HAL tours a beacon for history buffs

By Tom Stieghorst
The 1857 Winter Harbor lighthouse is one of five on a Holland America Line excursion in Bar Harbor, Maine.Famous for its autumn leaf-peeping, New England has another attraction, but it is available year round: historical lighthouses that guard ships from its rocky coast, especially in Maine.

Five Bar Harbor lighthouses are part of a new excursion offered by Holland America Line, which has beefed up its slate of cruises to Canada and New England this year.

The lighthouses range from the solar-powered Egg Rock lighthouse in Frenchman Bay, about four miles off Bar Harbor, to the Winter Harbor lighthouse, which was auctioned off for $553 after it closed in 1933 during the Great Depression.

The five lighthouses, built between 1828 and 1890, are a draw for history buffs or anyone who wants to imagine the life led by mariners and lighthouse keepers when sails ruled the seas.

Several of the lighthouses are privately owned. "You can see them from land, but you get a better view from the water," said Melody Slavens, manager of Bar Harbor Whale Watch Co., which operates the tour.

Travelers board the Bay King III, a 90-foot jet-powered catamaran, which cruises at 24 knots (about 28 mph) to complete a 40-mile route encompassing all the lighthouses.

The Bass Harbor lighthousein Acadia National Park, Maine.Passengers who take the tour are advised to bring warm clothes and prepare for a choppy ride. The excursion's tour narrators do a great job of making the lighthouses interesting and fun.

Slavens said many of those taking the tour are older travelers who gravitate to the lore and architectural beauty of the structures.

"It's amazing the amount of interest there is in lighthouses now," added Zach Klyber, a naturalist who narrates tours aboard the Bay King III. He said that on many days "lighthouses" is the top-ranked searched term on the website of the Maine Office of Tourism.

The Bar Harbor lighthouses excursion is one of several new options for Holland America passengers on New England/Canada itineraries.

Five other new tours have been scheduled, including a whale-watching tour in Bar Harbor, a culinary tour in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, and a fortress and town tour in Sydney, Nova Scotia, which includes its own walking trail to the Louisbourg lighthouse.

Also, for the first time, Holland America has identified its top five excursions northbound and southbound on Canada/New England itineraries and is bundling them into value packages, which can be purchased for one-way or roundtrip voyages.

Holland America is expanding its Canada/New England deployment, both in the traditional fall season and increasingly during the summer. In 2012, it added a third ship, the Veendam, to the region, expanding capacity by 17%.

This summer, in addition to fall foliage cruises, the Veendam will make eight summer turnarounds in Quebec, joining the Maasdam, which does summer cruises from Boston from May to October.

The Eurodam is also scheduled to cruise from New York to Canada and New England, stopping at Bar Harbor in September and October.
Follow Tom Stieghorst on Twitter @tstravelweekly.
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