Port of Saguenay (Photo: Sylvie Gauthier)
Port of Saguenay (Photo: Sylvie Gauthier)
4.0 / 5.0
Cruise Critic Editor Rating

Janice Wald Henderson
Cruise Critic Contributor

Port of Saguenay

Come September, when many ships dock or anchor at La Baie on fall foliage cruises, the village charm instantly unfolds portside. Immediate visuals include cheerily painted houses and crimson- and gold-hued trees in lush hills beyond. This neat-as-a-pin village is easily walked on a delightful stroll.

Saguenay (Sag-uh-NAY), founded as a French colonial trading post, is a city with three boroughs, including La Baie. It's linked with nearby Lac Saint-Jean as a tourism region and playground for Quebecois, drawing folks from more urban areas like Quebec City, about 130 miles to the south. The downtown and cultural districts are in nearby Chicoutimi, about a 20-minute drive from the cruise terminal.

Most passengers book tours showcasing the area's unspoiled natural beauty. The Saguenay River Fjord, one of the 10 longest in the world, and the southernmost navigable fjord in North America, ranks as the primo lure. Sculpted by ancient glaciers, the 60-mile-long, 1-mile-wide fjord is lined with towering cliffs up to 1,150 feet tall, and plunges to depths of up to 900 feet. You might spot whales, falcons and other wildlife on tours, so bring a camera. Explore this majestic waterway by land, boat or even helicopter and seaplane -- each transport guarantees thrills.

Another port option is to take in the 30-year-running iconic musical revue called "La Fabuleuse." The show stars about 100 enthusiastic volunteer actors and showcases the region's dramatic history (including a great fire, landslide and flood). This revue offers everything from fireworks and vintage cars to cannon blasts.

Or, board a hop-on, hop-off bus for an easy-peasy visit through La Baie and other boroughs. Local artisan tours are another fun way to pass the day. One foodie tour showcases Saguenay's indigenous products; you might visit a cheese factory and try blueberry sparkling wine at a nearby farm, while another tour includes stops at a family-owned goat farm and a glassblowing workshop.

Shore Excursions

About Saguenay


Pro

A main draw is the awe-inspiring Saguenay Fjord and its stunning surrounding beauty

Con

You need to travel outside the port village to best explore Saguenay

Bottom Line

La Baie's village center charms with friendly locals, artisan boutiques and tempting eateries


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Port Facilities

Ships dock or anchor at La Baie, on the shores of Ha Ha Bay. Actors of the iconic "La Fabuleuse" show often greet cruisers garbed in colorful costumes, doing handstands, juggling and other impressive feats. After enjoying their dockside mini-performance, head inside to the resource-filled cruise pavilion. Besides crafters hawking wares, there's an excellent information desk, spotless restrooms, a cafe and complimentary Wi-Fi.

Good to Know

Canadian French is different in its accent and expressions from the French we know a la France. So don't be surprised if your high school French fails you (beyond the basics) in Canada. Fortunately, locals speak some English, and are overwhelmingly friendly and eager to assist visiting cruisers. And like anywhere in the world, thank you (merci in French), goes a long way.

Getting Around

On Foot: It's a five-minute stroll from the pier into La Baie's village center to shops and eateries. The village itself consists of just a few streets. It's nearly impossible to get lost, but if you need directions back to the pier, locals are only too willing to assist.

By Hop-on, Hop-Off Bus: This shuttle bus offers two Saguenay tours; one is the 60-minute Fjord Museum Circuit, with stops including a shopping center, fjord museum and glassmaker and sculpture studio. The second, the 75-minute Downtown and Cultural Area Circuit, features visits to a cathedral, regional museum and public market. These shuttles usually run every 20 minutes when ships are in town and charge $15 for adults.

By Taxi: You can book a taxi at the cruise pavilion. The taxis offer tours around the region or will simply take you where you want to go. Credit cards and U.S. dollars are accepted.

By Car Rental: National Car Rental office is located within the cruise pavilion. You can download their mobile app for a self-guided tour.

Currency & Best Way to Get Money

Canada's currency is the Canadian dollar. Visit www.xe.com or www.oanda.com for current rates. Credit cards, particularly MasterCard and Visa, are accepted nearly everywhere. Local shops usually accept U.S. dollars, but change will be given in Canadian currency. The closest ATM to the cruise terminal is across the street, in front of Au Pavillon Noir restaurant.

Language

The region is primarily French-speaking and signage is mostly in French. But English is spoken in tourism and service areas, including the cruise port terminal.

Food and Drink

La Baie might be small, but foodies can delight in culinary treasures close to the dock. (When ordering in restaurants, remember that an entree is an appetizer in French, and a plat is the main course.)

Opia Restaurant: This cozy restaurant is located inside a converted home with a flower-bedecked front porch in the village. Opia excels at black mussels, steamed a variety of ways, such as with beer and shallots, or white wine, shallots, cream and curry powder. The mussels come with French fries sliced from freshly cut potatoes; their golden-brown crisp deliciousness make them easy to devour. Pizzas and more serious dishes, such as seafood gratin, also compel, and the apple tart with vanilla ice cream tastes too good. The wine list, with primarily French, Italian and Spanish bottles, features selections from Portugal and South Africa, too.

Bistro Cafe Summum: Many cruisers dine at this bistro to sip regional microbrews, or cocktails like Negroni or an Aperol spritz. (This place even offers a blueberry cocktail made with gin.) The menu features a haute take on poutine, a Quebecois diner classic (cheese curds, brown gravy and French fries); their fancier dishes might showcase pork or duck confit. A burger with wild mushrooms in black beer and spiced bacon is a lunchtime winner, pairing particularly well with an artisan brew.

Fromagerie Boivin: Should you want to try the freshly made curd cheese or other local varieties, head to Fromagerie Boivin. At Cantine Boivin, you can try traditional poutine. And if you're seeking pub eats and brew, grab a seat at Au Pavillon Noir by the cruise pavilion.

O'Gelato & Cacao: Sweets-lovers should plan a joyful visit to O'Gelato & Cacao, where more than 20 flavors of artisanal ice cream fill the cases, and gourmet chocolates line the shelves. Canadian chocolates, like Encore, come in flavors such as cayenne or sea salt. Other interesting bars, like Majani extra dark chocolate, showcase beans hailing from Columbia and Peru.

Cafe La Grange aux Hiboux: Freshly baked blueberry pie - really, anything made with locally grown blueberries- is a must-try. Dig into a slice at Cafe La Grange aux Hiboux right inside the cruise pavilion.

Shopping

The cruise port terminal teems with smiling crafters peddling handmade soaps in scents like blueberry and lavender, glass art, and soft sweaters and scarves expertly woven from Angora goats' yarn. Even if you don't buy anything, you'll find the vendors charming and eager to converse. You'll find more crafters at the public market by the Saint-Alphonse-de-Liguori church.

If seeking heavy-duty warm clothes for the approaching winter, head into the village to find stores teeming with hats, jackets, scarves, mittens and other serious cold-weather clothing that Canadians don so well. At Authentique Origine, browse arts and crafts made solely by Native American, Metis and Inuit artists from Canada, from paintings and dolls to sculptures and moccasins.

Nearby boutiques, like Galerie Depliee, sell Quebecois artwork ranging from simple to sublime. Other shops, such as Magasin General, sell foodie faves that make great gifts (include yourself as a worthwhile recipient),. Gourmet itemsinclude blueberry coffee, maple syrup and maple butter - even maple-glazed popcorn dusted with sea salt. If you want to go truly exotic, purchase such coveted gourmet goods like spruce vinaigrette or jams made with berries like haskap (Canadian honeyberry, also called blue honeysuckle). This shop also sells aprons touting popular Quebecois sayings like Fais pas simple! (Stop kidding around!) or Hey, chose! (You there!).