This was our 23rd cruise and the 8th with HAL, previously sailing with Cunard (4), Disney (4), Princess (4), Royal Caribbean (2) and Celebrity (1).
We were on the Veendam earlier this year to Bermuda and had bad weather going to and coming back from Bermuda. This was our chance to enjoy the ship with the added bonus of fall foliage and colors enroute. Overall, it was a great cruise which is always better than going to work.
We arrived the day before. Always a good idea, in order to reduce the stress of missing the ship. A number of passengers we met got delayed in Atlanta or other places enroute and so always wise to build in an extra day or two if possible.
If arriving at the airport, taxis are always your first choice to get into town but if you don't have too much luggage or mobility problems, try the 747 Bus which is part of the Montreal public transit system. For $8 per person (coins only, no bills), you get a pass which takes you downtown and is good for 24 hours. There are 11 stops along the way, each one near a number of hotels, or catch a cab for about $10 from the Berri-Uqam Metro station to most places in the downtown core. Maps of bus route and hotel information for various stops at this link.
Lots to do in Montreal. There's the Old Port, Notre-Dame church, Mount-Royal Park, Olympic Park. We stayed at the Le Meridien Versailles, a Starwood hotel, on Sherbrooke St. Watch the 20% taxes on accommodation and 15% on everything else. A cab from a downtown hotel to the port cost us $15. If taking the Metro to the port, closest station was Place d'Armes and then you had a good 20 minute walk (my estimate) or try for a cab from there. Weather was cold, temperatures were in the low 30s, with some snowflakes on Friday. Usually not this cold and should have been in the 60s throughout October.
We arrived at the ship at 10:45 am on Sat and were part of boarding group #2. On board by 11:30 am and then had lunch which is served from noon to 1:30 pm at the Rotterdam Dining Room for Mariners Society members. What a great way to start the cruise by avoiding the buffet, if you want table service.
Lifeboat drill could be better organized. Still the most disorganized of all the lines we have been on. Everyone still stands on outside deck for 30 minutes or more while they call out names of people who did not register with the ship staff or were late. I understand they are going to a system for scanning ship cards to determine who is not present.
All the excursions are great, especially the full-day ones, in case you get back late as there was one that arrived back well after the all-aboard time. Unless there is really something that we want to see, we will usually rent a car or have an idea of what we want to do and then decide when we get to port. Weather is a big factor as you may not want to go on a full day excursion in pouring rain. Cancellation deadline is usually 48 hours before the tour and non-refundable.
First port on second day was Quebec City. We walked throughout the downtown area, the pedestrian area called Le Quartier Petit-Champlain in the Lower Town, then for $2 up the funicular (cable car) to the upper level and Dufferin Terrace, the Citadel fortress constructed from 1820-1852, Fairmont Le Chateau Frontenac and the streets, UNESCO park and shops on the Upper Town. We walked the whole day, going back to the ship for lunch. Very calm waters cruising from Montreal to this location.
Third day was at sea and miserable, weather-wise. Overcast or rained the entire day and so not much for scenic cruising. Barely stepped outside. Seas became rough. Cruise log said this day's weather was "fresh gale, rough seas".
Fourth day was at Charlottetown. Rained heavily most of the day. We had reserved a rental car but cancelled when we arrived. We walked around town, and to Province House, a National Historic Site for the Charlottetown Conference. This is where the Fathers of Confederation met in 1864 and discussions led to the creation of Canada on July 1, 1867. Cost is free for a 10 minute video and self-guided tour. Very much like the Canadian version of the Founding Fathers of the Unites States. Many stores and restaurants closed for the season. Back to the ship after being thoroughly soaked, despite having umbrellas.
Weather wise, the rest of the week was OK. Temperatures mostly in the 40s or low 50s, much colder than expected. Actually very lucky for us because in previous weeks, there was a lot more rain and one week when it rained every day.
Fifth day was at Sydney. There is nothing in town to do. Best to take an excursion or rent a car. We picked Enterprise as they come pick you up. Rental car pickup area just to the left of the buses. The car rental folks have maps and driving instructions all set so very organized. We decided to do the Cabot Trail and made it as far north as Ingonish just inside the Cape Breton Highlands National Park of Canada. Most of the drive is boring, with land on both sides, despite the route being shown on maps as being along the coast. A few minutes of great scenery but that's about it, during a 2 hour one way drive. We were told that all the spectacular scenery is from Ingonish northward to Cheticamp on the west side of Cape Breton Island. There wasn't enough time to do this.
Sixth day was at Halifax. Lots to do here. We have visited before and done the Peggy's Cove and Lunenberg tours. We chose to stay in town by starting with the Marine Museum of the Atlantic. They have a permanent Titanic exhibit which we have not seen before. They also had a temporary exhibit called "Cable Ships -- Connecting Halifax to Titanic and the World". These ships, the Mackay-Bennett and Minia, laid undersea telegraph cables to allow transatlantic communication but were also the first two ships chartered to recover Titanic victims. Spent the rest of the day at the Halifax Citadel, then Spring Garden shopping area, the Public Gardens where everything was still in full bloom, then the Historic Properties on the waterfront. A little bit of time everywhere but too much to see and so we would have liked a second day/overnight here, to replace Sydney.
Seventh day at Bar Harbour. This is a tender port. When we came here on Carribean Princess in August a few years ago, the Island Explorer was a free shuttle that went all over the place, including Acadia National Park Loop Road and Jordan Pond House. Unfortunately, the shuttles end on Columbus Day. We tried to get the 2 pm one-hour tour with Ollie's Trolley but it was sold out. Last tender left at 4:30 pm so didn't try to catch the 3:30 tour. It was overcast and unlikely to get to Cadillac Mountain. There is lobster on Main St with prices at $9.99 per pound. May be more expensive in the summer months. The ship's shopping pages recommended the West Street Cafe with New England clam chowder, Maine lobster and blueberry pie at $25. If you are walking, keep going up to Mt Desert St where there were restaurants advertising $12.95 lobster lunches. Take a walk along the Shore Path which starts besides the Bar Harbor Inn and then walk back down to the ship on Main St. which is what we did.
Last day in Boston. I was going to take a chance on catching a cheap flight at 9 am out of Logan and didn't know about the Border Protection inspection in Bar Harbor. There's always a chance that the ship won't be cleared, there'll be a long line-up for something, such as taxis, so best to reduce the stress and take a flight after 10 am, even better in early afternoon. We chose self-disembarkation and took our time getting off at 9:30 am. There was a very long line-up for cabs. Be patient.
Great shows on board, including production shows Street Singin', Live from the Stardust Lounge, Encore which was very nice with classically trained singers, comedian Joe Yannetty, piano man Stephen Kane, and the welcome and farewell shows. Enjoyed Adagio Strings, piano man David Anthony and Neptunes throughout the week. Dan Bernbach was a great cruise director. Make sure you go to the farewell show to see what else he is capable of. Thoroughly impressed with him.
We always enjoy the food but to the cooks, please reduce the salt, use herbs for flavouring and let everyone add their own salt.
We had an oceanview cabin (DA551) on deck 5 towards the bow. It is close to the elevators and across the hallway, in front of 553, is the room attendant who starts work early and makes a loud of noise because of the nature of their work. Also, right above you on the lower promenade deck are the cable fittings which attach to the ramp for disembarkation onto ground level from deck 3, in Quebec City, Charlottetown and Syndey, when a bridge or jetway is not used. If you are an early rise and won't be bothered by the noise, great. If not, pick another cabin.
Three days before, we were sent an email to pay for an upgrade to a Lanai cabin on the lower promenade deck for $300 per person. We had been onboard in April and weren't impressed with these cabins because in the day time, in overcast conditions, people walking the deck can see right into your cabin and there goes any privacy. At night time, you definitely have to keep your curtains drawn. Keeping your curtains closed a lot of the time means we could take an inside cabin for a substantially low cost. The weather is not really conducive to sitting on a veranda or the lower promenade deck -- it was mostly too cold and to see people sitting on deck chairs bundled in multiple layers with blankets, no thanks, not for us anyway.
Customs. From Montreal to Boston, you clear US Immigration/Border Protection at Bar Harbour. Their officers come on board at the Explorations Cafe from 7:45 to 9:30 am. A schedule is sent out, according to which deck you are on or on an excursion, but their timings were way off, by an hour, and many were scrambling to leave the dining room and get to the inspection. When disembarking at Boston, you only hand in the Customs Form with agriculture information etc. I was told by front office staff that when you go the other direction, you go through Canada Customs and Immigration at Montreal, even though Halifax is the first Canadian port.
Final word on disembarkation morning. Please read the Cruise Log to see what the restaurant hours are. They should have a sign at supper on the last evening and should also include this information with the disembarkation tags. We saw one guest verbally abuse the Lido Restaurant staff after he arrived late for breakfast and found out the buffet ended at 8:30 am. The food services and cabin attendant staff work 13 hours per day, 7 days a week for 10 months, yes there are some days off, but they work too hard to be subjected to verbal abuse.
The passenger on board with most cruise days with HAL had 647 sea days. We met a 90 year old man from Texas and one couple celebrated their 67th wedding anniversary on board. Wow!
The ship headed south from Boston towards the Panama Canal and South America.
Thanks for reading and hope this was helpful.