Eastern Canada is a unique region, with a unique set of lodgings. You won't find many five-star resorts here, but rather a more homey hospitality -- a patchwork of B&Bs, simple country inns, motels, and aging chain and business hotels. Just downgrade your expectations a bit, focus on Mother Nature, and you'll be fine.
But this isn't a complete lodgings wasteland. Here and there, genuinely luxe resorts and inns appear out of the mist, serving amazing meals and offering top-tier rooms furnished in antiques and Jacuzzis.
Here's a primer on the region's lodging situation.
Canada Select Ratings
One of the joys of booking travel to eastern Canada is the useful ratings service supplied and constantly updated online (for free) by the Canadian government, a ratings system known as Canada Select.
Even better, you can view these ratings without leaving the comfort of your own home thanks to the Internet. Go to the website www.canadaselect.com to view their very complete listings and ratings.
It has to be said, however, that this system is different from Frommer's star-rating system, and completely unrelated to it. I have used my own judgment when assigning star ratings in this guide, without regard to the Canadian government's ratings.
Nevertheless, they can provide a useful yardstick. The Canada Select system assigns a star value to each property, based on the various amenities supplied at a property (somewhat like the AAA's rating system for hotels and motels in North America).
The specific Canada Select rating system goes as follows:
- One-star properties are considered to offer "clean and well-maintained accommodations" and "the necessary facilities for an enjoyable stay." Inspectors check for and must find an adequately sized room, plus working window screens and coverings, closets, linens, door locks, smoke detectors, and parking facilities.
- Two-star accommodations are considered mid-range by Canada Select. Everything here must be better than that at a one-star property: the mattresses, linens, window and wall coverings, carpets, lighting, furniture, and parking.
- Three stars, says Canada Select, indicates an "above average" property with larger individual rooms, extra pieces of room furniture, coordinated decor, better-quality mattresses and linens, an alarm clock, and extra bath products in the bathrooms. All rooms in a three-star B&B must come with private bathrooms.
- A four-star rating indicates an "exceptional" property and services, with "superior quality throughout" the rooms, bathrooms, and common areas. These properties will usually have laundry services, and lots of extra amenities.
- The five-star rating is reserved for properties that are "luxurious at a world standard," with "outstanding facilities, guest services, and amenities."
It needs to be said, though, that this rating system isn't perfect -- and, in fact, it doesn't really reflect what I've seen out there in the field in eastern Canada.
For example, there are 21 Canada Select five-star properties in the four eastern provinces at this writing. Only one of these 21 properties appears in this guide and with Frommer's top rating (three stars). On the other hand, nearly all my top three-star picks are rated at less than five stars by Canada Select, or else they don't appear at all.
There are at least two reasons for these discrepancies: First, not all properties in Canada are members of Canada Select. (Properties have to pay a fee.) The majority of places join because it's tremendously useful as a marketing tool, so a Relais & Châteaux-affiliated property in New Brunswick, for example -- a five-star experience by every possible measure -- simply wouldn't bother joining, because they don't need the marketing boost.
Second, Canada's hotel inspectors seem to be looking for inclusion (of breakfast, dinner, alarm clocks, parking lots, and so on) first, quality second. A place missing one thing on a long checklist might be demoted a star or two, even if it's great.
Types Of Accomodations In Eastern Canada
Here are the various categories of lodgings you'll find in eastern Canada, as defined and classified by Canada Select.
Bed and Breakfasts -- Very common in eastern Canada, the B&B (code: BB) must satisfy certain minimum requirements to be listed with Canada Select: inside entry to at least half the rooms, no more than three shared bathrooms, personalized service from the owner or innkeeper, and a three-item continental breakfast as a minimum. Further subcategories distinguish "bed and breakfast inns" (BBI), which must have five or more rooms; "tourist homes" (BB/TH), which aren't required to supply any breakfast at all; and "farm vacation" (FV) B&Bs, which must be located on fully operating farms.
Everyone has dreamed of staying in a cute B&B on vacation, and indeed the majority of places I've visited and listed in this book probably fall into this category. They range from three-star experiences to places so simple I have included them but assigned no stars at all. These places are adequate sleeps, no more than that.
Also note that Canada Select's idea of an included "breakfast'' can mean anything from a croissant, a box of packaged breakfast cereal, a doughnut, or a plate of fruit (usually referred to as a Continental breakfast) to a buffet spread or even a choice of gourmet, fresh-cooked items (usually referred to in this book as a "full" breakfast).
Cottages -- According to the Canadian government, cottages (code: C) must have exterior doors and either Continental breakfast service or full kitchens.
There are numerous cottages for rent in Canada's eastern provinces, at all price levels, and these can be one of the very best ways to see the region, especially for a family. You save money because you can cook, and the cottages are usually set in a lovely natural setting (beside the sea, overlooking fields or a golf course, and so on).
On the downside, however, they are somewhat lightly regulated in these provinces, vary wildly in quality, and change details (owners, phone numbers, open status) from year to year. So I haven't included many of these in my recommended picks.
The provinces each keep detailed lists of cottages, though -- so contact the provincial tourist offices in the places you're going for lots more info, pictures, and listings. Nova Scotia does an especially good job of collecting and publishing cottage listings in its Doers' & Dreamers' Guide.
Hotels and Motels -- Hotels and motels (code: H/M) are lumped together in the same general category by Canada Select. Pretty much the only requirement is that the facility has four or more units.
In practice, these vary so much in eastern Canada that I hardly know where to begin. Check my rankings closely. Also be aware that, at some point, you might end up in a chain hotel that's boring as bread. It happens, especially in smaller cities and towns, when the few good options (those cute B&Bs are usually pretty small) are all filled up. Bring a book and your laptop; you'll survive, because chain hotels at least do deliver basic services -- a gym, an Internet connection, a breakfast room, a bellboy -- that rural country inns and B&Bs often can't provide.
Inns -- According to Canada Select, inns (code: I) must have "inside access" for at least 50% of the rooms and provide "personalized hospitality." The owners or innkeepers must live separately from the guest section, and they must serve a Continental or full breakfast, with a minimum of three items, plus dinner.
There are plenty of inns in the eastern provinces, but I'd quibble with many of the rankings assigned to them by the ratings board. I can tell you from experience that at least some of them are aging and fading. Again, check the Frommer's ratings throughout this book for my choices.
Resorts -- According to Canada Select, a "resort" (code: R) must have four or more rooms in a main building, a full-service dining room, and some form of recreational facility (sports equipment, a pool, a spa, a fitness club -- something).
Once again, there's sometimes a gap between appearance and reality. I've seen many a place in eastern Canada describe itself as a "resort," when in fact a quick glance at the building made it clear that it was anything but. Read my reviews carefully before booking.
Youth Hostels -- There are very few youth hostels in eastern Canada anymore (there used to be more), but I've found them to be generally pretty decent, especially the urban hotels. (Canada Select does not list or rate youth hostels.) I have listed just a few in this guidebook, because the quality can vary tremendously, but I can recommend the hostels in both Halifax and St. John's without hesitation. If you don't mind the communal atmosphere and possibly doing a few chores before checkout, budget-conscious travelers should give them a look.
Note that youth hostels once imposed an age limit on their guests (usually 25 or 26), but they no longer do in all except a few European countries.
The central office for "official" hostels in Canada is in Ottawa. Contact Hostelling International-Canada (tel. 613/237-7884) by mail at 205 Catherine Street, Suite 400, Ottawa, ON K2P 1C3, or check its website at www.hihostels.ca.
There are also some very good "independent" hostels, with no affiliation at all, in places like Digby.
University Dormitories -- In summer, when Canada's universities and colleges are (mostly) on break, many institutions open up their dorm rooms and communal spaces to traveling families for daily or weekly rentals. These rooms are almost uniformly spartan (don't expect Jacuzzis and marble vanities; these are students' rooms), inexpensive, and you often get the use of a private or shared kitchen in the deal. Dorm rooms are especially prevalent in Halifax, but you can find them in other cities in eastern Canada as well.
House Rentals -- Renting a house is also an option in the Maritimes, though it's far, far easier to rent a cottage. Once again, check with the tourist offices of these provinces to get a sense about the situation.
Another trick I've tried is to scour the listings of the top realtors in a given area. They often rent prime homes that are still on the market on a short-term basis -- and sometimes "short-term" can be as short as 1 week.
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.