The original purpose of my ferry cruise up Quebec’s St. Lawrence River was not to get in touch with Québécois culture; I did it because I like being on ships, and trying “cruises” that are different from what Holland America or Princess (those lines sail in the region, too) offer.
What I discovered was a chance to really meet Quebeckers—because most of the other passengers were from Quebec. I chatted with them in a way other visits to la belle province hadn’t allowed. We yacked over dinners, having drinks or just watching the magnificent Gaspé Peninsula glide by off the starboard side of the CTMA Vacancier. Hills rolled by, iconic village lighthouses regularly pierced the shoreline, while massive windmills seemed endless between Matane and Cap-Chat.
My awful French didn’t stop me from getting to know my dining mates, either: Montréalers André and Leo, and Suzanne, a single traveller from Québec City. Luckily, two of them spoke good English, and I tried to use some French, too. As with past cruise dining companions, we chatted about careers first, gradually getting more personal; I learned about André’s move from Québec City, Leo’s rural Quebec roots and Suzanne’s reasons for starting her grief-counselling service.
Instead of swimming pools and fancy casinos—there are none—I savoured cultural opps: listening to well-known Acadien singer/songwriter Georges Langford, who grew up on the very islands we were sailing to: the Îles de la Madeleine, known in English as the Magdalen Islands. When he sang, Langford enchanted a lounge full of Québeckers, who laughed with him and often hummed or sang along.
The ship itself was nothing special: a ferry fitted for extended passenger services (in fact, cars are carried below). Rooms were small and spartan, but comfortable enough: just a rose-coloured blanket on my bed and a basic, private washroom.
Instead of chocolate buffets, I had the pleasure of joining André on the deck near midnight as we passed his hometown of Québec City—magical Fairmont Le Château Frontenac hotel all lit up. We talked about family, friends, jobs, relationships. We talked about language; about French in Canada. I learned a lot. Cruising close to his home, we became friends. That’s a trend I like.
What else I liked:
- Ship staffers who jumped in to sing a song or two during entertainment time, even if it wasn’t their job
- No Internet, often no phone coverage; truly time to power down.
- Knowing this was not a “mass market” experience; it was homey and relaxing.
- My final destination: the marvelous Îles de la Madeleine.