When cruising around Canada and New England, one thing is clear — the area boasts some of the most impressive and grand estates ever built. Once owned by the richest families in the world, many of these colossal mansions are now on display for visitors to explore and tour.
From Bar Harbor to Newport, Holland America Line shore excursions visit the most impressive of these former homes.
The name of the Grand Mansions of Newport tour says it all. With mansions representing more than 250 years of social and architectural history, this tour combines all the highlights of the Scenic Newport tour with a visit to one of the Grand Mansions. Passing through the historic colonial section of Newport, a panoramic sightseeing drive will take you along the world-famous Ocean Drive for spectacular views of Newport’s rocky coastline. Continuing to Bellevue Avenue, you will immerse yourself in a world of wealth and power, as it existed at the dawn of the 20th century. Visit one of the grand summer villas that defined the era known as the Age of Beauty. Depending on local conditions, you’ll tour either The Elms or Rosecliff, both of which represent the height of gracious living and entertaining by America’s elite. Imagine yourself at a fabulous party in a magnificent ballroom or perhaps at a fairytale dinner as your guide offers insight into the life of this fascinating time in American history.
A tour of Newport mansions, accompanied by history and anecdotes and just enough name-dropping, culminates in a tour of a specific home. Excellent access and pleasant treatment. When the staff learned we live near the enterprise that produced the owner’s wealth, they added special touches. — Guest Pointofview
On the Best of Newport with Lunch at The Elms tour, guests tour around Newport and dine like royalty at the estate. After taking in the world-famous Ocean Drive, renowned for the rugged beauty of Newport’s spectacular southern coastline, the tour heads to The Elms on Bellevue Avenue. Here you will enjoy an audio-guided tour of The Elms, one of Newport’s premier palatial “summer cottages” and one of the grandest villas ever built in the United States. This elegant French-style château, built in 1901, was the summer residence of Philadelphia coal magnate Edward J. Berwind and sits on a 10-acre park, which includes the elegantly restored French Garden. The estate contains every technological marvel of the time and was one of the first Newport houses to be fully electrified. Tour the magnificent public rooms of this mansion to catch a glimpse of the opulent lifestyle of the Gilded Age. Following your tour enjoy a catered lunch in the Elms Carriage House or in the courtyard overlooking the classical Sunken Garden.
The Vanderbilts’ Newport tour in the port of the same name highlights this famous family’s fortune. Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt (1794-1877) established the fortune in steamships and later in the New York Central Railroad. As the industrial revolution reached its zenith in the late 19th century, the Vanderbilts became the wealthiest family in America and chose Newport as their summer playground. On this tour, learn about the family empire and visit two of the grandest villas ever built in the United States. Completed in 1892, Marble House was modeled after the Petit Trianon at Versailles and took nearly four years to build at a total cost exceeding $11 million. Enjoy the stories of the elaborate parties of the Gilded Age as you tour the public rooms and grounds of Marble House. You’ll also visit the grandest of Newport’s ‘summer cottages’ — The Breakers — which was inspired by the 16th-century palaces of Genoa and Turin. Completed in 1895, the mansion is situated on a 13-acre estate with a spectacular view of the rugged Atlantic coastline.
The best parts of Newport are the Gilded Age “cottages.” Don’t just drive by them, but go into two of them! Audioguides available in each house let you tour these palaces at your own pace. Both houses are well-maintained and the audioguides allow you to do a quick tour, or to delve more deeply into the life and times of the Vanderbilts who summered here, and their staff. — Guest SES1
At Bar Harbor, Maine, guests on the Best of Both Worlds tour get to visit the rugged wilderness of Acadia National Park as well as one of the area’s last summer mansions. Pass Thunder Hole and Otter Cliff at Acadia where the right tidal conditions can send flumes of ocean spray high into the air. From the summit of Cadillac Mountain, weather permitting, marvel at the 360-degree view of the coast. See Sand Beach and the Jordan Pond House — the famous restaurant where tea on the lawn has been a tradition for more than a century. Continue to the Lobster Oceanarium and Museum, where visitors of all ages can learn about Maine’s lobster industry. A licensed Maine lobsterman will explain the life cycle of the lobster, and demonstrate the use of authentic traps and show you how these succulent creatures are caught. Then, discover the exclusive world of the Gilded Age with a visit to a restored turn-of-the-century ‘cottage’ — one of Bar Harbor’s last remaining summer mansions. The guide will share tales of a bygone era, when America’s wealthiest families made Bar Harbor their summer playground. Watch for High Seas — the stately cottage built for an English bride who booked passage on the Titanic and never saw her dream home.
For an overview of the opulence of Bar Harbor at the turn of the 20th century, the Step Back in Time: A Victorian Stroll through Bar Harbor tour takes guests back to a time when Bar Harbor was the world’s most exclusive and illustrious resort and stately Victorian mansions belonged to fabulously wealthy summer residents trying to outdo each other with lavish parties. Walk with a costumed guide — perhaps he is the Vanderbilt’s carriage driver, or she is a maid from the nearby Rockefeller estate — as they share tales of a magnificent time in America’s history. Learn of the society matron who ordered imported crystal champagne glasses by the case so her guests could toss them against the ocean-side boulders of Frenchman Bay after using them once, and the insecure couple who thought they could impress others by giving away priceless diamonds and jewels. Find out how the truly wealthy lived — attending the grandest parties, procuring superbly manicured estates, occupying mansions that seemed to stretch forever.
The female interpreter/guide was extremely knowledgeable and personable. She was dressed in the period. Good value for the money. We were fortunate to have great weather. — Guest 2Cruiselovers
Portland, Maine, features the Victoria Mansion on the Portland Highlights & Victoria Mansion tour. While not as well known as others in the region, it is equally impressive. Portland is at once historic, quixotic and beautiful, tinged by worldly Boston, but still inherently Downeast. Enjoy a scenic drive through the quaint streets of the Old Port, once the home of the warehouse district. The old red brick buildings have been transformed into charming restaurants, pubs, boutiques and galleries. You will pass a number of historic Victorian homes and neighborhoods, enjoying terrific views of Casco Bay and the islands from the East End Promenade. Learn about the history, architecture, and the life of the people who call Portland home. The city was founded in 1632 and boasts architectural masterpieces ranging from Queen Anne, Colonial and Federal to Beaux-Arts, Classical and Romanesque. Visit Victoria Mansion — one of the finest examples of Italianate villa-style architecture in the country. It was built between 1858 and 1860 at a cost of $400,000 dollars (an extraordinary sum at the time), and the richly decorated interior features colorful frescos, elaborate carved woodwork, an eye-catching chandelier, a Moorish–style smoking room, stained glass, and a magnificent flying staircase.
Have you visited any of these estates? Tell us below which one is most impressive!