CRUISING IN CANADA:
FROM SEA TO SHINING SEA
Taken together, the three oceans that lap this country’s borders—the Atlantic, Pacific and Arctic—create the longest continuous coastline in the world: one that stretches a whopping 243,042 km (151,019 mi). As if that wasn’t enough to satisfy cruisers’ cravings, Canada is also laced with mighty rivers and punctuated by lakes that can rightly be called “great,” so it is no surprise that this place holds lots of promise for passengers.
Canada’s signature cruise is undoubtedly the west coast one that traces the British Columbian shoreline from mid-April through mid-October. Since it covers a hefty portion of the so-called Alaska Route, stunning vistas are guaranteed—indeed few sea-going experiences can compare with threading the island-studded Inside Passage, where snow-crowned mountains, glacier-carved fjords and abundant marine life vie for attention. Luckily, the ports you visit en route are as appealing as the sights you see from your deck chair.
Take Vancouver. The nation’s busiest home port drew 830,000-odd passengers in 2016 alone, most of them travelling north on big-name boats; however, this vibrant city isn’t just a convenient embarkation point. It delivers a full slate of urban enticements —top-rated restaurants, theatres and ohso-trendy shops among them—along with easy access to the area’s parks and peaks. Victoria, meanwhile, mixes a “high tea” tradition with high adventure opportunities. If you really want to go wild, eco-oriented outfits like Maple Leaf Adventures, Bluewater Adventures, and Outer Shores Expeditions all have sailings that include Haida Gwaii, “The Galapagos of the North.”
On the opposite side of the country, historic communities, towering tides and legendary Maritime hospitality make the Canada/New England Route another classic choice from late April to November. The scenery does not disappoint, especially in autumn when forests blaze with brilliant foliage; nor do the distinctive ports.
Leading the list in passenger traffic is Halifax (coincidentally, the birthplace of cruise pioneer Samuel Cunard). Notable for its deep harbour and charming waterfront attractions, Nova Scotia’s capital received over 238,000 cruisers last year. Charlottetown (home to Anne of Green Gables and world-class golf ), Saint John and Sydney (gateways to the Bay of Fundy and Cabot Trail, respectively) are other top calls.
Specialty sojourns that focus exclusively
on this area—like Adventure Canada’s trip to Sable Island—are increasingly available; however, most cruises begin or end in New York or Boston, meaning you can see key ports in as little as four nights. Extended itineraries are offered, too. So boats may veer across open seas to Newfoundland, where ports like St. John’s (a centuries-old city that also features on transatlantic trips) and Corner Brook (the launch pad for Gros Morne National Park) extend a warm welcome; or they may head through the Gulf of St. Lawrence and follow the eponymous river.
This second alternative is rapidly growing in popularity, and rightly so because the fabled St. Lawrence has much to recommend it. Woods, whales, fjords and photogenic headlands make it an eastern answer to B.C.’s Inside Passage—one infused with Québécois charm. Consequently, pocket-sized ports that showcase its natural beauty are emerging as destinations in their own right, while two marquee stops routinely win rave reviews.
Québec City, after all, is famous for its UNESCO-designated fortifications and beautiful heritage buildings; while Montréal (one of the world’s largest French-speaking cities) has a storied past that is accented with cosmopolitan élan. The vessels that visit these ports, moreover, cover an impressively broad spectrum in terms of size and style. Cruisers, for example, can live large on Cunard’s luxurious Queen Mary 2, opt for an expedition on Adventure Canada’s Ocean Endeavour, or aim for intimacy on Victory Cruise Line’s boutiquey M/V Victory I. The mere arrival of the last of these, which debuted in 2016 and offers 10-day itineraries on the gorgeous Great Lakes, further illustrates the way that new entries on the Canadian cruise scene are maximizing the potential of our inland waterways.
The once-frozen Arctic is heating up as well, and in summer, when seas are navigable, there are ever-increasing possibilities for bucket listers and nature buffs who feel its magnetic pull. Quark Expeditions and Adventure Canada, for instance, both put new vessels into service on the Arctic Route in recent years. New lines, similarly, are coming in to showcase the area’s austere beauty—most notably Crystal Cruises; last August, its Crystal Serenity made history as the first large, luxury liner to traverse the Northwest Passage.
Admittedly, such voyages aren’t for everyone. Specific destinations can be hard to pinpoint due to the vagaries of tides or weather; and landing places, sometimes accessible only via Zodiac, aren’t necessarily ports per se since the population might consist solely of walruses. The upside is that the “Great White North” has great white wildlife (think polar bears, beluga whales and snowy owls), unspoiled scenery, plus a rich Inuit culture; and the vessels that sail here can get cruisers up close to it all. As an added bonus, the majority have resident experts well-versed in subjects like natural history and Native customs who will share their knowledge through formal lectures and guided excursions.
With choices like that available, there’s never been a better time to come aboard in Canada!
Viking Ocean Cruises entered Canadian waters with five new itineraries that carry cruisers across the Atlantic (www.vikingcruisescanada.com).
The Port of Halifax made Cruise Critic’s latest annual list of the top five American and Canadian cruise destinations (www. cruisehalifax.ca).
Trois-Rivières solidified its status as an up-and-coming port of call by opening a new port terminal in 2016 (www.tourismetroisrivieres.com/en/cruise).
After a $78-millon makeover, Montréal will cut the ribbon on its re-imagined Alexandra Pier facility in May, 2017 (www.cruises.ala montreal.com).
The new Victory Cruise Lines brought all-inclusive cruising to the Great Lakes when it launched in 2016 (www.victorycruiselines.com)
The return of Crystal Cruises last year means that 11 lines currently call Vancouver their homeport (www.portvancouver.com).
TORONTO HARBOUR • SHUTTERSTOCK/JAMES WHEELER