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When visiting the Portland, Maine cruise port of call, it’s easy to visit the area’s natural wonders, which vary from pretty neighborhood parks to ruggedly stunning coastal views. Portland isn’t just about the gorgeous New England scenery, though.
Portland ties together a trading and fishing settlement past with a current culture of arts and nature. Once dubbed by Longfellow as the “city by the sea,” you’ll find that Portland has maintained much of its historic past including intricate 19th century architecture and landmarks. The historic buildings are now filled with museums, renowned restaurants, art galleries, and artist studios. You can explore all that a Portland, Maine cruise port of call has to offer during a Canada and New England cruise itinerary.
New England is known for its picturesque lighthouses, and the coastal area you can see during a Portland, Maine cruise stop is no exception. Most scenic shore excursions will include a stop at one of the six lighthouses located within 20 minutes of the city.
The Portland Observatory Museum is the only remaining historic maritime signal tower in the United States and is a National Historic Landmark.
It’s a popular place to visit in Portland because guided tours of the observatory will teach you about the area’s maritime history and how Portland has evolved over the last two centuries. The observatory also has breathtaking views of Portland, Casco Bay, Back Cove, and Mt. Washington.
Victoria Mansion is located near downtown Portland and was built in 1860. It stands as a sparkling example of the opulence that characterized homes of the era and is a stunning piece of pre-civil war Victoria architecture. You can tour Victoria Mansion to see the interior and view rooms still decorated as they would have been in the 17th century.
Ten minutes outside of Portland, you can find the world’s largest 3D scale model of the earth, which comes in at an impressive 42 feet in diameter. If you’re interested in geography, it’s a fun sight to see since it replicates the Earth’s current rotation and movements. The globe is created by Garmin Yarmouth, a name you may recognize from the company’s many GPS products.
New England is rich in American history, and Maine is no exception. To learn more about the state’s past, visit the Maine Historical Society, which consists of a collection of historic buildings and a museum located in downtown Portland. It serves many educational purposes due to its onsite library and digital memory network, but for tourists its main attraction is the Wadsworth-Longfellow House and Longfellow Garden.
The Wadsworth-Longfellow House is famous for being the oldest standing structure on the Portland peninsula as well as being the childhood home of the American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. The house was built in 1785 and is a National Historic Landmark. It is architecturally stunning and interesting to tour as it is still decorated in a manner that would have been common in the 18th and 19th centuries. While touring the house you can also learn more about Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and the impact he had on the New England political and literary scene.
Founded in 1882, the Portland Museum of Art is the oldest and largest public art institution in Maine. It provides visitors with a look into the regional art culture and aesthetic of Maine in addition to its permanent collection of American, European, and contemporary pieces.
If visiting Portland cruise port with little ones, a visit to the Children’s Museum and Theatre of Maine is sure to delight. It has interactive and hands-on exhibits to promote learning about all sorts of subjects, including gravity, recycling, construction zones, gardening, and so much more. Children of all ages will be entertained while being educated, and even adults might find they learn something new! The museum is located in Portland’s Arts District.
Another Portland museum sure to be a hit with kids and adults alike is the Maine Narrow Gauge Railroad Company and Museum. Within the museum you can see the equipment for Maine’s unique 2-foot gauge railroad system that operated in the 19th century, and learn more about the history of Maine’s railway system and why it’s important to the state.
Beer lovers on cruises to Portland, Maine will enjoy visiting Allagash Brewing Company while in Portland. Started in 1995, Allagash is known as New England's original Belgian-style brewery, and is a respected player in the craft beer industry.
This unique museum is a fun diversion from local history; instead you’ll learn about the history of cryptozoology, which focuses on trying to find and learn more about folklore creatures such as Bigfoot and the Loch Ness Monster. In addition to an exhibit on Bigfoot that includes an 8-foot tall display of the creature, you can learn more about the Jersey Devil, the Mothman, various lake monsters, and the Abominable Yeti.
Portland is known for its fresh seafood and has many places to try local seafood delicacies. Depending on the ambiance you’re looking for, here are some suggestions for where to dine in Portland.
DiMillo's On the Water
This cool little restaurant will delight you with both its food and setting. The restaurant is literally located on the water as it resides in a converted car ferry. You’ll dine on lobster and other fresh seafood surrounded by water, which affords every table a stunning harbor view.
Boone's Fish House & Oyster Room
For some al fresco dining, Boone’s Fish House and Oyster Room is a great option. It spans two stories and has outdoor seating on both levels overlooking the harbor as well as an outdoor bar if you just want a drink while taking in the views.
Maine has a strong Irish heritage and you can get a taste of some of it at Bull Feeney’s, an authentic Irish pub and restaurant that serves up traditional Irish cuisine and seafood, plus has an extensive selection of Irish Whiskey as well as Scotch.
Gilbert's Chowder House
If you want to try a heaping bowl of New England chowder, it’s hard to go wrong with a visit to Gilbert’s Chowder House, which as their name suggests, is known for its chowder. You can try five different types of chowder – clam, fish, corn, seafood, or seafood chili – while gazing out at the wildly beautiful Casco Bay.
Portland’s history has long been tied to the sea. The long peninsula it’s located on was called Machigonne (Great Neck) by the Native Americans who first inhabited it. When the British began building colonies in America, they also found the peninsula to be an alluring piece of land and established it as a trading and fishing settlement in 1632. Originally called Casco and then Falmouth by the British, the name was changed after the Revolutionary War to Portland. Portland continued to grow as a commercial port and shipping center. When Maine became a state in 1820, Portland served as the state’s first capital until 1832, when it was switched to more centrally located Augusta.
Portland has two terminals: the Portland Ocean Terminal (also referred to as the Maine State Pier) and the Ocean Gateway Terminal. The two terminals are located just a few blocks apart and large cruise ships will dock at the Portland Ocean Terminal.
From the cruise terminals, you’re in walking distance to downtown Portland and all its popular neighborhoods, including the Old Port shopping district and the Arts District.
Casco Bay Lines
If you’re planning on exploring the islands of Casco Bay during your day in Portland, you’ll likely be taking a ferry to do so. Casco Bay Lines operates ferries to the islands and is located about a 15-minute walk from the cruise terminal.
Greater Portland Metro
If exploring beyond the walkable downtown area of Portland, the Greater Portland Metro bus system may be an ideal mode of transportation. The Metro also operates in downtown Portland along Congress Street for those who would like a break from walking between the city’s top attractions. The Metro also has a line that operates service to Freeport.
You can usually hire a taxi in front of the cruise terminal, but they are sometimes limited in their availability so there may be a wait to do so.
Cruises to Portland, Maine provide excellent shopping opportunities. Whether you’re looking for fashion or art, you can find it in Portland along with much more. The city’s Arts District is full of art galleries and antique shops while the Old Port area has everything from clothing boutiques to house wares. For souvenirs like t-shirts and knick-knacks, head to the shops lining the waterfront district.
If you’re really into shopping and attire – particularly of the outdoorsy variety – you may want to take a detour to Freeport during your Portland, Maine cruise stop. Why? Because Freeport is home to the famous L.L. Bean Flagship Store, which is hard to miss thanks to the 16-foot rubber bottom boot located next to the store and which is a giant replica of the brand’s beloved boots. While visiting the store, you can even sign up for a class at the L.L. Bean Outdoor Discover School, which has kayaking, fly-fishing, archery, and more.
Portland and the rest of Maine use the U.S. dollar currency and there are numerous ATMs located around the city where you can take out cash. Credit cards are accepted in most places of business in Portland, but it’s wise to double check beforehand. It’s also important to confirm with taxi drivers if they take credit card before getting in the cab, since not all do.
Tipping is expected in the USA, with 15% to 20% of the total bill or fare being customary.