Holland America Line Single-Handedly Extends St Lawrence Season

Holland America Line’s Maasdam, a regular St Lawrence trader, passing under the Quebec Bridge

For many decades, in the days before air conditioning, the St Lawrence cruise season ran all summer long. From 1919 until 1965, Canada Steamship Lines offered weekly Saguenay cruises from Montreal, with a season that ran from June to September, even during the war. From 1921 to 1961, the Clarke Steamship Company offered longer “Round the Gulf” and Labrador cruises in a season that ran from May through October. After these services closed, Cunard Line, the Baltic Shipping Company, Polish Ocean Lines, Moore-McCormack Lines and the Greek Line, among others, began offering week-long cruises from Montreal or 10/11-night cruises between New York and Montreal.

The history of St Lawrence cruising goes back a long way. Under the auspices of Thomas Cook, the Quebec Steamship Company first sent its 1,864-ton Orinoco out from New York in the summer of 1894 to visit Saint John NB, Halifax, Charlottetown, Gaspé, Tadoussac, the Saguenay River and Quebec. Indeed, by 1904, the Plant Line was advertising its Gulf of St Lawrence cruises from Boston as follows:

Six Days’ Cruise 1400 miles for $18. From Union Wharf, Boston, every Tuesday and Saturday, 12 noon for Halifax, Hawkesbury and Charlottetown. Good board. Cheapest rates. Best trout and salmon fishing, and shooting. Beautiful scenery. This doesn’t half tell it. Send stamp for booklet “Looking Eastward,” maps, etc.

A pioneer of St Lawrence cruising from 1908 until the First World War, the s.s. Trinidad cruised the St Lawrence by summer and sailed from New York to Bermuda in the winter.

The Quebec Steamship Company’s 2,162-ton Trinidad followed in 1908, the 300th Anniversary of the founding of Quebec. In 1919, this line was acquired by Britain’s Furness Withy & Co, who cruised first the 5,530-ton Fort Hamilton and and then the 7,785-ton Fort St George from New York to Quebec. Between the wars, the Anchor Line, Canadian Pacific, the Clyde Line, White Star Line and others all offered cruises between New York, the Maritimes, Quebec and Montreal. These cruises were nearly always offered in the high season in July and August, when it was hottest in the cities, as a getaway from the summer heat.

More recently, however, the so-called Canada New England brand has suffered in that even The Sunday Times now tells people who want to cruise the St Lawrence to go in the autum. The question is, is this the propogation of a myth or is it simply because cruises only go there now in the autumn? This has been one of the biggest challenges facing St Lawrence and New England destinations in recent years, but things are slowly starting to change.

In recent years, Holland America has operated one ship, the 1,266-berth Maasdam, into Montreal between May and October. Starting this autumn, however, it brought a second ship to the St Lawrence, in the 1,348-berth Veendam, which it had previously been operating on the New York-Bermuda run. Next year, Holland America will operate the Veendam on a full season of St Lawrence cruises, from May through October, turning at Quebec while the Maasdam continues to turn at Montreal.

The Maasdam departing Montreal on a cruise. On the left is the Sailors’ Memorial clocktower on Victoria Pier. Behind here is where the Canada Steamship Lines and Clarke Steamship Company cruise ships used to sail from

Moving the Veendam to St Lawrence cruising is interesting in two ways. First, Holland America has already let it be known that it thinks it can make more money trading to Canada and New England than in what was once regarded as the lucrative Bermuda cruise market. Secondly, with the imposition of the North American Emission Control Area (ECA) this summer, the Veendam is actually going against the flow.

When sailing to Bermuda she spent most of her time outside the 200-mile ECA limit but by sailing to Canada she will always be within it. This means she will have to burn more expensive distillate fuel in order to reduce sulphur emissions, something that Holland America has already estimated increased their fuel costs by 40% in the Alaska trade, which is also completely within the ECA, for an  extra $200,000 on a 7-night cruise.

The Veendam will handle four embarkations and four disembarkations at Quebec, bringing more than 20,000 extra visitors a year over a three-year period. Under the new marketing agreement, Montreal will also see additional turnarounds from the Maasdam in July and August. This program, announced last month, is backed by $1.15 million in government funds, half from Tourism Quebec and half from Quebec City.

Included in the Veendam’s new program will be four 14-night round trips from Quebec that will call at Charlottetown, Sydney, Halifax, Bar Harbor, Boston and the Saguenay. Equally, the Maasdam will offer seven 14-night round trip cruises from Montreal calling at Quebec, Charlottetown, Sydney, Halifax, Bar Harbor and Boston. Both itineraries will also be available as one-way 7-night sectors between Montreal and Boston and Quebec and Boston.

As part of this agreement, the 450-berth Seabourn Sojourn, operated by Holland America affiliate Seabourn, will also operate three St. Lawrence turnaround cruises from Montreal that will visit seven ports in Quebec: Montreal, Quebec City, Trois Rivières, Saguenay, Baie Comeau, Gaspé and the Magdalen Islands.

Holland America has become a bit of a pioneer in the St Lawrence. It was the first cruise line to visit Sept Iles, on the St Lawrence North Shore, when it sent the Maasdam there in May 2009. This in itself was an earlier season start than usual for the St Lawrence, the call having been made during a positioning voyage from Fort Lauderdale to Montreal, something it will offer again in 2013. The new $20 million berth at Sept Iles now accepts cruise ships of up to 985 feet in length.

Compagnie du Ponant’s Le Boréal calls at the Magdalen Islands in the Gulf of St Lawrence

Fellow North Shore ports Baie Comeau to the west and Havre St Pierre to the east have also added cruise facilities and their proximity to Gaspé on the South Shore, Charlottetown in Prince Edward Island and Corner Brook in Newfoundland, offers a choice of half a dozen cruise ports in the Gulf of St Lawrence below Quebec. The Magdalen Islands, which has its own weekly cruise ferry from Montreal and is now also visited by Compagnie du Ponant and Crystal Cruises, adds a seventh.

Crystal Symphony seen here calling at Quebec, offers a round-trip Gulf of St Lawrence cruise from Montreal each September.

On September 30, Crystal Cruises operated  a 7-night round trip from Montreal with its 960-berth Crystal Symphony. Three of her four ports, Sept Iles, the Magdalen Islands and the French islands of St Pierre et Miquelon, were first time calls for Crystal. The fourth port, Quebec, has been rated as the most popular cruise port in North America. This Montreal round trip itinerary will be repeated on September 26, 2013. But in September 2014, the cruise will be offered by the Crystal Serenity from Quebec. A larger ship than Symphony, the Serenity can’t get under the Quebec Bridge to sail upriver to Montreal.

Royal Caribbean has also started operating turnaround cruises from Quebec with its 2,112-berth Brilliance of the Seas, with a typical 10-night cruise taking in Baie Comeau, Corner Brook, Halifax, Sydney, St Pierre et Miquelon and Charlottetown. Like the Serenity, the Brilliance is too tall to fit under the Quebec Bridge.

Other St Lawrence visitors this season have included the 3,114-berth Emerald Princess, 2,104-berth Eurodam, 264-berth Le Boréal, 2,476-berth Norwegian Dawn, the 2,620-berth Queen Mary 2, the 684-berth Regatta, 490-berth Seven Seas Navigator, 388-berth Silver Whisper and the Veendam, nearly all in September and October. Not to mention the Aida, Fred Olsen and Saga ships that cruise over from Europe.

The addition of the Veendam to the St Lawrence trade is good news for Quebec City, which in 2013 will see five Holland America calls each month from May to August and seven in June. The only other ship coming nearby in the summer months is Oceania’s 1,258-berth Marina, which will make an unusual June 1 call at Quebec while on a 16-night cruise from New York to Southampton. The other ships will all wait until September (21 calls) and October (27 calls), when they come flocking in for “the leaves.”

For more details on Cruising the Gulf of St Lawrence please call The Cruise People Ltd in London on 020 7723 2450 or e-mail cruise@cruisepeople.co.uk.

About thecruisepeople
Specialists in sea travel - ultra-luxury cruising, freighter travel, small ships and expedition voyages.

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