It was nice for a change to get away from Caribbean scenery and see something different -â€" risking the sometimes ugly northeast weather for some gorgeous fall scenery. As it was, we had pretty good luck ALMOST all the way through.
The cruise started in Quebec City, so I flew up the night before on WestJet, an airline I didn't even know existed, but which gets top rates from me for friendly service, reasonable rates, and very few extra charges for what used to be normal services for airlines. Arriving in Quebec airport at a little after 9:30pm, we cabbed to our hotel in the old quarter of Quebec city in the upper city walls -â€" Hotel Clarendon. It was a quick booking with no knowledge of the hotel -â€" just wanting a cheap room in the old town...$160 per night was reasonable enough for the location. Heading up to the room, I was pleasantly surprised to find it had two separate rooms, and 5 windows on 2 sides overlooking a lovely square and the cafe strip next to a Cathedral and 1 block from the Terrasse. It was an old hotel -â€" yet nicely stocked, comfortable bed, lovely views, and lots of character. That first night, I decided to go on a night photography expedition through the old town, both upper and lower, taking photos until 2am. It's such a gorgeous city at night! The next morning, checkout wasn't until noon, so I started out at 9am on another walking tour of the town, this time during the day...heading back to the hotel at noon to get my luggage and check out. The hotel concierge got us a cab quickly -â€" there was a clot of folks outside clamoring for every cab, but since the concierge obtained ours, he already had his cab reserved with our name, and we bypassed the angry but unorganized mob who failed to plan ahead. We didn't get too far initially, since the line of cabs struggling to get into the port was unbelievable...but our cabby was proud of his French heritage, and drove like a Parisian...coming in the back way behind a condo and through their parking lot, squeezing past dozens of cabs to get us to the ship in just a few minutes.
The line to get on the ship was a bit long too, at first, but opened up reasonably as we got to the main checkin -â€" taking advantage of the 4-star Mariner line, we were onboard no more than 25 minutes after leaving the hotel. Pleasantly, our room was already cleared and ready to use -â€" no waiting around the lobbies with carryon luggage...so we headed to Navigation, Deck 8, all the way to the back where our aft cabin, 8166, was waiting. The aft VA category cabins are pretty much identical to other VA's, except the balcony is deeper by a foot or two -â€" and being Navigation deck, there's a nice overhang over the balcony so noone above can look down on you, and you are safe from rain and spray. I'm often asked if Navigation rooms suffer from chair noises and foot noises from above...I can say for me, not at all. I may have heard chairs being moved every rare once in a while, usually during the day when I'm already awake, but nothing that should bother anyone. One night, we had unusual racket around 11pm followed by lots of feet running around and chairs sliding, but that was a very rough sea night and some stuff started moving that wasn't supposed to, so we were hearing the crew running out there to stow everything...after 30 minutes, all was quiet again.
First thing I do aboard a ship, after putting my stuff in the room, is to go in the opposite direction of Lido...since that's where 99.9% of the rest of the passengers seem to go. The great thing about that is that the entire rest of the ship is nearly empty -â€" a great time to go around with a camera and photograph the various lounges and rooms. A tour of the ship revealed its many similarities with the Vista class ships Noordam and Zuiderdam -â€" it was at once familiar, but for a few small changes. The ship was fresh, clean, and in very nice shape -â€" no signs of wear. If it were the Caribbean, I'd be slightly disappointed with all the 'private' cabana additions, which take away much valuable quiet deck space, but being a cooler-weather cruise, it didn't have much adverse effect, since noone was using the cabanas. Otherwise, the ship's layout was very familiar and comfortable for me. For dining, I am still a fan of traditional seating, and late seating too -â€" I received the 8pm seating in the upstairs dining room, traditional seating -â€" checking out my table (89), we had a big round table for 10, which I like so I can meet and get to know other cruisers for the duration.
First day, we sailed away from Quebec under ridiculous blue clear skies and perfect weather, and were treated to beautiful fall scenery along the St. Lawrence all the way through sunset -â€" lots of photo opportunities kept me on deck until the sun disappeared. At dinner the first night, I met our 2 couples we shared a table with -â€" I've had very good luck for the past 5 or 6 cruises of getting really good personalities and friendly folks at big tables, the streak continued -â€" we all hit it off quickly and stayed such throughout the cruise, meeting all over the ship and even in some of the ports. The second night, a 3rd couple arrived and fit right into the group like a glove. We didn't get a 9th & 10th tablemate -â€" so they pulled the extra chairs except on formal nights, when we had an officer assigned to our table.
Quick aside for the food review: In general, all was very good. Sauces and soups were very good, while the menu selection was maybe not quite as optimal as other cruises I've been on -â€" the chef seemed to have some favorites, and they were involved in almost every evening's selections. A little more seafood-intensive than I'd have preferred, and they weren't real keen on giving out vegetables with each dish, with tiny little servings. Fortunately, our dining staff was very good, getting our meals early in the queue, and being very receptive to procuring extra entrees or extra sides of vegetables as needed. Lido food all looked good, though I confess to not tending to eat 'entrees' for lunch -â€" I stuck with the omelet service for breakfast, and the sandwich bar for lunch. Both were excellent. They also increased the self-serve drink selections to include iced tea, lemonade, and a tasty guava/orange punch, which I was happy for as I get a little bored with just iced tea all the time. Coffees at Explorations were very good and something I tended to use more often than usual given the lovely cool temperatures. For a rare time, I didn't partake of any specialty restaurants this trip -â€" I always know Pinnacle will be good, but didn't bother this time -â€" and the Asian fusion restaurant wasn't something typically on my menu.
Second day we hit Saguenay, Quebec. A very loud Frenchman with a loudspeaker was waking the ship up at 8am as we pulled in -â€" it was like a Who concert and had the entire aft of the ship popping out on the balconies to figure out what the noise was...oddly because of the canyon and the angles, practically noone we spoke to on the starboard or port balconies even heard him! It was a welcome committee on the pier, with native dancers, reenactors, pie makers, and more -â€" such a cute little town and so welcoming indeed. I might point out that I'm not a 'tour' person -â€" I never book any and rarely take any, as it's just not my 'thing'. I love walking and self-exploration, so I usually just take a 5-10 mile self-guided walk all through each port, and had the same intentions at Saguenay -â€" but I did have a hankering to get out to Chicoutimi which would require a cab. Instead, I asked around and compared the cab to the 'hop-on hop-off' bus that was available at the pier -â€" for $40 I could get a one-way cab to the pulp mill in Chicoutimi...for $10 I could get the bus ticket, good all day, with 5 different stops that I could choose how long to stay, and 2 different routes that were both covered by the same bus. It was impossible to beat this deal, so I took it. La Pulperie was my first stop, the ruins of the old pulp mill above Chicoutimi devastated in the 1996 floods. I love ruins, and old structures, and this place was a photography dream -â€" I could have shot there all day. I then took the bus to the Petite Maison Blanche stop, where the small white house managed to survive clinging to a granite cliff in the 1996 floods -â€" also very scenic for photography. I then bussed back to the ship, jumped aboard for a quick lido lunch, then headed back down to catch the other bus to La Baie. Photographed some beautiful fall colors, the Pyramide Des Ha! Ha! Memorial, the snow geese by the thousands gathering in the bay awaiting their migration south, and then back to the ship. I love Saguenay, and would very much hope to be back someday.
The next day was cruising the river, and it was a relaxing day to mix in some reading, some scenic photography, and some food.
Day 4 found us in Gaspe, Quebec -â€" the first tender port...a fairly long tender to the yacht club pier across the bridge from the town. There's not a whole lot to do in town, but was a lovely place for a long walk, so I walked across the bridge to town, all through the town, and then out to the museum at the end of the point, taking the coastal path back to the tenders. Fall colors were really in bloom all along the river here, and the town was friendly and small. I had wondered if I'd missed out seeing Perce, and its famous rock -â€" but I just stuck with Gaspe. As we cruised out, we had high winds kicking up and temperatures dropped quite a bit -â€" I went out to the bow for the sail around the peninsula and hoping that Perce rock would be visible enough to photograph. Surprisingly, the captain announced that rather than go around Bonadventure island as they usually have to, the weather was good enough to allow a pass BETWEEN the island and Perce rock, which meant we'd be sailing by closer to the rock than you can even get from the town of Perce! Thanks to this, I got my close up shots of this iconic formation.
Day 5 started out a little misty and rainy in Charlottetown, PEI. My walking tour circled all through the town, but photography unfortunately was down a bit due to the rain -â€" it was enough that I bought a large umbrella, after which it promptly cleared up and I didn't even have to use it (but it would come in handy later on the cruise!). It's a cute town -â€" I confess to knowing nothing of Anne of Green Gables, and not really having a hankering to, and that was very much the main focus of this island -â€" just about every tour involved it in some way. If you know the story or are into it, you'll be in bliss. If not, then you might just take a little walkaround tour of the town like I did (where you'll still find half-a-dozen Anne stores!). I was happy to see the Province House, where Canada was founded as a nation.
Day 6 was in Sydney, Cape Breton, Nova Scotia. The weather was much nicer here, and though this is generally an economically depressed area with most of the industry closed or in collapse, I found it to be a beautiful walking town and I thoroughly enjoyed a walk of many miles all through the town, from the Wentworth parks to the old nautical antique stores to the historic buildings and colonial houses, and old weathered churches. The people were obscenely friendly, not that all Canadians aren't already -â€" but some were so welcoming to the town and so happy to have visitors that just walking around, people would stop to say hi, ask where you're from, and give you information or mini-tours of the town. I'd head back gladly anytime I had the opportunity.
Day 7 was in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Once again, a photographer's dream, a walker's paradise, and a history buff's heaven. Lovely weather and a long preplanned walking route took us through a huge loop of the city, past Cunard's statue, to Cornwallis' park and statue, past the Henry house, down to the Irish cemetery and chapel 'built in a day', though the poet's park, into and through the Public Gardens, through the Camp Hill cemetery, back around to the Citadel in time for gun demonstrations and firing of the noon gun, past the town clock, through the Occupy protesters in the park, through the historic brick district, down to the waterfront, then back along the boardwalks to the ship. Lovely town, lovely photos. If I went back again, I'd surely get a cab or bus and hit Peggy's Cove which I do want to see, but Halifax had so much to see for me just in town that I figure I'll find my way back there again.
Day 8 we hit Bar Harbor, Maine...the weather stayed gorgeous and I started out for a walk headed north away from town -â€" the tides were low so the tidal bridges out to the islands were exposed and you could walk out on the seabed to a few of them. While passing Olley's Trolley, I decided to see if they had availability, and indeed they did for the 2 1/2 hour Acadia trip...so it's a rare time I decided the need to see Acadia forest overcame the aversion to tours. I'm so happy I did hop aboard, as Acadia is a can't miss spot, and just so chock full of photographic opportunities that it would have been a sin to miss. Lots and lots of photos at Cadillac Mountain, the botanical gardens, and Thunder Hole, and the tour dropped me back in town at 1:15pm. Still had some hours to blow, so I walked through town, then took the 1-mile coastal walk the other direction out along the waterfront, then when the trail ended, took the residential path up into some quiet scenic rural streets and walked all through those neighborhoods, even seeing a bear cross the street in front of me. I managed to blow enough time to catch one of the last tenders back to the ship.
Day 9 we rounded the corner down to Gloucester, Mass. I woke very early for the sail in, just wanting to photograph the sunrise, lighthouses, and some early morning working fishing vessels from this hardscrabble fishing town -â€" the sunrise was the deepest, most vivid red I've seen in a while -â€" both beautiful, and a portent of the weather to come (red skies in the morning, sailors take warning). A long long tender ride took you into the fishing harbor area, where you offloaded on a barge. It was overcast in Gloucester, but clear, so I mostly walked the fishing piers and harbor, the Crow's Nest made famous in The Perfect Storm, then into the old town for some photos. I admit I'd have had much more to do and shoot had they chosen to dock in Boston, and I didn't feel like taking the tour to Boston...but I made the best of Gloucester and enjoyed the working-class and historic fishing atmosphere of the place.
That night we hit high winds, and the seas got a bit nasty rounding Cape Cod...The ship's fog horn was blasting all night, and the waves were jumping up to the 20s. The captain announced all outer decks would be closed due to the winds. We pulled into Newport in fog and rain -â€" the northeastern weather had finally caught up to us. A very long tender ride again, weaving into the marina area -â€" here's where I finally got my money's worth out of that Canadian umbrella! I didn't hold back on the tour of beautiful Newport because of the rain -â€" seeing all the historic district's buildings and homes and enjoying the walk -â€" but not quite as much photography as I'd have liked due to the rain that at times was really coming down -â€" hard to hold a DSLR and lens to shoot while also holding an umbrella. I'd very much love to get back to Newport someday again, and hopefully in better weather. Sailaway was in returning fog, and still steady rain -â€" and the captain again announced regrettably that the outer decks would be off-limits. The elevator lobbies were lined with seasick bags, so you knew they were expecting a rough ride. Seas reached to 30 feet that night and much of the next day at sea, with 50 knot winds ripping over the decks. The dining room had less than half the attendance out of Newport, and even less on the next formal night...it was almost empty. Anyone looking for peace and quiet for reading and such just needed to get high on the ship -â€" many passengers seemed to feel more comfortable on decks 2 and 3, filling nearly every lounge couch and seat -â€" most just reading or talking but preferring the lighter motions near the ship's center and down lower to the center of gravity. Being a bit of a salt, I don't really get affected by sea motions, so I enjoyed the quiet and solitude of the Silk Den, Crow's Nest, or even the teen club (noone there, and no music playing!) to read. The final day, the weather cleared, seas went flat as glass, and we had a lovely final day headed back to Ft. Lauderdale. Unfortunately, the two stormy days had put the ship a bit behind schedule, so the captain announced we'd be late into Port Everglades.
We were about 2 hours behind on disembarkation overall -â€" not too bad -â€" by 9:30ish they had started letting folks off. By 9:45am, my color was called and I got off the ship. However, the port was either unprepared or we had lost our allotment of port employees due to the missed schedule, so it was a bit messy to be kind. They had far too few customs officials, and a massive backed up line to get out...the luggage was crammed into small spaces, and they let go too many colors too quickly in a row, which put too many people in the luggage area at once, and far too few luggage handlers to help -â€" many people spent 15-20 minutes just standing with their luggage looking for help as the smart or fast ones were going outside to find returning handlers before they even got in the building. Through all of that mess, I managed to be outside standing on the parking lot median by 10:10am, and had our car pick us up and back home by 10:45am. It's nice living so close to the port!
I have a very large gallery of photos from this cruise -â€" follow the link to see the thumbnails and titles to pick and choose any you want to see -â€" or click on the first photo and arrow through or use the slideshow feature to view them all. Under each photo is a display size control -â€" make sure you're in 'original' size for the clearest resolution. The photos are in the order of the ports and follow along with my review: