“You’re cruising where? The Caribbean?”“No mom,” I reply again in the phone. “Quebec, Canada. You know, that huge French-speaking province in the north?”
“I didn’t know you could cruise in Quebec,” she replies. “What a great way to see Montreal!”A good way indeed. Due to the deep, wide waters of the St. Lawrence River, cruise ships can reach far into eastern North America to Montreal and other ports in Quebec, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island.
Cruise to Canada
Cruise ships offer an easy way to see a lot of Canada with a little effort.We’ve chosen a 7-day Holland America Line cruise, and the comfortable fall weather is the perfect backdrop for such a journey. Our cruise starts in Montreal, and my family and I have spent the day exploring the capital of French-speaking Canada.
Though it’s my first visit to the city, already I’m smitten.Montreal is clean, hip and stunningly beautiful. (See it for yourself in video.) This city of 1.6 million is ultra-modern, yet it’s obvious that they cherish their historic roots. That European heritage is still alive and well in Old Montreal.
Visit to Montreal
With its cobblestone streets, historic architecture and patio-lined alleyways, Old Montreal has the feel of Paris. Only this is much, much better, for I’m surrounded by Canadians.
True to the Canadian stereotypes, everyone we meet is friendly and welcoming. French speaking or not, the majority of Montrealers are bi-lingual, and language is no problem.
The early fall weather is beautiful, so we head over to the Quays of the Old Port for a picnic lunch. The harbor front is filled with bikers, pedestrians and people out soaking up the sun.
Further out, we can see our ship, the ms Maasdam, waiting patiently for our embarkation. The Port of Montreal on the St. Lawrence River welcomes hundreds of cruise ships each year, but we’ve chosen the Maasdam, part of the Holland America Line fleet, for our adventure.
Though we’ve cruised with many cruise lines over the years, Holland America Line is a family favorite. Holland America offers a good blend of activities for every age, so it’s a good bet for extended families. We can spend as much time together—or apart—as we want. I like the mid-sized ship aspect, too.
Holland American Line
Carrying 1,258 passengers, the ship doesn’t feel too crowded or too small. Best of all, we like the staff—most of whom come from Indonesia and the Philippines—and the excellent onboard dining. We’re sure to gain a few pounds on this trip.
Our cruise will take us to some of the top port towns in Eastern Canada. We’ll stop in Quebec City, at Prince Edward Island, in Sydney and Halifax, Nova Scotia, and then end our journey in Bar Harbor, Maine.
Canada is a LARGE country, and driving to these places would take days, while flying to these cities would cost a fortune. But cruising makes it easy. We see the best of each destination, and then hop onboard to be wined and dined while we sail to the next location. Travel doesn’t get much easier than that.
Though shore time in each port is short, we cram in a lot of sightseeing. In Montreal, we spend an hour exploring the Montréal Biodôme, a family-friendly nature center that allows facility located in Montreal that allows visitors to walk through replicas of four ecosystems. Each one is home to unique plants and animals.
Then we stop for a famous Montreal bagel at Saint-Viateur Bagel & Café in the Plateau Mont-Royal neighborhood. This local favorite has been serving up oven-baked bagels since 1957. The neighborhood is quintessential Montreal, with tidy walk-up homes, huge bike lanes and local grocers on every corner.
But my two favorite stops are the Atwater Market and the Underground City.
The Atwater is a vibrant, year-round farmer’s market located in the Saint-HenrI neighborhood. Established in 1933, the market is brimming with bakeries, butcher, and specialty cheese, wine and produce shops. The folks in Montreal love fine dining—and it shows. I find food items at the market that I’ve never seen elsewhere. Regardless of the weather, the market pulses with life.
The Underground City is also filled with life—especially in the winter. Some 20 miles of connecting passageways wind beneath the city, filled with restaurants, stores, and professional offices. The whole thing has the feel of a huge mall, and it’s easy to get lost in the winding passageways.
But the Underground City is especially wonderful in the winter, when temperatures average below zero. You can do just about everything in the Underground City. As one local tells me, “We have everything down there but a morgue.”
We could spend a whole week here in Montreal and not begin to scratch the surface. But it’s time to board our ship and begin our cruise adventure. Tonight we’ll relax on board with an excellent dinner, and then have a restful night in our cabin. Tomorrow, we’ll wake up in Quebec City for a whole new adventure.
Ah, Canada. What’s not to love?
Top Port Adventures
We’d love to write a whole article on each port city, but here are our favorite “Must-Do” activities in each location. The shore excursions can be purchased directly from Holland America Line.
There’s no need to purchase a shore excursion in Quebec City. You can spend hours on your own just wandering around the cobblestone streets, churches and shops near the port. Quebec City is the closest you can get to the feel of Europe on this side of the Atlantic. Take the funicular to the top of the mountain, where you’ll find more charming alleyways and gorgeous architecture.
Okay, so the men in our family never really got into this one, but what American girl doesn’t remember reading Anne of Green Gables? Visit Cavendish, the setting of Lucy Maude Montgomery’s books. The bus ride to the homestead takes you on a scenic drive through rural Prince Edward Island.
Sydney, Nova Scotia
Fortress of Louisbourg
Step back in time at the Fortress of Louisbourg. Carefully restored to its original appearance, the fortress recalls the tenuous relationship between France and the American colonies, and portrays life in 1744. Period-costumed interpreters share details of life in those days. The fortress is now part of Parks Canada.
Halifax, Nova Scotia
This is the picturesque cove that you’ve seen on so many postcards. The tiny artisans’ village is located 30 miles from Halifax. After time in the shops and walking the seashore, enjoy a yummy lobster lunch.