Quirky Cruise
September 26, 2015

Small Ship Cruise Line Review: Ontario Waterway Cruises Inc.

Kawartha Voyageur * Photo Credit: Ted Scull

KAWARTHA VOYAGEUR navigating a canal * Photo: Ted Scull

Snapshot: An Ontario Canada farming family named Ackert started out in the overnight cruise business in 1982 with the 32-passenger, 120-foot KAWARTHA VOYAGEUR, and the next and present generation carries on the tradition with the same boat, slightly expanded to 45 berths. At first sighting, the trim blue-and-white vessel resembles an overgrown houseboat, though her chunky size looms over most other craft in the region. The five-day scenic cruises, beginning in mid-May and lasting to mid-October, follow Ontario’s 355 miles of rivers, canals, and lakes generating three different itineraries that begin just in from Georgian Bay and head eastward to Peterborough and Kingston and on north to Ottawa.

Ship, Year Delivered & Passengers: KAWARTHA VOYAGEUR (built 1982 & 45 passengers); 11 Canadian crew + captain.

Passenger Profile: Mostly Ontario Canadians, with about 10% Americans, of retirement or near-retirement age who like the slow pace, scenery and genial company. No passengers under 13. Occasional teenager accompanies grandparents. Many, many repeat passengers.

Passenger Decks: 3; an elevator shuttles between the cabin and lounge/dining deck but not partly open, partly sheltered top deck.

Price: $ Moderate

Included Features: Trips ashore; tips (no tipping policy); charter bus from the ship back to embarkation point or to the ship from the disembarkation point; free parking in Kingston and Peterborough; WiFi.

Itineraries: Three routes of five days each, docking at night.

  • Peterborough along the Trent-Severn Waterway via 22 locks (including the great Lift Lock with a 65-foot rise) and connecting Kawartha Lakes and the Severn River to Big Chute (marine railway).
  • Peterborough to Kingston along the scenic Otonabee River and Trent rivers, across the Bay of Quinte to St. Lawrence River and the Thousand Islands.
  • Kingston to Ottawa, Canada’s capital, using the Rideau River and the 1832-built Rideau Canal (35 locks), one of the great engineering feats of the 19th century. All cruises return via the same routes but generally overnighting in different locations.
  • Ontario's Big Chute marine railway carries a private yacht between an arm of Lake Huron and over a road to Ontario's inland waterways. * Photo: Ted Scull

    Ontario’s Big Chute marine railway carries a private yacht between an arm of Lake Huron and over a road to Ontario’s inland waterways. * Photo: Ted Scull

Why Go? Cruise Ontario’s scenic waterways offer a combination of rivers, lakes and locking operations, wooded landscapes devoid of human habitation, farming communities, summer camps, and fleets of pleasure boats. The overnight stops are often adjacent to a park, a waterfall or a picturesque town permitting a walk before or after dinner. The famous marine railway at Big Cute transports yachts carried in a cradle contraption that runs on rails between the Georgian Bay and the Trent-Severn Waterway. It is a most unusual sight to see rising up the lake and then crossing a road!

When to Go? Anytime during the five-month operating season from mid-May to mid-October. Three spring sailings are six nights for the price of five. Autumn colors (sailings marked) come early in Canada and evenings are cool.

Ontario Waterways

The overgrown houseboat plies some 355 miles of Ontario’s Waterways. * Photo: Ontario Waterways

Cabins: 22 compact cabins have twin berths, open shelves, pipe racks for hanging clothes, a large screened window that opens, and a curtained off sink and toilet. Commodious showers with changing rooms are located aft on the cabin deck. In addition, there is one single cabin. Single occupancy of a double cabin is 75%. Ship not wheelchair accessible.

Public Rooms: On the deck above, a cheerful observation lounge occupies a forward-facing position with a tiny library alcove off to one side. The sun deck has both open and covered areas and an open deck at the bow ahead of the cabins gives a forward facing view.

Dining: All meals are taken at one sitting at rectangular tables of eight located just aft of the lounge. The food’s inspiration comes from the older Ackert’s farming days, so the set menus are definitely hearty down home cooking: chicken breasts, baked ham, beef, cured bacon and sausages. All baking of breads, muffins and pies is done on board. Dress is casual at all times and the staff is Canadian.

Activities & Entertainment: Guest speaker, canal videos, skits and readings by the crew, cards and games, bocce ball, guided walks ashore and independent evening strolls during overnights  at the locks and dams.

Summertime boating on Ontario's Waterways.

Summertime boating on Ontario’s Waterways. * Photo: Ted Scull

Special Notes: The line operates with the basic premise: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, i.e change and innovation are simply not necessary. With one brother or the other the captain, the wives and one brother operate the office. It’s been this way since 1993. Public transportation is available at Peterborough (bus), and Kingston & Ottawa (bus & rail).

Along the Same Lines: St. Lawrence Cruise Lines operates nearby in southern Ontario while the Gota Canal trips in Sweden have a rich European flavor.

Contact Info: P.O. Box 6, Orillia, ON L3V 6H9; 800-561-5767 or 705-327-5767.


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

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