Staycations are the name of the game for many Canadian families in 2020, but if you’re still looking for a getaway for the clan or just you and your partner, New Brunswick’s scenic St. Andrews should top your list.

The picturesque coastline of St. Andrews is reflected in the still waters of Passamaquoddy Bay, an inlet of the Bay of Fundy. (Cathy Donaldson photo)

True, this suggestion may appeal more to east coast residents since folks living in Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick can currently travel in the ‘Atlantic Bubble’, while outsiders must self-isolate for 14 days upon arrival. (If you can’t meet that two-week requirement, keep St. Andrews in mind for future travel planning.)

But for COVID-19-weary folks able to make the trek, this Bay of Fundy gem – also known as St. Andrews-by-the-Sea – is the perfect destination to recharge your batteries.

It sure made my family go from gloom to swoon.

After some challenging months dealing with pandemic issues at work and school, my husband, daughter and I felt refreshed in body, mind in spirit after a recent weekend in St. Andrews. A break from routine left each of us feeling ready to cope with whatever else 2020 decides to throw our way.

One of several local whale-watching tour boats is tidied up after a day of excursions. (Cathy Donaldson photo)

So what inspired us to make the two-and-a-half-hour drive from our home in Moncton to this little town of about 1,800, founded in the 18th century by Loyalists? In a nutshell, I knew from a past visit that it offered some of our favourite things:

  • A picturesque coastline
  • Great places to stay and friendly hospitality
  • Excellent eateries (especially for seafood lovers!)
  • A wide variety of activities, from a cool aquarium and whale watching tours to interesting historic sites, funky art galleries, cute shops and unforgettable sunsets.

A seagull takes centre stage at the town wharf, a wonderful gathering place at sunset. (Cathy Donaldson photo)

Of course, there was an added motivation for my family to choose this coastal community: the ‘Explore NB Travel Incentive’. Through this government program, New Brunswick residents who travel within the province between  July 15th to September 30th, 2020 are eligible for a 20 per cent rebate on a maximum of $1,000 of eligible expenses.

Brad Henderson, Deputy Mayor of St. Andrews, says the incentive combined with the town’s top-notch offerings and a terrific stretch of summer weather has made for a surprisingly good tourism season.

“The response has been overwhelming,” says Henderson, who also works as Director of Operations at St. Andrews’ beautiful, 27-acre Kingsbrae Garden. “If we’d had 60 or 70 per cent of visitors in this COVID-19 year, we would’ve been happy. But we’ve been blown away, seeing almost as much visitation as a normal year. There’s no question in my mind that New Brunswickers have decided to enjoy their province.”

And it’s not just New Brunswick families discovering St. Andrews this year. Families from all four Atlantic provinces have been flocking to the town, as have others visiting the region who have self-isolated for the required period.

In addition to the spectacular Kingsbrae Garden, one of the biggest draws to St. Andrews is the historic Algonquin Resort. The stunning 233-room, Tudor-style hotel sprawls atop a hill not far from the quaint downtown core. Originally opened in 1889 and once owned by the Canadian Pacific Railway, the Algonquin relaunched in 2014 after a $50-million renovation. Now part of the Marriott’s luxury-brand ‘Autograph Collection’, the hotel is really in a class of its own in New Brunswick.

Opened in 1889 and once owned by the Canadian Pacific Railway, the beautiful Algonquin Resort relaunched in 2014 after a $50-million renovation. It is now part of the Marriott’s luxury-brand ‘Autograph Collection’ and proved a relaxing oasis for the author and her family during their stay in St. Andrews. (Cathy Donaldson photo)

For families, it’s hard to beat the Algonquin, with its array of amenities. It’s truly a feast for the senses, featuring gorgeous interiors, well-appointed rooms, indoor and outdoor pools, a cool waterslide, spectacular gardens, outdoor firepits, complimentary bicycles and superb dining (don’t miss the delicious seafood chowder or maple crème brule) at the hotel’s Braxton’s Restaurant and Bar. (There’s also a full-service day spa and an award-winning, 18-hole golf course if mom or dad want to grab a little ‘me’ time.)

Pooja Rajmohan, the Algonquin’s Director of Sales, says she is pleased with the increase in bookings by leisure travellers – most of whom are from New Brunswick – since the hotel reopened in May after closing in March due to the pandemic. In fact, during my family’s recent weekend visit, the hotel had been fully booked for eight weekends.

“You know when the Algonquin is busy, the whole town is busy,” joked Rajmohan as we chatted near the hotel’s reception area not long after my arrival. “Guests have been so happy to get out of their homes and enjoy all we have to offer.”

St. Andrews features many outdoor murals, including this one of the town as it appeared in 1907. (Cathy Donaldson photo)

Ken Valen, the proprietor of Serendipin’ Art and Craft Gallery on Water Street, has lived in St. Andrews for 45 years and is equally upbeat about the level of visitor traffic.

“What I’m finding this year, more than any other year, is that I’m meeting so many New Brunswickers visiting St. Andrews for the first time,” says Valen. “It’s such a thrill to be a part of that. Visitors can hardly wait to come back to Canada’s oldest resort town. And they’re going to bring their family and friends.”

If you go, consider my family’s top five tips for a fun, soul-renewing vacation to St. Andrews:

  1. Ministers Island: Drive across the ocean floor to the former summer estate of industrialist, entrepreneur and artist Sir William Van Horne. Meander through magnificent century-old buildings that house art and artefacts telling the story of Van Horne and the St Andrew’s area. (Lots of pretty forested and waterside trails to peacefully roam, too.)

    Ministers Island – accessible from St. Andrews only at low tide – is a terrific junket when visiting the area. It is the site of the summer home of Sir William Van Horne, the president and driving force behind the Canadian Pacific Railway. (Cathy Donaldson photo)

  2. Kingsbrae Garden: Explore this 11-hectare property that features 50,000 perennials in themed gardens, as well as ponds, streams, old-growth Acadian forest, and various animals and birds. Plan a stop at the fabulous Garden Café where Chef Alex Haun creates delicious, light fare that is seriously as good to look at as it is to eat. (Lots of choices for the kids, too!)

    This begonia display beckons visitors of all ages at the entrance to the amazing Kingsbrae Garden, which features 50,000 perennials in themed gardens, as well as ponds, streams, an old-growth Acadian forest, various animals, and birds. (Cathy Donaldson photo)

  3. Huntsman Fundy Discovery Aquarium: This is a family favourite, giving all ages a unique opportunity to learn about the Bay of Fundy up close. This 20,000-square-foot facility has an upper- and lower-level public aquarium with lots of neat species. Aquarium staff provide great information about the marine ecology and economy of the Bay of Fundy. And their education programs are all ages. (Plus, who doesn’t love seals?)

*Steal of a deal: Pick up an ‘Experience St Andrews Pass’ to discover the three attractions mentioned above with unlimited entry over three days, for under $50 per person. Book online at any of the partner websites.

  1. Go for the seafood: As someone who could eat seafood until it comes out her ears, St. Andrews is a slice of heaven to me. Fortunately, my family feels the same. Along with devouring wonderful selections at the Algonquin, we tempted our tastebuds with haddock, scallops, lobster and clams at restaurants including The Gables and The Red Herring Pub. (There are a host of other dining options – make sure to make a reservation to save time and hunger pains.)
  2. Sunset stroll: If you dine out on a sunny evening, leave time for a waterfront stroll at sunset. Head to the town wharf to watch the sun dip over the horizon and soak up the moment. In these crazy times, simple pleasures can be the best and St. Andrews offers some amazing ones.

An explosion of orange appears over St. Andrews during this spectacular sunset. (Cathy Donaldson photo)

Cathy Donaldson is a writer based in Moncton. She travelled to St. Andrews as a guest of the Algonquin Hotel, and with assistance from Tourism New Brunswick, none of whom reviewed or approved this article before publication.