Mentioning the words “boat cruise” to anyone visiting Maine will no doubt bring visions of sailing on the open ocean in search of spouting whales or amiable dolphins that are just as curious about their human visitors. Compelling visions of centuries old lighthouses on craggy cliffs may also come to mind.
The cruises of Maine’s interior lakes and rivers are equally enticing. Munching moose follow your progress as you drift along. Common Loons serenade your appearance with their distinct, and impressive, calls. Water, water everywhere, as they say. All of it within Maine’s borders is worthy of your attention.
Cruise Highlights of Maine’s Rugged Coast
It is true that the Gulf of Maine is home to so many whales that it is possible to catch a glimpse of spouts or the occasional raised flipper from shore. But to really get up close and personal with these leviathans of the sea, you must meet them on their “turf.” In the summer you might see the gregarious humpbacks and the more solitary finbacks as they dine on local fish. Flashy orcas, clothed in their black and white “tuxedos,” minke whales, dolphins and harbor porpoise also appear along the coast.
Seals show off their acrobatics in the water, and noisily announce their presence on coastal islands. Some of those bits of land are shared with nesting seabirds, including the comical puffin. Somewhat plump, with bright red feet and a beak to match, this comical creature is the clown of the bird world.
Complementing the natural world are the stalwart protectors of ships and all that sail on them, Maine’s iconic lighthouses. One of the most photogenic, and most photographed, is the Cape Elizabeth Lighthouse that protects Casco Bay and the greater Portland Area. It even has its own 1970 U.S. Postage Stamp. Photographers who capture this slender tower amidst a fiery Maine sunset will be twice blessed.
Maine’s Coastal Cruises
The types of scenic cruises along coastal Maine are almost endless. Two-hour trips take you to the Gulf of Maine, in search of whales, seals and seabirds that nest along the coast. Longer sails explore deeper waters and the rookeries of offshore islands. You may even spend the night anchored in a shallow cove, surrounded by the sea. Watching a sunrise from the gently rocking deck of a cruiser or windjammer sailboat lets you view coastal Maine from an entirely new perspective.
Trips out of Bar Harbor on U.S. mail boats take you to the Cranberry Islands, which really do have wild cranberries growing on them. The mail boats carry passengers, pets and small freight only, including bicycles. Two of the five islands allow visitors. Both have museums to explore, shops and/or cafes to enjoy and the opportunity to hike, bike and get some great photos.
Take a day cruise of Lubec and visit the Bay of Fundy, Cobscook and Pessamaquoddy Bay. Not only will you be looking for whales, but eagles and other shorebirds may come into view. Some cruises out of Saco follow the Saco River, inhabited by seals, harbor porpoise and sometimes noisy, flipper-flapping seals. Then it’s on to Tanta’s Ledge to find whales, sharks and the large, roundish sunfish.
Take a lobster boat tour out of Kennebunkport or elsewhere and learn how these crustaceans are caught. No doubt you will see a whale or two along the way. Scenic cruise departure points also include Boothbay Harbor, Camden, Rockland and Machia.
Cruise Highlights of Maine’s Interior
Heading into Maine’s heavily treed and sometimes rugged interior means exchanging pounding ocean waves for the ripples on mountain streams or trout-rich lakes. Rather than whales and dolphins dancing in the distance, moose wade belly-deep along lakes and streams in search of dinner. Instead of flocks of puffins or sea terns noisily camping out on rocks, Common Loons swim lazily on lakes and ponds, quiet unless something disturbs them. Owls rule the night skies while raptors soar in the sunlight.
Maine’s interior is a feast for the eyes, all the better when experienced from a boat. Paddle your own kayak or canoe or even take to the water in a pontoon boat, a hit for bird or moose watching on backwater lakes. Or, take a scenic boat cruise on some of Maine’s most nostalgic vessels.
Songo River Queen II – Bridgeton Lakes Region
You might just do a double-take as you catch sight of the Songo River Queen II that cruises Long Lake in the Bridgeton Lakes Region. What is a New Orleans style paddle-wheeler doing in the wilds of Maine? The cranberry-red hull contrasts with the white upper decks, complete with steam stacks befitting a Mark Twain novel. The 93 foot long vessel can hold 350 passengers on two decks and offers a cocktail bar and food court.
Christened in 1982, the Queen offers one and two hour cruises as well as specialty weekend cruises. Regular cruises run between $12 and $20 for adults with a discount for children. Cruise season runs from Mother’s Day until Halloween.
Katahdin Cruises – Moosehead Lake
The Katahdin, built in 1914, was once the only way to travel to the villages, resorts and hunting camps on Moosehead Lake. After the roads went in, the use of steamboats declined. But the Katahdin, named a National Historic Landmark in 1975, is still afloat, taking passengers on two and three hour cruises to Mt Katahdin and Mt. Kineo.
Owned by the non-profit Moosehead Marine Museum, the ivory white craft now runs on diesel fuel, one of the few nods to modernization. Indoor and outdoor seating is available, as is a food galley. Sailings are available from the end of June until the beginning of October, weather permitting. Cruises run from $33 to $38 for adults, with senior and children’s rates offered.
Oquossoc Lady – Rangeley Lake
The 28-foot Oquossoc Lady is a vintage a wooden launch built in 1947. She departs from the Saddleback Marina in Oquossoc and takes visitors on one hour cruises of Rangeley Lake. Since she sits lower in the water and carries only ten people, you enjoy a more intimate sailing experience..
The narrated tour takes you past wildlife-rich Rangeley Lake State Park, Bald and Saddleback Mountains and Naramantic Island. One-hour day cruises, sunset cruises and private charters are offered. The Oquossoc Lady sails from Memorial Day until Columbus Day weekend. Prices vary throughout the season.
UPDATE: The Oquossoc Lady (Rangelt Region Boat Cruises) is no longer in operation. It has been closed as of the 2021 season