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September 18, 2015

Small Ship Cruise Line Review: St. Lawrence Cruise Lines

Canadian Empress * Photo Credit: Ted Scull

CANADIAN EXPRESS * Photo: Ted Scull

Snapshot: The one-ship line, started in 1981, is family-owned and based in Kingston, Ontario. In 2016 Jason Clark took over as president from his uncle, Bob Clark. The ship, the CANADIAN EMPRESS, is a composite creation to recall early 20th-century steamboats both outside and within, inspiring an interest in Canadian history as well as current attractions. The vessel ties up every evening allowing walks and activities ashore. There are no rough waters, and the only motion you may feel will be by a passing ship.

Ships, Years Delivered & Passengers: CANADIAN EMPRESS (built 1981 & 66 passengers)

Passenger Profile: Primarily North Americans of retirement age. Groups, sometimes on a longer motor coach trip, may be aboard along with many repeat passengers,

Passenger Decks: 3, and no elevator

Price: $$

Included Features: Tours ashore, admission charges and tips to drivers and guides.

Meeting an ore carrier on the St. Lawrence. * Photo: Ted Scull

Meeting an ore carrier on the St. Lawrence. * Photo: Ted Scull

Itineraries: Operating season falls between mid-May and the end of October. Some are one way and others round trip, and a few are seasonal (spring and fall only). As the ship is based in Kingston, cruise often the 1000 Islands (actually the number is 1,870), a long-standing resort region, and numerous sights along the St. Lawrence River and Seaway:

  • Kingston to Upper Canada Village and return (4 nights) throughout the season.
  • Kingston to Ottawa and Ottawa to Kingston  in the spring stopping in the 1000 Islands, Upper Canada Village, and Montreal and more. (6 nights) in May.
  • Kingston to Montreal and return (7 nights) in the spring through the 1000 Islands and along the St. Lawrence Seaway (including locks) with stops at Upper Canada Village, Brockville Museum and the Fur Trade Museum among others.
  • Kingston to Ottawa and Ottawa to Kingston (5 nights), three each way throughout the season. The route passes through the 1000 Islands and along the St. Lawrence River and Seaway with numerous locks to Montreal and then up the Ottawa River to Canada’s capital (and then in reverse).
  • Kingston to Quebec and Quebec to Kingston (6 nights), six cruises each way throughout the season. The route follow the previous itinerary to Montreal then keeps on down the St. Lawrence River to Quebec City for a more in depth look at French Canada.
Quebec City at dusk. * Photo: Ted Scull

Quebec City at dusk. * Photo: Ted Scull

Why Go? The mighty St. Lawrence River and Seaway creates an important and highly-scenic route for commercial and pleasure traffic between the Atlantic Ocean and Great Lakes. The Canadian Empress provides a cozy Canadian down-home setting shared with like-minded travelers to experience Ontario’s and Quebec’s history, culture, scenic delights, sleepy towns, vibrant cities and river-based commercial activities.

When to Go? Anytime during the six-month operating season. Autumn colors come earlier in Canada than in the U.S.

Cabins: 32 double cabins arranged on two decks come in four price categories, and all windows slide open. The 20 compact standard cabins are on the lower St. Lawrence Deck along with two sets of larger accommodation located near the bow and at the stern. On the Ottawa deck above, eight mid-priced cabins are located forward of the Grand Saloon and just aft of the forward-facing observation deck. Cabins are twin-bedded with one becoming a sofa during the day, and several offer a double bed. Clothes are hung on hooks and pipe racks and a curtain separates the shower from the toilet.

Public Rooms: The Grand Saloon on Ottawa Deck serves as the main lounge with bar and dining room. The style is Victorian, including a patterned tin ceiling.

Dining: Meals are served in the Grand Saloon at one open sitting for the roast beef buffet on the first night, otherwise there are two sittings at lunch and dinner with breakfast an open sitting. It’s a set menu, though special dietary requests are accommodated. The cooking is straightforward as in a good restaurant on land, and the close proximity to markets results in fresh produce. The breads come from the ovens at Upper Canada Village, a mid-19th century heritage village. Passengers dress up a bit for the final evening.

Activities & Entertainment: After dinner, there may be one of more musicians, magician and illusionist or a trivia quiz and horse races. On the Sun Deck, activities are kite flying, shuffleboard, and checkers on a giant board, plus cards and board games in the lounge. Shore trips venture to historic villages and houses, museums, large cities such as Montreal, Quebec and Ottawa and the operations of the St. Lawrence Seaway, its locks and power stations.

Upper Canada Village recreates 19th century life in small-town Ontario. * Photo: Ted Scull

Upper Canada Village recreates 19th century life in small-town Ontario. * Photo: Ted Scull

Some of the highlights are Upper Canada Village, a composite of houses, public and farm buildings, and church spanning more than 150 years of Canadian architecture, activities and crafts. The structures were rescued from some eight towns that were to be flooded by St. Lawrence Seaway construction beginning in the 1950s. The Seaway itself is a wonder of engineering with its large locks allowing Great Lakes ships carrying grain, iron ore and coal and for overseas container vessels. Fort Wellington was constructed to protect the Canadian border and the St. Lawrence as a traffic artery and became active during the War of 1812. The beautiful 1000 Islands near Kingston became a summer playground for the rich and famous beginning at the end of the 19th century drawing John Jacob Astor, Helena Rubinstein, Irving Berlin and Mary Pickford. Lovely summer homes and boat houses dot some of the 1,870 islands. Omega Park exhibits Canadian wildlife — moose, bear, elk, and buffalo in an open setting near the Ottawa River between Montreal and Ottawa. Cumberland Heritage Village preserves early 1900s the agricultural history and exhibits an original Imperial Oil gas station. .

Chateau-style Via Rail Canada station at Quebec City. * Photo: Ted Scull

Chateau-style Via Rail Canada station at Quebec City. * Photo: Ted Scull

Special Notes: All embarkations and disembarkation ports – Kingston, Ottawa, Montreal and Quebec) can be reached by VIA Rail Canada, and those who choose to drive to one port may take a train back if the cruise is one way. Montreal has daily Amtrak service between Montreal, Albany and New York City. While the ride is all day, the scenic sections along the Lake Champlain and the Hudson are well worth the wait.

Along the Same Lines: Ontario Waterway Cruises operates a smaller vessel nearby in Ontario, or other small ship river cruise lines.

Contact Info: Suite 200, 253 Ontario Street, Kingston, Ontario, Canada K7L2Z4;  www.stlawrencerivercruise.com; 800-267-7868 & 613-549-8091

— TWS

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American and Canadian Waterways, Cruise Regions, North America, Rivers Ship & Line Reviews, Ship & Line reviews, Uncategorized


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