with small electric lights for reading. In the evenings or mornings, ships will usually run a small boat to shore and let passengers explore nearby fishing towns and uninhabited islands. Though the schooners are all private operations, you can get information on most of them through the marketing groups Maine Windjammer Association (www.sailmainecoast.com) and Maine Adventure Sails (www.maineadventuresails.com). Other schooners, such as the Mary Day (www.schoonermaryday.com), fend for themselves, without any organized marketing presence. Three- to 6-night cruises cost from about $400 to $1,100.

St. Lawrence Cruise Lines (www.stlawrencecruiselines.com): Sailing Canada's St. Lawrence River, 1,000 Islands region, and Ottawa River since 1981, the 66-passenger Canadian Empress was designed after turn-of-the-century river vessels, her decor pegged to what you would have seen around 1908, and her shallow draught allowing her to maneuver in close to shore. For the remainder of this month, the ship will be sailing 3-night cruises round-trip from Kingston, Ontario, and 6-night one-way cruises between Kingston and Qúebec City. Prices for 3-nighters start from $1,096 per person. Prices for 6-nighters start from $2,154. The ship concentrates on the same routes for its 2010 season, which runs from May through October.

Travel Dynamics

(www.traveldynamicsinternational.com): An international, New YorkÂ?based travel company specializing in enrichment-focused small-ship cruises, Travel Dynamics is offering five cruises in New England and Canada for 2010, all aboard the 100-passenger Clelia II (the former Renaissance IV of defunct Renaissance Cruises). In May, the ship will head north from Florida on a 15-night Atlantic coast cruise that ends at St. John's, Newfoundland (priced from $6,995 per person). From there, she does a 9-night circumnavigation of Newfoundland, round-trip from St. John's (departing May 29; from $6,595) and a "Canada's Historic Cities and Waterways" cruise that sails from St. John's to Toronto, visiting St.-Pierre; Ingonish, Cape Breton Island; Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island; Qúebec City; Montréal; Kingston; Lake Ontario; and the Gaspe Peninsula (departing June 6; from $6,995). In August, the ship will sail two 15-night explorations of Greenland and the Canadian Arctic, embarking in Toronto and debarking in Montréal (departing July 31 and August 13; from $8,995). In September, a 9-night fall foliage cruise reverses the itinerary of June's "Historic Cities and Waterways" cruise, sailing from Toronto to St. John's (departing September 25; from $6,995). October's 10-night foliage cruise sails from St. John's to Gloucester, MA, visiting Louisbourg, Nova Scotia; Baddeck, Cape Breton Island; Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island; Halifax; and Bar Harbor and Portland, ME (departing October 4; priced from $6,995). Also available are cruises that sail from Canada to Florida (Oct. 2009 and Oct. 2010) and ten cruises on the Great Lakes, sailing between Toronto and Duluth, Minnesota (JuneÂ?Sept).

Vermont Discovery Cruises (www.vermontdiscoverycruises.com): Vermont Discovery is the first overnight cruise service to operate on Vermont's Lake Champlain since 1932. Launched in 2002, the 16-passenger Moonlight Lady was brought to the Champlain region in summer 2008, where she began offering 1- to 6-night cruises on the lake, the St. Lawrence River, and the Chambly Canal, May to mid-October. The experience emulates lake cruises of the early 20th century, concentrating on pure relaxation: taking in the lake views, hiking, bike-riding, visiting small lakeside towns (and, in some cases, major cities like Montréal and Qúebec), wildlife-watching, etc., with shore excursions offering access to regional theaters, museums, gardens, festivals, and villages. Moonlight Lady is cute as a bug, with her spiffy blue-and-white paint job, cozy cabins (each with a tiny bathroom), open kitchen and pilot house, and both open and enclosed viewing areas. Overnight cruises cost $299 per person, 2-nighters $599, 3-nighters $899, and the 6-night "Discover Montréal" cruises cost $1,799 per person.

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