Cruising through Canadian Waters
I'm always looking to discover new vacations, cruise ships, and itineraries. When my friend Harry told me about his upcoming Holland America cruise up to Quebec, I suggested he write a guest blog post. He did just that and it's terrific. Read through for a wonderful account of their cruise, including reviews of their cabin and public areas on the ms Maasdam, suggested excursions, and tips all along the way. Thanks so much, Harry! It sounds like a fabulous way to spend an anniversary.
My wife and I live in the Canadian province of New Brunswick and had a desire to take a Canadian cruise. The cruise chosen was a two-week Holland America cruise aboard their ship ms Maasdam departing from the port of Boston with the destination of Montreal, Quebec then return. One explanation on ‘why this cruise’ would be that we could literally drive to the port and board instead of dealing with airports and all the security that entails. Another reason is that although I have visited each of the port destinations of the cruise, my wife had not and it was really her desire to take this cruise. The best time of the year for a Canadian cruise would be the fall as the colors of the trees would be spectacular, however for other reasons our cruise was in June, most relevant was that during this time would be our 25th wedding anniversary.
The boarding process is an uncomplicated one. Passengers, who arrive by personal car at the terminal, unload their luggage before driving to the parking garage to deposit their vehicles for storage during the cruise. Although parking at the garage can be costly, $20-$30 per day, at least the car is there when you return. All other passengers arrive by various means, bus, taxi, drop off’s, etc, just unload their luggage that is taken by porters who then load them onto the ship for disbursement to the appropriate cabins. The terminal provides for passengers to go through ID check then the luggage is checked with the porters. Passengers then proceed to the cruise check-in where they have their carry on luggage scanned and/or searched, photo taken, their cabin assigned, and room keys issued. All passengers will have the standard souvenir photo taken before they board and find their way to their cabin. We generally choose an interior cabin because while the ship is in port, we are on shore, when moving we would normally be on deck or at some activity and at night there is nothing to see when looking out into the darkness. Just our preference. In the summer months, light streaming into the windows, will prematurely wake us so having an inside cabin allows for additional sleep after a late night. I must say that the crew was very quick in moving our luggage to our room as it was there before we left port.
Passengers dining on the ms Maasdam had numerous options, most common was breakfast and dinner in the ships dining hall. Passengers could either make a reservation or just present themselves at the reception and be seated, either by themselves or sharing a table with others. Sharing is our preference as we get to meet and talk with other passengers. We learned that many of the people on the cruise are not first time cruisers and many were more senior and retired than on other cruises we have taken. Some attribute this to school still being in session and not normally a vacation time so take this as it is. Other options for eating is the Lido buffet dining and a burger & fry option near the pool. The ship offers three specialty-eating areas at an additional surcharge and while I am sure the menus offer great options, we did not feel the need to spend the additional amount for this option. All the food served was very good, depending upon the diner's tastes, and plentiful.
Day of Departure:
The ms Maasdam, according to available information, is 722 feet in length with 11.5 decks for passenger use (5 decks for cabins) and carries approx. 1,258 passengers, although passengers on the Boston to Montreal trip were told it had a capacity of 1,200 passengers and 1,197 passengers were on board, so the trip was fully booked. We were to learn that many of the passengers had originally boarded in Montreal so the trip from Boston to Montreal was just a return trip for these people. We departed Boston around 4:00 PM enroute to Bar Harbour, Maine. The trip does not take long so we are in port before 8 AM.
Bar Harbor is a quaint New England town. My first experience was in the 1970’s when I came to take the ferry to Yarmouth, Nova Scotia. If going to Nova Scotia, the ferry would shorten the travel time. The ferry no longer operates from Bar Harbor and its departure was from a different location from where the cruise ship anchored. As Bar Harbor does not have a large pier where the ship may tie up, the ship must anchor in the harbor and deploy Tenders to shuttle passengers between the ship and the dock. This stop is the only port where tendering is necessary. The excursions offered by the cruise line focus on the Acadia National Forest and the views from the highest peak. I’m sure those who take the excursion will have good things to say about how pretty the scenery is and the view, but for us, we were more interested in the architecture of the homes and businesses in town and strolling through allowed us to take our time to enjoy the town and their stores. Of most important to us was a visit to the Del Sol store known for their color changing T-shirts, hats, nail polish, sunglasses, and other accessories. I purchased a T-shirt, hat, and hair clips for my wife. Note that when I say color changing, I mean that when exposed to sunlight, the items literally change color.
We left port about 8PM for Halifax.
Halifax is the capital city of Nova Scotia and the seat of government. The city has a colorful history that includes the Halifax Explosion (HE) by which all other explosions are measured and is a major site where deceased passengers from the Titanic are buried. The HE occurred during WWI when two ships, Mont Blanc and Imo, travelling in opposite directions within the harbour collided. One ship, the Imo, was transporting munitions for the war and was damaged so severely it literally blew all the homes and people away. Over 10,000 people died that day. The history of both the HE and Titanic are captured in displays at the Maritime Museum on Water Street. A visit to the museum is a recommended stop.
Other shore excursions include trips to iconic Peggy’s Cove and local city tours. PC is known for being a picturesque fishing village with a lighthouse, it is also known for the location where SwissAir flight 111 crashed. A warning is provided to all visitors to stay away from the rock edges. Many a tourist have lost their lives by being swept into the water by a wave then slammed back against the rocks.
As both my wife and I had lived in Halifax and knew the sites, it was more important to visit with friends who lived there, which we did.
Also available is a trip around the Cabot Trail. A drive on this historic road is very scenic and well worth the effort.
Another excursion is approximately 5 hours and takes passengers to the Bird Islands of Cape Breton. “At the entrance to the great Bras d'Or channel, you will discover the beautiful Bird Islands. Rising from the sea like rocky pillars, these islands are the nesting grounds for thousands of seabirds -- razorbills, kittiwakes, bald eagles, and more than 300 pairs of Atlantic puffins.” (Excursion description from Holland America website.) Passengers on this tour will board a boat that will take them to the islands while the father son team narrate the nesting habits of the various seabirds. Be certain to have your cameras ready for this amazing mini cruise. While we had our cameras at the ready, the sea was very rough and it became impossible to take any photos so the professional photos on post cards would be much better than anything an amateur could create. The mini cruise ended with passengers invited into the owners’ home for hot tea and oatcakes. The father and son operation demonstrated their professionalism of 46 years and were very knowledgeable. The tour guide on the bus told his charges about the region and the economy.
Charlottetown, PEI, another cold day but the smallest province in Canada has a big historical significance. It is in Charlottetown that the Articles of Confederation was signed bringing the provinces together as a country. Also known for author Lucy Maude Montgomery who wrote the “Anne of Green Gables” series of stories. While fictional, a home, as depicted in the stories, exists on the North Shore of PEI in the town of Cavendish. A visit is well worth the trip and anyone familiar with the stories will find many a significant reference from the books do exist at this landmark. If passengers missed the trip, everything ‘Anne of Green Gables’, is available in the Anne of Green Gables store on Queen Street in Charlottetown.
Each year the Confederation Centre present a play about Anne of Green Gables and a musical of Anne & Gilbert is presented at the Guild theatre. Each are worthy of the cost. The Guild is a very intimate theatre so unless you really wanted the walking tour which precedes the show, I suggest to Canadians to go online and purchase the tickets in advance as money can be saved.
After departing Charlottetown the next stop is Quebec City, Quebec, however to get there a slow meandering sailing down the Saint Lawrence Seaway must be taken particularly to avoid any whales that may also be using the seaway. Passengers can gaze upon the scenery along the shore in search of wildlife or sea animals or take part in activities occurring around the ship. The highlight of this leg of the trip was the sailing under the Confederation Bridge, the fixed link between New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island. Regarding the Confederation Bridge, to cross the bridge takes about 10 minutes. Drivers are not charged to drive the bridge to PEI but your trip back to New Brunswick from PEI will cost $49.00 CDN. The bridge is curved, 8 miles long, and is the longest bridge in the world crossing ice-covered water (in the winter.) When there are strong winds, traffic is closed to high-sided vehicles until the danger has passed. The only other option to get to and from the island is a ferry from the island to a ferry port in Nova Scotia.
Quebec City, Quebec. Step into French speaking Canada where language police dictate that all signs must be in French and the overwhelming majority of residents are French speaking. The highlights of Quebec City is the old city and the Citadel. Quebec City will remind visitors of Europe of the old country. A few of the shore excursions are of a walk around of the old city with explanations of the significance of the buildings and landmarks. Our tour combined the walk with a wine tasting. While the walk was fascinating and informative, the wine tasting was a little disappointing. This had to do with expectation. The tasting had three different wines and I expected a few more. Those in attendance did not seem to mind.
Day seven, half-way point:
Montreal, Quebec is a bi-lingual city where there lives a mixture of only French speaking people, only English speaking people, and bi-lingual speaking people. This point of the cruise is where passengers who started in Montreal for a 14 day cruise, passengers on a seven-day cruise out of Boston disembark, and new passengers who booked a seven/fourteen day cruise to Boston board. It is a busy day for ship personnel but for passengers who booked a round trip, such as we did, we get to disembark and tour the old town of Montreal and eat some of the delicious food offered in this port city. A slow horse and carriage ride is one of the features of this city. Visitors should also tour the Notre Dame cathedral.
Although our trip went an additional 7 days, I have already reviewed each port of call and the ship returns to Boston stopping at each of the ports where they docked in the first seven days.
Every cruise I have been on tries desperately to book their passengers on another of their cruises. Holland America is no different. What is interesting to note here is that starting in September 2018, the focus of the company is to move away from the patterned round trip cruises that other cruise ships take in favor of excursion cruises. The excursion cruises may be of varying lengths with varied ports of call. Just as an example, on August 18 the ms Maasdam will travel from Montreal on a 13 day voyage to Fort Lauderdale arriving on Aug 31. Then on Sep 10, the ship travels from Fort Lauderdale to the French Polynesia on a 34-day voyage. For passengers, this means the cruises will mostly be one way where you board in one port and depart at a different port and because of the length of the voyage, working families with limited vacation time will not be able to take these cruises. This cruise is nice and relaxing as there is no rush to get anywhere and there are not many engaging activities by the cruise director. There are activities, such as Americas Test Kitchen demonstrations, Microsoft Digital Workshop, and National Geographic presentations, but these are professionals making presentations to passengers and not really an interactive activity.
In the Library, passengers can engage in conversation, work on puzzles, read books, or just sight-see out the windows of the ship. If asked the question: Would I take the cruise again, I would have to say, been there, done that, on to something else. Would I take a Holland America Cruise? My answer is that the cruise line chosen for any given cruise is dependent upon several things:
With these things in mind, if Holland America has a cruise that meet all the above, then yes, if not then a competitor may win my business.
By Harry Nachman
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Thanks for cruising by! Along with creating this website and blog, I work in an office full-time and as a mom to two energetic young men. With our family's busy work and school schedule, we look forward to traveling during holidays. Although it seems that our family can never agree on anything, we do when it comes to vacations. We typically travel on cruises or stay at luxury hotels while enjoying upscale dining, beautiful decor, excellent service, and spacious accommodations. However, we still need family friendly and comfortable! When we are not traveling, I enjoy dining out locally, as well as cooking and baking in my own kitchen.
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