On a sunny summer day in Inverness, Nova Scotia, a few brave souls venture into the chilly Atlantic. But much of the action is on the shore, where people crouch by piles of small rocks, pawing through them like dogs, hoping for a glimpse of luminous treasure. One man has a small rake — an actual beach comb — as he searches for smooth, wave-tumbled bits of sea glass. Clear and green are the most common colors found, but occasionally somebody scores a rare cobalt or purple.
Sea-glass hunting is satisfying yet addictive, and is just one of many summertime pleasures travelers can stumble into while taking a leisurely cruise of Canada’s Maritime provinces. Guests have the opportunity to visit small, out-of-the-way places such as Inverness, where they can do organized group activities or wander, beach comb and relax.
Ship and Itineraries
One Ocean Expeditions is a small, British Columbia-based cruise line best known for leading polar journeys. Its 146-passenger ship, the RCGS Resolute, now ventures into Eastern Canada with two itineraries, both starting in Cape Breton Island, N.S. Fins and Fiddles, a 10-night cruise focusing on nature, wildlife and culture, stops in Newfoundland, Labrador, Quebec and the overseas French territories Saint Pierre & Miquelon. The seven-night Fiddles and Sticks, which highlights some of Canada’s top golf courses, spends more time in Cape Breton and also visits Prince Edward Island. Both itineraries feature stops at the fabled Sable Island, a seldom-visited sliver of land located way out in the Atlantic. The island is home to wild horses and is the largest breeding ground for grey seals in the world.
While the Resolute is an extremely sturdy ship with ice-breaking capabilities and an onboard scientific research station, it’s also well-stocked with more luxurious amenities. Guests can get a massage, take a dip in the whirlpool or small saltwater pool, work out in a well-equipped gym or relax in surprisingly spacious cabins. Unlike many cruises, dressing up is not required for meals, whether a multi-course meal in the dining room or the buffet in the more casual bistro. Onboard activities include lectures on history and wildlife and an auction to raise money for the ocean-related charities the cruise company supports.
The Fiddles and Sticks cruise visits some of Canada’s most beautiful golf courses. The three courses on Cape Breton Island are especially stunning, with dramatic views of ocean and cliffs. Many golfers agree that Highlands Links in Ingonish, designed by the late great Canadian golf course architect Stanley Thompson, is both the most beautiful and the most challenging course.
Duncan Savage, head golf pro of PGA of Canada, based in Whistler, B.C., serves as guest pro on One Ocean’s golf expeditions. He plays along with guests, giving a little help or advice when asked. His favorite course on the Eastern Canada itinerary is Cabot Cliffs in Inverness, currently Canada’s top-rated course.
Savage likes the variety the golf cruises offer, with both golf and non-golf activities. The cruises, he says, are especially good for couples where one person is keen on golf and the other, not so much. “The happiest people on the boat might be the couples that have been looking for that vacation that makes both people feel that they’re doing what they love most in the world,” he says. A note about the golf courses: They’re generally recommended for golfers who can easily walk courses, since a few stops on the itinerary require a medical certificate to get a cart.
Expedition leader Danny Johnston explained that on One Ocean’s first golf expedition cruise, staff decided that “non-golfer” was a passively aggressive offensive label. So they changed the name to “explorers.” The explorers meet every day to discuss options such as kayaking, stand-up paddle boarding, biking, hiking, Zodiac wildlife cruises and cultural opportunities. On the Fins and Fiddles cruise, these activities make up the bulk of the trip for all passengers. But on Fiddles and Sticks, the explorers are in the minority while golfers spend long days on the courses. This means explorers enjoy an awesome staff-to-guest ratio.
The expedition staff is highly skilled and specialized, with one person designated as the bike guide and two others as kayak guides. They encourage and accommodate guests at various levels — from those who haven’t been on a bike in years to those who routinely log 30 miles. Kayaking newbies get put in a tandem kayak with a more experienced paddler. Stand-up paddle boarders can wear dry suits to protect them from the cold water and the sting of the deep purple-hued lion’s mane jellyfish.
Cultural outings may include a trip to the Alexander Graham Bell Museum — Cape Breton Island was the inventor’s adopted home after he fell in love with its beauty — and the extensively recreated 18th century French Fort of Louisbourg, complete with cannon explosions and costumed interpretive characters. There’s also time for passengers to do their own thing. If they want to explore a town on their own, go beach combing, shopping or wandering, or stay onboard getting a massage, that’s fine, too.
If You Go
For Eastern Canada sailings, passengers fly into the tiny airport of Sydney, Nova Scotia. Fins and Fiddles is booking now for summer 2020. The next Fiddles and Sticks probably won’t be until 2021, but in the meantime, One Ocean Expeditions is offering a golf tour to Scotland scheduled for June 2020.