Portland (Maine) (Photo:Sean Pavone/Shutterstock)
Portland (Maine) (Photo:Sean Pavone/Shutterstock)
3.5 / 5.0
Cruise Critic Editor Rating

Renee Ruggero
Cruise Critic Contributor

Port of Portland (Maine)

Portland, Maine, is all about lobster. It's hard to imagine this crustacean was once deemed poor man's food, but it's true -- lobsters would wash up on Portland's shores after a storm and be used primarily as fertilizer and bait. But with the advent of land transportation, lobsters were brought inland by the mid-1800's, and as the demand for lobsters increased so did the price. Today, the city boasts numerous restaurants -- all of which feature lobster (in some form) on their menus.

Shore Excursions

About Portland (Maine)


Pro

Fresh lobster and historic landmarks pepper this appealing New England port

Con

Come equipped with a windbreaker and some layers for windy or drizzly days

Bottom Line

Portland offers cruisers a classic taste of the Northeast, from a notable lighthouse to seafood aplenty


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But Portland has more to offer than a bunch of crustaceans. The coastal New England port boasts a vibrant working waterfront, an abundance of Victorian-era architecture and numerous historic lighthouses. Nestled on a picturesque seascape, the city is perched on a peninsula jutting out into the island-studded Casco Bay, protected from the Atlantic Ocean. The romantic movie "Message in a Bottle" was filmed in this seaside town and even the famous Portland-born poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow called Portland a "Jewel by the Sea" in one of his poems. The city welcomes close to 50,000 cruise ship passengers annually.

The historic port was once a major shipbuilding center, as well as one of the busiest fishing ports on the Atlantic as far back as the 18th century. Its success as a port made it a prime target for the British during the War of 1812 and also for the Confederates during the Civil War. The coastline and islands are still dotted with forts that were built to protect the city. Ironically, during an Independence Day celebration in 1866, a firecracker ignited a fire that quickly spread across the city's east end, destroying 1,800 buildings.

The city quickly rebuilt, resulting in lovely Victorian-era architecture, and today the Old Port (sometimes referred to as the Old Port Exchange) is a bustling seaport with a high concentration of quality eating and drinking establishments. With less than 67,000 residents, Portland is compact enough for visitors to explore the town thoroughly -- tourists can stroll along the working waterfront of Commercial Street, walk the cobblestone streets of the restored Old Port district, or visit a historic building or two.

What will you remember most from a visit to Portland? Will it be the lobster traps piled on the wharf, the smell of sea air combined with the chatter of seagulls or a visit to a historic attraction? If you're like the majority of visitors, a succulent lobster lunch may be your most savory memory of this New England port.

Where You're Docked

Major cruise ships dock at the Portland Ocean Terminal (also known as the Maine State Pier) and the Ocean Gateway Terminal, both on the fringe of the Old Port.

Port Facilities

The terminals are located adjacent to Commercial Street, which runs alongside the waterfront and features restaurants, quaint shops and fishermen at work. A visitor information booth is located just outside the cruise terminal, where you can pick up city maps.

Good to Know

Although Portland is a fairly safe port, it's always a good idea to be aware of your surroundings and leave unnecessary valuables and cash in your stateroom safe.

Getting Around

On Foot: It's easy to walk from the ship to shops, restaurants and attractions. While walking around downtown, look for Portland's Downtown District Guides, recognizable in their "outback" hats. They are on the streets of Portland in the summer to help visitors find their way around -- and their services are free! Alternately, 60-minute guided historical walking tours are offered daily at 1:30 p.m., June to September, for $10 per person. (489 Congress Street)

By Public Transportation: Visit Portland at your own pace on the seasonal 8A bus service and the other routes offered by Greater Portland METRO. Convenient stops are within walking distance of museums, galleries, retail shops, restaurants and historic landmarks. Ride all day for $5.

By Trolley: Take a 105-minute narrated trolley tour, passing many popular attractions (adults $22, kids 3 to 12 years $16). Tickets can be purchased at 170 Commercial Street on Long Wharf or online.

By Bike: Rent a bike just outside the Portland Ocean Terminal from Ring's Marine Service for $30 per day or from Cycle Mania, located a few short blocks from the Old Port, for as little as $25 per day (59 Federal Street).

By Car: Although most rental car companies are represented at the Portland Airport, Hertz (207-797-7156) and Enterprise (207-772-0030), open every day except Sunday, also have downtown locations that are just a quick taxi ride away. Rentals start from about $60 per day, and advanced reservations are strongly encouraged.

Currency & Best Way to Get Money

There are ATM's and banks located throughout the city. One of the closest ATM's can be found at the Casco Bay Line Terminal adjacent to the Maine State Pier and the cruise terminal at Portland Ocean Terminal (56 Commercial St.). To exchange other currencies into U.S. dollars, TD Bank has regular weekday and limited Saturday hours. (1 Portland Square; Monday to Friday 7:30 a.m. to 6 p.m., Saturday 8 a.m. to 3 p.m.)

Language

English is spoken in Portland.

Food and Drink

According to the Maine Restaurant Association, Portland is home to about 230 restaurants. Although many restaurants are within the downtown area, some good ones are located on the outskirts and are worth the trek. Seafood is a staple, with lobster being the star. Almost every restaurant features a "lobster roll," which is basically fresh picked meat from the lobster brushed with sweet butter and served on a toasted roll with (or without) mayonnaise. Other traditional dishes include whole lobster boiled or steamed under seaweed at a seaside lobster bake.

Casual Dining:
The Portland Lobster Company: For a truly Portland seafood experience, head to The Portland Lobster Company, specializing in you-know-what -- lobster. Big appetites can order the Downeast Feast, which includes lobster, steamers (Maine steamed clams), corn on the cob, coleslaw and fries (180 Commercial Street).

Dimillo's on the Water: Situated in a converted car ferry on the Portland waterfront, Dimillo's on the Water offers fresh seafood with an Italian flair. Choose from items like the Lobster Roll, Beer Battered Fish and Chips, the Maine Crab Club, plus a number of traditional Italian dishes such as Chicken Parmigiana. While you dine, you can watch the sights and sounds of Portland Harbor from the outside decks or enjoy the water views from every window in the dining room. (25 Long Wharf; open daily at 11 a.m.).

The Front Room: Serving American comfort food made from local ingredients, The Front Room offers classics such as Croque Monsieur (French for grilled ham and cheese), eggs benny, or biscuits and gravy. The cozy restaurant boasts warm woodwork and lots of windows overlooking the scenic Eastern Promenade (73 Congress Street; daily brunch 8 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.).

Becky's Diner: Eat where the locals eat at Becky's Diner. Here you'll see a mix of waterfront workers sitting at the long counter, elbow-to-elbow with tourists in the know. This diner-style restaurant serves generous breakfasts made from local ingredients, such as their French toast cooked with fresh-baked Italian bread. And the vast lunch menu includes items ranging from the ubiquitous Lobster Roll to a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, along with typical diner fare such as all-day breakfasts and burgers (390 Commercial Street; open at 4 a.m. daily).

Duckfat: Duckfat is a European-style fry and sandwich shop with reasonable prices. Their Belgian fries are cooked in duck fat for a unique flavor and served in a paper cone, and the milkshakes are made from locally produced ice cream (43 Middle Street; open daily at 11 a.m.).

Gourmet Dining:
Five-Fifty-Five: For an exciting gastronomical experience, Five-Fifty-Five offers a brunch menu that is far from just bacon and eggs. Try the Traitor's Eggs -- poached eggs served with lobster meat and a lemony hollandaise sauce. Maine Restaurant Association named Owner/Chef Steve Corry 2011 Chef of the Year (555 Congress Street).

Casual, Out of Town:
Freeport: Gritty McDuff's is a brew pub that offers more than just pub fare. Enjoy New England's classic seafood complemented by a pint of hand-crafted ale. There's even a playground onsite for the kiddies to play while you wait (187 Lower Main Street).

Peaks Island: The Inn on Peaks is owned by the Shipyard Brewery and its pub offers views of the Portland skyline. Choose from menu selections such as burgers wraps or the signature Buffalo-fried Maine Shrimp -- beer-battered shrimp served with a blue cheese dip and a spicy Buffalo sauce (33 Island Ave.).

Cape Elizabeth: On the rocky shores of Cape Elizabeth, adjacent to the famous Portland Head Light, sits The Lobster Shack at Two Lights. Enjoy the inexpensive yet fresh menu selections at picnic tables that overlook the surf, or eat inside the dining room, which features simple furnishings and large picture windows (225 Two Lights Road).

Shopping

Buy a souvenir that celebrates Maine's lobsters, lighthouses or maritime industry. Porte 4, 366 Fore Street, sells fine jewelry with nautical designs such as 18K gold sailboat and lighthouse pendants. For unusual and historical nautical artifacts, check out Shipwreck and Cargo, 207 Commercial Street. Another unique souvenir is Sea Bag's handmade water-resistant tote bag made in Maine from recycled sails. The company's headquarters is located on the working waterfront, 24 Custom House Wharf.


Portland (Maine) Awards

Cruisers’ Choice Destination Awards

2018 Top-Rated US & Canada Destinations