Travel Guide to Canada
CRUISING IN CANADA: BON VOYAGE
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 over 900,000 passengers in 2018 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 oh-so-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 Galápagos 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 early 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 more than 316,000 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 One Ocean Expeditions’ “Fiddles and Sticks” trip—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. Luxury lovers, for example, can live large on Cunard’s renowned Queen Mary 2, or opt for intimacy on Victory Cruise Line’s boutiquey M/V Victory I and II. The mere arrival of the latter—a pair of 202-passenger sister ships which began plying the St. Lawrence River and Great Lake routes in 2016 and 2018, respectively—further illustrates the way that new entries on the Canadian cruise scene are maximizing the potential of the 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 the past few years; tellingly, the first of these also refurbished one of its polar expedition ships in 2017 (the Ocean Adventurer, formerly Sea Adventurer) in order to provide intrepid passengers with a greater degree of comfort.
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!