Very little has been written about the Canadian Empress so we approached our trip with little or no information about the ship or the cruise itself.
This is a small ship, the only ship of the St. Lawrence Cruises company. it is headquartered in Kingston, Ontario, and sails a summer schedule of trips of various lengths along the St. Lawrence Seaway. Our trip began in Kingston and ended in Ottawa.
We flew into Ottawa, spent two nights at the wonderful Chateau Laurier and then took the train down to Kingston about two and a half hours. We spent one night in Kingston. A nice little town but not worth more than one night. Great B&B there The Frontenac Club Inn.
We boarded the ship at 5:30 p.m. The ship is very punctual. No boarding early and it departs right at 6:30 p.m. Guests should plan accordingly.
The Empress accommodates 60 passengers. Our trip over Canada Day and 4th of July had 31 guests. The cruise director described this as a "light" summer. The ship is running about half capacity for most of its trips. While this is difficult for the company, it's great for the passengers. The normal two seatings were merged into one. There was an abundance of extra seats on the upper deck and other outside areas. As we had two days of rainy, fairly cold weather, this was a real plus.
CABINS As you would expect, the cabins are small. There are several with double beds but most have two bunks, one that folds down during the day. Toilet must be pumped. Overall, we did not find the size to be a problem. We were, however, ready to get off after 5 nights and looked forward to our king bed! The attendant was excellent and the room and the ship overall are very well maintained and very clean.
FOOD The hospitality crew on the ship rotates. We had Joe as chef and he was outstanding. Really, really good food. Lots of fresh vegetables, 2 fish entrees that were very good, and a prime rib as good as I've ever had. The highlight, unfortunately, was Joe's breads and pastries. Homemade bread with every meal, including breakfast and an apple pie to die for. No complaints.
ACTIVITIES AND ENTERTAINMENT The ship makes at least one stop a day along the St. Lawrence for a tour. Given the places available, they do a pretty good job. The best, without question, was the tour of the Upper Canada Village, Canada's Williamsburg. Surprisingly, the school bus tour of the animal park in Montebello was great fun, mostly due to the antics of the passengers who really got into the trip in spite of a misting rain and temps in the 60's. The least interesting was the tour of Montreal, largely due to the guide, who told jokes and did not seen so interested in sharing the history or the sites of the city. A disapointment.
The evening's entertainment was actually quite good all brought in from the local area and all who sought to capture the Canadian spirit, with a few American tunes along the way. The last night's "dance band", a trio, led to a lively evening of dancing, singing and fun.
PASSENGERS Given the size of the ship and the vageries of the weather, this cruise is more dependent than most on the make-up of the passengers. We were very lucky. A great group which ran the gamut from a very successful real estate developer, several retired foreign service couples, a fireman and a realtor. The vast majority of passengers were retired, age 65 and above but they were lively, informed, and full of zest.
WOULD WE DO IT AGAIN? This was a very nice trip, again largely due to the fellow passengers, the great food, and the scenery. The Thousand Islands are beautiful and best seen from the water. There were a number of repeat passengers on the ship. I don't know as I would do it again but I did feel we more than got our money's worth and we thoroughly enjoyed our time on the Seaway. Just be aware this is not the typical cruise experience. Go in with reasonable expections and they will be exceeded.