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Cruising the St. Lawrence River is one way to have a ferry-tale holiday

July 2011

From the start, I must confess: I’m a travel-writer who has never taken a cruise. That disclosed, I’ve decided to right the wrong and plan one.

Since Montreal is such a great place to enjoy summer, and I didn’t want to spend any extra money on flying, I needed a ship whose port is a mere métro station away. I wanted the cruise to be as close to my fantasy of a Mediterranean or Caribbean one as possible, and it had to be a week long.

Over the years, I’ve heard about one- or two-day cruises along the St. Lawrence River, but I dismissed any cruise shorter than three days in duration. Cruise companies with the luxury and size I’ve come to imagine zip through the St. Lawrence on their way to more tourist-appealing destinations in the Maritimes and Newfoundland.

Cruises of two days or more meant looking at more regional carriers and smaller ships. I conjured a vision of taking one of those romantic freighter or cargo ship cruises that offer you few amenities and high ticket prices.

The most prominent cruise line in Quebec is Groupe CTMA, complete with a tagline that asserts “Destination Magdalen Islands—your most trusted carrier since 1944!” Their ferry ship is called the CTMA Vacancier and cruises are run out of Montreal every week until September 16.

CTMA’s ship is a modern ferry cruiser— it has seven decks, 440 cabins, and is 120 metres long. The ship is designed to get you to Îles de la Madeleine and back with that “small community” feel and is equipped with a theatre, dépanneur, exercise facilities, club lounges, a children’s play area, and lots of TV areas and drinking lounges.

They have cruises leaving from Montreal with several all-inclusive, nicely-designed packages for seven nights and eight days from about $1,750 to $1,950 per person. Packages include Cruise and Taste of the Islands, Cruise and Adventure and an Art and Culture Cruise.

There are packages that cater to a more vigorous, physical agenda and one even includes sleeping overnight in a yurt. For the young at heart, there is the more physically challenging Cycling and Cruise package.

One package offers an array of ornithological attractions while re-creating Jacques Cartier’s epic voyage in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Along with the captain and crew, you will “dress up” in period costumes and the dining room promises to cook up a mess of typical New France dishes.

Each voyage offers a bilingual show that showcases Îles de la Madeleine culture and talent while docked in Cap aux Meules. The on-board concerts are open to the entire island community.

Since testimonials contribute much-needed insights into travelling, I consulted my next-door neighbour François Brunet, who translates international legal documentation. François and his wife took a culinary cruise last year aboard the Vacancier.

What was non-negotiable for first-time cruiser François was a “cruise with scenery. The landscape along the edge of the St. Lawrence is most impressive and the whale watching was extraordinary.”

Although he was not enamored with the “cramped” quarters (en-suite), he was quick to say the other amenities made up for this “minor inconvenience.” He also noted the ample entertainment and well organized tours of Îles de la Madeleine. What’s nice about these cruises is that they stop to enjoy Quebec’s much-loved geographic icons such as Pointe-au-Pic in the Charlevoix region and the “rock” in Gaspésie.

For many of us who may never have enjoyed the beauty that makes up Quebec’s lower north shore, a “cruise with scenery” is a definite consideration. François intends to plan a cruise from Vancouver Island northward, hugging the shore on its way to Alaska.

Groupe CTMA:



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