Saint John Overview
Located on Canada's Southeastern Atlantic Seaboard, where the Bay of Fundy meets the mouth of the St. John River, Saint John is a quaint harbor town of 122,000 residents. A 90-minute drive from the U.S. border in Maine, "the Fundy City" offers 400 years of history, exciting nature excursions and Canadian hospitality, with British and French influences. Cruise ship passengers, in particular, are made to feel welcome as they dock. A "greeting committee" of volunteers dressed in traditional costumes hands out Canadian flags, stickers and buttons.
Saint John is Canada's first incorporated city, a celebrated wooden shipbuilding center with a colorful history. A great fire in 1877 destroyed almost the entire city center. Today, the quaint "Uptown" area is laden with Victorian-influenced architecture, brick walkways, historic churches, town squares and flowers blooming around old-fashioned lamp posts. There's a storybook quality about the town that's a nice respite from bustling, overly touristy cruise ports. Saint John also has a bohemian flair, with lots of street musicians, funky galleries and independent record stores.
But the town is best known for its Bay of Fundy-related attractions. The Bay of Fundy is world-renowned for its extreme tides -- twice daily seawater rises (and then falls) about four stories high! As a result of the tides, the region is incredibly rich in scenic vistas (cascading waterfalls and cliffs carved out by water) and in sea-life, the latter of which draws folks interested in spotting rare whales and interesting shore birds.
The most exotic -- and fabulous -- experience that you shouldn't miss in this port of call is a look at the Reversing Falls. At low tide, the rapids are turbulent and there's a bottleneck gorge at the falls; at high tide the waters are pushed upstream -- and so the river runs in reverse.
Saint John Quick Facts
As we mentioned, the Reversing Falls is an amazing natural phenomenon that results from a confluence of two distinct forces: the highest tides in the world, courtesy of the Bay of Fundy, and the origination point of the St. John River. When the two meet in a rocky gorge, the high tides overpower the river, causing it to reverse its flow twice a day. Fallsview Park, as its name implies, is the lookout point to observe the churning waters below. You can experience the falls by jetboat or simply watch from the observation point.
The Saint John City Market on Charlotte Street is the oldest farmer's market in Canada. The market's roof is shaped like an inverted hull of a ship, a testament to the city's shipbuilding history. A stroll through the market is a true sensory experience, with stalls of produce, fresh fish, meats, cheeses, flowers and prepared foods lining the building. There's also a stand selling a local specialty, dried seaweed, called dulse.
English is spoken in Saint John, although you will find signage in both English and in French.
Saint John is very pedestrian-friendly, with most of the tourist spots and the historic "uptown district" no more than a 15-minute walk from the ship terminal. Taxis are available for trips to the Reversing Falls, though nearly every shore excursion includes a stop there, so you don't have to worry about getting there on your own if you don't want to go independently. For sightseeing fun, it's hard to beat a horse-drawn trolley. You'll find them near the terminal, waiting to take passengers past town landmarks, such as the Old Country Courthouse, the Loyalist Burial Grounds, Loyalist House and King's Square.
Where You're Docked
The cruise ship dock is at Pugsley Terminal, at the waterfront in the heart of Saint John -- a new terminal is planned. It's a convenient walk to most of the town's sights (except for the Reversing Falls).
Staying in Touch
There are several internet cafes within walking distance of the terminal. Java Moose in the Saint John City Market is a good place to stop for an espresso and check your e-mail. Gallaghers on the second floor of Market Square is a block away from the ship, and you can't beat the price (free) at the Saint John Regional Library, also on the second floor of Market Square.
If you want to call the States from a pay phone, the cheapest way to go is to buy a NB Tel phone card, available at vending machines in Market Square.
The most popular shore excursions are half-day city tours, which provide a pretty good orientation to the city. Highlights include the Saint John City Market, Fort Howe, and the historic Trinity Royal and Saint John's Heritage Preservation Areas in town.
The 10-passenger Jet Boat Ride on the Reversing Falls is a white-knuckler, and that's just for those watching from afar! The 20-minute ride through whirlpool rapids and towering waves is a surefire way to get drenched, even though passengers are provided with heavy rain gear. The ride is definitely not for those with heart conditions.
A more sedate way to enjoy the Saint John River is to take a kayak trip. A popular shore excursion combines a kayak ride with a lobster lunch at the end of the journey. Participants are treated to some great bird watching along the way. Commonly spotted species include blue heron, osprey, Canadian geese and ducks.
"Flowers, Farms, New Brunswick Charms" is a shore excursion that combines a hands-on tour of a local farm with a visit to nearby Darlings Island, and the beautiful Enan Lane Gardens. The dairy farm stop includes the opportunity to milk a cow by hand, always an intriguing activity for city slickers.
Another option is a "Covered Bridges Bicycle Tour." The Saint John area is home to the largest number of covered bridges in North America, with many dating to the late 1800's.
Steamer's Lobster Company couldn't be more convenient. It's on Water Street, across from the ship terminal. You'll get an authentic seaboard spread, served outdoors on picnic-style tables with umbrellas. Lobster is the house specialty, but don't miss the bucket o' mussels, served with a platter of lemon wedges and drawn butter. There's even a "lounge singer" that serenades customers during their meal.
If you really want some traditional food, peruse the stalls at the Saint John City Market. Several vendors have set up small dining areas with tables and counter service. Fish and chips and all types of chowders are the most popular offerings. But you'll also find crepes and traditional British fare, such as pasties and sausages.
Currency & Best Way to Get Money
The Canadian dollar is the official currency of Canada. Many of the shops and restaurants near the pier take American dollars, though they will give you back change in Canadian dollars.
Most shore excursions in Saint John take no more than four hours, so there's time to explore the town on your own before the ship departs. Pick up a map at the Welcome Kiosk in the ship terminal, or the Visitor Information Centre a few blocks away, at Market Square. There are over 100 retail shops within a 10-minute walk of the terminal, including Market Square and Brunswick Square, which are modern, indoor malls linked by a pedestrian walkway. The King Street area is lined with quaint shops, cafes and galleries. Germain Street and Prince William Street are known for historic churches and architecturally significant buildings. But you may get no further than Water Street, across from the terminal, which is home to a few inviting pubs.
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