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An Autumn Canada New England cruise packs a bunch of surprises.
This was a first for me: to see a crew member shoveling snow on the pool deck. When I decided to revisit one of my favorite itineraries, I never expected actual weather events. Especially in early October. But living in Florida for almost 15 years, I’d forgotten how fickle the autumn winds can be at that time of year.
On our 14-day Canada New England cruise roundtrip from Bayonne, New Jersey, our first stop was Portland, Maine. It was a gorgeous day in Portland, with a cloudless azure sky, little to no wind and temperatures near 70 degrees.
First stop: Portland, Maine.
I love to visit Portland on a cruise because the pier is located in the old downtown. In my usual foodie fashion, I was in search of an authentic Maine lunch and Gilbert’s was the place.
While munching on freshly caught lobster, preceded by a steaming bowl of seafood chowder, I overheard a conversation that piqued my interest. The weather forecast predicted an unusual early winter storm that was barreling out of northern Canada. Snow, a blizzard actually, was anticipated.
Shopping with a purpose.
Packed with only a light jacket and no hat or gloves (it was only early October!) I decided to hightail it around town to find something warm and waterproof. Our ship would head right into the first snowstorm of the season.
I was fortunate to have found a lovely consignment shop where I purchased a full-length winter coat. Hat and gloves from a local knit shop. Shopping bags in hand, I headed back to the ship as the sun was just starting to dip behind the brick downtown buildings.
Two days at sea cruising the Gulf of St. Lawrence brought us more of the same sunshine and warmth as we had in Portland. As we made our way into the St. Lawrence River, however, the weather began to change. My thrift shop find of a gently-used London Fog overcoat would become a necessity.
Quebec City and the weather has changed.
When we arrived bright and early into Quebec City, the skies had opened up and blizzard warnings were issued. In this hilly city originally built on two levels, ice plus freezing rain and strong winds can spell serious trouble.
Undaunted, I decided to go ashore. I hadn’t seen snow or sleet or felt temperatures this cold since I left Chicago in 1999.
Dressed in layers and looking like the Michelin (wo)man, with two hands on the railing, I walked sideways like everyone else as we inched down the icy gangway. Off to the cruise terminal for a city map. I was one of only a dozen passengers who ventured off the ship. Everyone else was crew in search of a local wifi café.
We gingerly walked, head down, into the 35 mph winds as the horizontal sleet quickly turned to snow. It seemed like forever but was actually only a ten minute, three-block walk to the terminal.
Upper or Lower Quebec City may depend on the weather.
Beautiful Quebec City is best explored on foot…in the warmer months. As I mentioned, there are two levels to Old Quebec, Lower and Upper. Looking up, way up, from the street towards the historic Chateau Frontenac Hotel, there were two choices to get to the upper level; 1. take the 130 year old funicular or 2. walk. Neither seemed appealing in the now blizzard conditions. Maybe just walking the lower level would be the plan for the day. And just maybe I could find a bowl up hot soup once again.
An hour of traipsing around in the cold and damp and I was ready for more than soup. I longed for a nice hot lunch in a cozy French café. I found a place to eat by looking at their overhanging restaurant signs.
Two choices presented themselves: Lapin or cochon – rabbit or pig. I opted for the pig. Seated at a window table, the view of the snowy street resembled a movie scene. When I looked to see what the woman at the next table was eating, all I could say to the waitress was, “I’ll have what she’s having.”
It was called Seafood Pot Pie, but it was so much more. Large pieces of lobster, scallops, salmon and potatoes in a fabulous cream sauce were topped with an oh-so-flaky puff pastry. Not too salty, with a slight taste of tarragon and pepper. A dark leafy salad with homemade vinaigrette and French fries complimented the already ample pot pie. I asked the waitress to choose a Sauvignon Blanc.
Tourists and locals walked through the cobblestone streets, looking down at their shoes so as not to slip on the ice or step in a gray slush-puddle. Quebec City does not shovel the streets or sidewalks until November 1.
This being only October 22 shopkeepers worked with brooms and shovels to clear away the early season snow and ice. Halloween pumpkins, dressed in their finery, dotted the doorways of the stores, each looking more adorned than the ones before.
The tours must go on.
How anyone could be grumpy with this unexpected weather anomaly was beyond my comprehension especially when complimentary hot chocolate greeted everyone as they boarded the ship. Warmed and ready, I headed back outside.
I had signed up for a late afternoon shore tour to Montmorency Falls and St. Anne’s Winery. Meet at the pier at three o’clock were the instructions on the tour ticket. I arrived five minutes early and waited ten minutes past…no one in sight. Not knowing if my tour had been canceled, I re-boarded the ship to inquire. The tour was not canceled and I wasn’t the only one who didn’t know where to find the meeting point. When I asked the person at the shore excursion desk for a refund, she graciously credited my onboard account. Due to the inclement weather and probably not wanting people to get sick or slip and fall, no one argued if you wanted to refund a tour at the last minute.
Dinner was delightful. Of course the food was very good but the view of Chateau Frontenac with lights aglow and snow gently falling, was mesmerizing. Nothing spectacular for onboard entertainment planned for the evening as many passengers opted for dinner ashore or some were even staying overnight at the Chateau Frontenac. I love spending a night in port; the ship isn’t moving, all is quiet and no rushing the next morning to head ashore.
River cruise or ocean cruise?
Technically, a Canada New England cruise can be more river than ocean cruise. Case in point; a few cruise itineraries continue westbound on the St. Lawrence River all the way to Montreal. Small vessels can even navigate into the St. Lawrence Seaway and into the Great Lakes.
On an autumn Canada New England cruise anything goes. From magnificent fall foliage displays in dozens of reds, golds and orange hues, to spotting flocks of migrating birds, and of course as early season blizzard. Who could ask for anything more?
If you haven’t made plans for a Canada New England cruise, it’s not too late.