Saint John, New Brunswick

Our fourth port of call will be taking us into Canada.  This also will be the second stop on the Disney Magic sailings next summer (all but for the September 12 sailing where it will be the first stop).  If you are cruising to Saint John next year and have things you want us to check out, let us know! 

Today’s blog is from one of our readers, Lyn Smith.  Lyn has traveled to Saint John many times and has some advice for us as to what to do and see.  Thanks Lyn!

Saint John is a very walkable city. I have spent the day quite happily walking the city. The streets that are perpendicular to the water are kind of steep, but manageable. You can go from the Harbor Market Square (library, museum, restaurants) to Brunswick Square (multi level mall of stores) to the historic City Market (food stalls, farmer’s market) through a series of escalators and covered walkways.

It is an interesting small city.  Not as amazing as Boston.  Not as touristy as Bar Harbor.  It reminds me a lot of Portland, Maine.   It is an industrial city. Headquarters of Irving Oil.  Like most industrial cities, it had seen better times.

We have really seen improvements that I think are in part because of the cruise ships.  The first ship came ten years or so ago on a day’s notice.  It could not go where it was supposed to go because of storms at sea.  Saint John was the “safe harbor”.  A welcome party was quickly thrown together with a rose for each lady.  The welcome was good enough that it became a regular stop.  The red rose is because Saint John is the birthplace of Red Rose Tea.  Improvements include a new cruise terminal in the past couple years.  The red Harbour Passage walkway extends to and beyond the terminal.  The history signs along the walkway are new.

Harbour Passage

Explore Saint John’s waterfront walkway! Harbour Passage is an interconnected system of walking and biking trails, lookouts, and heritage sites.  There are nice views of Saint John Harbour and its working Port.  Interpretive Panels along Harbour Passage explain Saint John’s rich shipbuilding and waterfront history. This walkway is painted red so it is easy to follow.  Unfortunately, part of the Harbor Passage is closed due to a major bridge construction project.  You will not be able to walk to the “reversing falls” on the nice walkway.  The detour has you walking or biking protected lane on city streets.

Big Pink Bus – Hop On Hop Off

$42.95 per Adult $29.95 per Child.  It leaves from the cruise terminal.  $39 on Princess site Described here.  The bus is pink for breast cancer. According to the proprietors at our B&B, it is more awareness than support.   Only $1.00 of the charge goes to the Breast Cancer Foundation.  The bus makes three separate loops.   Most of where they go can quite easily be done on foot. For the price, I would not recommend this bus.

Other Tours

Saint John Public Transit offers a “City Bus Tour” for $20.  It leaves from Barbour’s General Store at Market Square, a couple blocks from the cruise terminal.

If you have any interest in architecture, Saint John’s buildings have many fascinating details to look at. There are three historic downtown walking tours. I have done all three; each takes an hour to an hour and a half.  You will have to specifically ask for the brochure at the tourist kiosks at Barbour’s General Store, City Hall, they are not on the front display racks.  (You might also find them at the welcome area of the cruise terminal.)  Here is a PDF of the brochure.

The “Great Fire” of 1877 destroyed over 80 hectares (200 hundred acres) and 1612 structures including eight churches, six banks, fourteen hotels, eleven schooners and four woodboats in just over a nine hour period. Nearly all the public buildings, the principal retail establishments, lawyers’ offices and all but two printing firms were burned in the inferno. You will see many brick and stone buildings that were built just after this period. I think often they were built to be grander than the ones that were destroyed.

The New Brunswick Museum is fabulous!  Exhibits show the history and industry of the province, fine and decorative art, nature including birds and the Hall of Great Whales.  The museum is in Market Square, where you will also find the public library and restaurants.  This is an very easy walk from the ship.  I would allow at least an hour, maybe two.   Adult Admission – $8.00.

For those staying in town and looking for a different museum, try this one.  The Hayward China Museum showcases Hayward & Warwick’s prominent role in this long established Saint John industry.  Hayward & Warwick is the oldest family owned business in Saint John.  Yes, a museum about china!  It is free.  Just a couple blocks from the ship.  A block from Big Tide Brewing Co Restaurant.

Reversing Falls

Reversing Falls (more geologically correct as reversing river rapids) are an interesting phenomenon.  Strong tides force water to flow upstream.  However, if you make just a fifteen minute stop, they can be quite uninteresting.  My best experience what when I was there for well over an hour.  At low tide, the rocks were exposed as the St John River flowed quickly to the sea.  Water was smooth as glass at slack tide, right between high and low.   At high tide, sea water rushed in forcing the river to flow upstream.  It was fun to watch the birds dive for the fish that came in from the sea.  You can walk or bike reversing falls – about two miles each way.  Or get a taxi.  If you do not get to the reversing falls long enough to make it worthwhile, don’t worry.  Some will say, “You didn’t miss much”.

Irving Nature Park

Irving Nature Park is a favorite place to hike.  A scenic winding coastal road and nature walking trail on the Bay of Fundy.  See harbour seals, porpoises and hundreds of species of birds.  I enjoy the two hour hike around the peninsula.  You will need to take a taxi to get there, though.

Food & Drink

Beer – We discovered the Big Tide Brewing Company.  They make their own unique ales, stouts and bitters.  Also, good food!  There are several places that look good for a bite and gulp on Princess Street, just a couple blocks from the ship.  Get a full lobster dinner right across from the cruise ship!

Other Things To Do  This gives you an idea of things to do in Saint John, compare to what the ship offers for excursions.

People at my B&B really liked the Jet Boat ride and the zip line across the rapids.

Zip line!

Boat sight seeing tour

In my opinion – skip this $49 Princess excursion  You would probably do better to hire a taxi to take a small group to Reversing Rapids and Carleton Martello Tower. Everything else on the tour you can walk to from ship.

It is possible to have a great time without leaving Saint John, if you have a good attitude.

Outside Saint John

Fundy National Park, Hopewell Rocks & Lunch – Fabulous place, I have spent two three-day vacations there.  You need to be there more than 24 hours to fully experience the amazing tides.  The travel time from Saint John would be too long and the time at destination too short to make the trip worthwhile.

St. Martins, St. John River & The Bay of Fundy – This is closer that Hopewell Rocks.  It is a very interesting and scenic place.  However, if the tide is high, you will not be able to explore the sea caves.  My guess, you will be in the bus for a not totally scenic ride for about half of the excursion time.

Staying Connected

Our cell phones do not work internationally.  We found WiFi in the public libary at Market Square and at many restaurants.

Here are the top ten reasons why cruise ships come here.  I really think they are all true!

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