On a sunny September Sunday, we felt privileged to gaze at beautiful Portland Head Lighthouse on the rugged Maine Coast. A New England vacation had been on my bucket list for years, so when I learned Victory Cruiselines offered a New England Coastal cruise on their newest ship, Victory II, I was hooked.
Originally launched in 2004, Victory II formerly sailed as the Cape Cod Light and Sea Discoverer. The 202-passenger vessel was renovated and relaunched as Victory II in July 2018. It is nearly identical to its sister ship, Victory I, launched in 2016.
Destination focused and included in prices, Victory II shore excursion tours are led by knowledgeable local guides. Although we were a bit early for autumn colour, we enjoyed lovely fall weather during four port visits.
Leafy tree-lined streets showcase lovely Victorian mansions with Atlantic Ocean vistas. Richard, our guide, pointed out stately homes built for ship captains who could look down to their ships in the harbour. Today, those homes are condos.
The Old Port waterfront is home to active fishing wharfs as well as warehouses converted to eateries, shops and museums. Locally owned eateries along the waterfront offer an array of mouth-watering seafood. Tourism, lobster and seafood fishing sustain the local economy for this city of 70,000.
Maine's jagged rocky coast boasts eight operating lighthouses along its 5,600 kilometres. Boston is an hour away by Amtrak. During a tour of nearby scenic Kennebunkport, we saw the Bush family compound on Walker Point.
On the tip of the Cape Cod peninsula, this small New England town celebrates its history. A trolley tour showed us the 366-metre McMillan Pier and business district. The Provincetown Museum's fascinating exhibits depict challenges Mayflower pilgrims experienced during the five weeks they stayed in Provincetown before sailing on to Plymouth. Completed in 1910, the 77-metre granite Pilgrim Monument commemorates the first pilgrim landing in 1620.
Martha's Vineyard, Mass. A touring van driven by a knowledgeable resident deftly navigated through the six small towns—each with its own character and architecture—that form the island of Martha's Vineyard. We passed hundreds of tiny colourful gingerbread cottages, contrasting stately Victorian mansions and black-and-white saltbox homes in other island communities.
Along the way are a profusion of fishing villages, lighthouses and fabulous beaches. Roadside stands purvey locally grown produce on the honour system.
Our guide pointed out 300-year-old stone fences, the oldest general store in the U.S. and the site where the movie Jaws was filmed using local residents as extras. A highlight was a photo op of the 1799 Gay Head lighthouse, one of five lighthouses on Martha's Vineyard.
Fast-food eateries are prohibited on this island with a year-round population of 27,000. Whaling was big from the 1700s to 1860, and a few sheep farms remain. Today's economy is driven by tourism.
We heard fascinating stories about the rich and famous including the Kennedys, Obamas and movie stars as we caught views of their homes. Those who can afford to live anywhere seem to prefer the slower pace and seclusion of Martha's Vineyard.
Onboard Victory II
A complimentary cocktail hour was held every night in the Great Lakes Lounge. Talented musicians from Florida provided daily cocktail hour and after-dinner music.
When not in port, Victory II guests could attend onboard lectures on photography with smart phones, ship navigation, New England lobsters, whales and other wildlife. A wine-tasting/food-pairing class, trivia and galley tours were popular group activities. A cruise photo contest encouraged guests to show off their cruise pics. Most guests were well-travelled retirees who enjoy learning.
During three themed afternoon teas, guests enjoyed delectable treats created by the pastry chef. Music by Mozart enhanced the Viennese tea where guests chose from a table of sweet treats.
Cruises are known for good food, and Victory II's dining crew delivered. Coffee and pastries were out at 6 a.m. for early risers. Tasty, perfectly seasoned and nicely presented meals were well received. Guests could eat in the Victory dining room on Deck 1 or the Lighthouse Bar & Grille on Deck 4 where they could cook their entrées on tabletop hot rock lava grills. This scenic deck was popular for lunch buffets.
Victory II's shore excursions, internet, meals and free-flowing alcohol are included in the fare. Our cruise began with a well-orchestrated embarkation at the Gloucester cruise port, 77 kilometres north of Boston. We took a commuter train from North Station in Boston to Gloucester for US$5.25 per person. Friendly train crewmembers and other passengers cheerfully helped offload our luggage.
Too soon, it was time to bid farewell to the ship's congenial officers, international crew and our new friends.
To learn more about Victory Cruiselines itineraries, visit www.VictoryCruiselines.com, call 1-888-907-2636 or contact your travel agent. If you go, bring sturdy walking shoes to navigate stairs and uneven pavement in some ports.
Pat Woods urges readers to SKI (spend the kids' inheritance) on a cruise.