We set sail from Montreal on a beautiful, warm day. Note that the Auberge de la Place Royale is easy walking distance from the port. Also note that while they do not have an elevator, the old-world spaciousness and charm makes up for the flights of stairs.
The Maasdam is a great size for making friends and finding them again frequently. Cruise Critics was a great help for us as we discovered another couple interested in joining with us on our two private excursions. The first was on PEI with Harry Moreland who proved to be everything we hoped for and more. Harry clearly loves his island and took us to places no bus could ever go. The second private tour was Halifax Taxi Tours. Guide Richard was fine but his knowledge was not deep and his choices ("Here is one of Halifax's beaches"--about twenty yards of gravelly sand) were perplexing. But we still had fun and did not have to put up with a bus.
Quebec City: We opted to use Voir Quebec and their Food Tour was one of the highlights of the trip for us. Pierre was knowledgeable and charming and treated us to a variety of fascinating tastes of the city. I would love to spend more time in Quebec City. It is so French but still very accessible to non-French speakers.
PEI: As mentioned above, finding Harry Moreland for our private excursion made this an unforgettable experience. Prince Edward Island is a must for any fans of Anne and Green Gables but it also has much more to offer. My favorite moment? Standing on the cliff with stretches of red cliffs to either side and watching a flock of cormorants lift en masse from a favorite perching rock. Gorgeous.
Sydney: We took the HAL excursion that was billed as a hike to a waterfall. The waterfall was lovely but the hike was really more of a nature walk. 35 passengers opted in. Luckily, we were among the last to leave the falls and were able to enjoy a few moments walking in the woods near the end. The guide was competent but unenthusiastic. I heard great things about the Louisville (or was it "burg?") excursion.
Halifax: Another day we did a private tour. If anyone is in doubt about global warming the fact that it was actually hot at Peggy's Cove should lay those doubts to rest. An initially gloomy, foggy day became glorious within a couple of hours. If you use Halifax Taxi tours, let them know if you are sensitive to cigarette smoke. That was an issue for me.
Bar Harbor: We have been to this city many times so opted for the HAL Lighthouse by Sea tour. A foggy start seemed to only get worse as we traveled into the fog bank and the tour was cancelled. I was pleased to see a refund on our final bill. If shopping in Bar Harbor, be sure to visit the Clair de Loon Gallery on the main street leading from the dock. Gorgeous art and prints from local artists as well as signed books by the author of the award-winning Bloody Jack books.
Dining: Food was excellent and my absolute favorite was the cupcake tea. Don't miss the bread pudding cupcake! The service is always exceptional and I especially appreciated Dwi in the Lido who learned our names the first day and always greeted us with a big smile and our favorite morning beverages.
Entertainment: The Encore show featuring the Minyards and the accomplished "Adagio" violinist was our favorite of the big shows--who knew you could actually sing "Orinoco Flow" without all of the overdubbing so well? We also greatly enjoyed May and the HALCats. I have to say May is a Personality and that the Maasdam made great use of her unique talents. To listen to May support karaoke with singers of widely varying abilities and confidence is to watch a master at work.
Cabins: We were so grateful for our deck, especially once we were out in the Saint Lawrence Gulf and things became cooler. If booking this cruise, try to get on the cabin that is shoreside for the majorite of the trip. The rooms seemed to be in much better condition than those on the Zaandam three years ago.
All in all, a fabulous first cruise!