When we lived on Mount Desert Island, Maine, home of Acadia National Park, each summer seemingly the moment the weather turned nice, the island would be inundated with tourists. Acadia National Park gets nearly three million visitors each year, mainly in the months of July, August and September. And its a small park. The limited parking at the popular spots like Sand Beach, Echo Lake, and Jordon Pond fill up by 10 am. And Bar Harbor often gets flooded with cruise ship passengers looking for ice cream and t-shirts. After surviving on the island all winter it can be tough to have to share the best weather with so many visitors. So we would often pack up the family and head north on vacation to Lubec, East Port, Calais, Moncton or our favorite place – Prince Edward Island.
Before the Confederation Bridge connected Prince Edward Island to the mainland in New Brunswick, the only way to get there was by ferry. Bar Harbor was a connection point for the famous Blue Nose ferry. It would drop you off at Yarmouth, Nova Scotia and from there you could make your way up the coast and then finally get on another ferry to Prince Edward Island. Luckily for us we could just drive up through Maine and New Brunswick, pay the $40 for the bridge and be in our vacation rental in the same long day.
Prince Edward Island doesn’t have the mountains meet the sea drama of Acadia, pine forests or the granite cliffs and cobble stone beaches. What it does have is rolling farmland, red sandstone cliffs, lighthouses and sandy beaches.
Coming from Maine, the biggest attraction for us was the warm water. You see Cape Cod bumps the warm ocean currents out of the Gulf of Maine but Prince Edward Island is far enough east to be back in the current while the waters around Acadia remain bracing cold for most of the year.
Actual sand was another great attraction especially with little kids and sandcastle architects. Acadia has Sand Beach (about the size of perhaps two football fields) but the rest of the beaches are basically rocks. PEI has miles and miles of sandy beaches in a variety of colors including white and red. Nearly half of Prince Edward Island’s 500 miles of coastline features red (translation: rich in iron oxide) sand.
Prince Edward Island is also big enough to provide a week’s worth of exploring. Tip to tip it takes something like two hours to drive and the something like 60+ lighthouses to find, there is always some new place to explore. Especially for artists and photographers.
Prince Edward Island has such a laid back feeling. That has always been the attraction to us – relaxing. Feeling the wind blowing across the farm fields, watching the sunset on a totally empty beach – sure you can do a more hectic vacation if you want. There are golf courses, deep sea fishing trips, the towns of Charlotte and Summerside for shopping and sightseeing, some small amusement parks, splash parks, miniature golf, Ripley’s Believe It or Not museum, Cows Ice Cream etc, but its simply the amazing views and the sense of total relaxation that draws us back every chance we can get.
Call me a sap but I also am a sucker for that whole Anne of Green Gables story. The book, the mini-series, the play – I always enjoy it. Something about that kid who is always trying to do good but some how always ends up in trouble. I guess it reminds me of my own childhood.
Every time we go to Prince Edward Island I’m always amazed that the place isn’t overrun with tourists. I suppose there are some spots that would be considered crowded – around the tourist attractions around the L.M. Montgomery (author of Anne of Green Gables) home and other sites, but the island is so big that there are plenty of places where you can have a private beach to yourself.
One of the nicest, more relaxing experiences is renting a cottage for a week or so rather than a hotel room. Many of the farms have popped up little cottages at the end of their fields to make a little home away from home. Sure you have to cook and do the dishes but somehow its more relaxing to be away from the hustle and bustle of the more touristy areas.
This summer we are headed back to the island with our teenager and a few friends. It should be interesting to see the difference. We’ve rented a historic cottage within walking distance to the ocean and a harbor. With three teenagers and the ability to borrow the car, it will be interesting to see what choices they make to entertain themselves.
Prince Edward Island is a paradise for families with small children. There are plenty of pint sized amusement parks and the beaches are very kid friendly with gentle sloping sandy beaches and warm water. For teenagers with the ability to head out for the night there are mini-golf places, The Sand Spit amusement park and even a good old fashioned drive-in. Should be interesting.