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The St. Lawrence in Cruise Mode
  • Providence Island, on the Lower North Shore, one of the stops of the Relais Nordik cruise
    Valérie Fortier

The St. Lawrence in Cruise Mode

Do you have sea legs and would like to discover the maritime regions of Québec from a unique perspective? Two ships offer you the opportunity to enjoy a cruise on the St. Lawrence during your next vacation: the CTMA Vacancier, which sails from Montréal to the Îles de la Madeleine (and back), and the Bella Desgagnés, which will take you to the Minganie and Lower North Shore regions. We asked two of our colleagues to tell us about their experiences aboard these ships.

CTMA Cruise to the Islands: An Immersion Experience!

David Lang

I will start by saying that my CTMA cruise to the Îles de la Madeleine is one of my top three best memories of my time in Québec. The cruise was an amazing, authentic and truly unique experience lasting eight days and seven nights, with never a dull moment.

Every Friday, from June to September, the CTMA Vacancier leaves Montréal and sets off for the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Its destination is the Îles de la Madeleine, a beautiful little archipelago that about 350 passengers will get to explore for three days, before heading back to Montréal. What they may not realize is that they’ll actually be immersed in Madelinot culture for the entire cruise.

A floating island

Enjoy a memorable voyage aboard the CTMA Vacancier© CTMA

Before even boarding the ship, we moved our clocks forward to Atlantic Time: already, we were entering a different zone. Once onboard, I set off to explore my new steel home, noting the large exterior decks, observation lounges, fitness room, children’s play area, gift shop, movie theatre, restaurant and bar. There’s even a hair salon onboard, and of course, my cabin, where I’d rest my eyes between days of intense sightseeing. This proud floating island has a crew of about 100 Islanders, who immediately welcomed us to a Madelinot experience full of humour and spontaneity. The program of onboard activities is rich and varied: talks, workshops, shows, music, dancing, storytelling, tastings, etc. I promised myself not to miss the workshop on the Islands’ famous lobster and yet... Let me tell you what happened instead.

Québec, as seen from the St. Lawrence

From Montréal all the way to the Gulf of St. Lawrence, the ship’s decks offer nonstop sightseeing showcasing Québec as seen from the water, with 360-degree views for nearly 800 kilometres (500 miles). As you can imagine, the sights are fascinating and you can get caught up in the show at any time of day. There’s so much to take in: sunrises and sunsets, coastal scenery you’d never see otherwise, marine mammals, etc. Trois-Rivières, Québec City, Charlevoix, Tadoussac and the mouth of the Saguenay River flow by on one side; Bas-Saint-Laurent and the Gaspé Peninsula on the other... As the scenery unfolded before my eyes, I felt so privileged to be able to watch the majestic St. Lawrence widen into the Estuary and become a sea. So on the night my fellow passengers learned more about lobster, I was captivated by La Belle Province, as seen from the CTMA Vacancier...

Good times onboard

Fall under the spell of this colourful archipelago© Michel Bonato/Tourisme Îles de la Madeleine

The truth is that whether you’re out on the decks or in the ship, there’s never a dull moment during this voyage. There’s always something fun going on, whether it’s chatting with the crew or fellow travellers or immersing yourself in authentic Madelinot culture. All Islanders have a bit of the artist in them (or a lot!)—they live at their own pace and enjoy sharing their culture. I must also confess that my stay on the Islands was another of my top three memories of Québec! But all too soon, the ship was making its way back to Montréal. Although it was dismaying to contemplate the end of this adventure, the return trip was just as fascinating with shows, gourmet food and friendly interactions. Though I may be back on the mainland now, my heart still belongs to the Îles de la Madeleine!

The MV Bella Desgagnés: A Thrilling Experience

Valérie Fortier

Located on the north shore of the St. Lawrence, the region of Côte-Nord is remarkably beautiful. Our journey there aboard the MV Bella Desgagnés was an experience in itself, set to the waves of the St. Lawrence, surrounded by pristine wilderness and including visits to a series of welcoming communities. Off we sailed to the eastern edge of Québec!

It was impossible not to be moved by the breathtaking landscapes that unfolded before our eyes. As sea breezes caressed our faces and we breathed in the fresh sea air, we felt like the first people about to set foot on the coast. We also soaked up the quiet pastoral beauty of this corner of the world, where only seabirds, boat horns and waves break the silence. This unique cruise makes for lasting memories.

An impressive ship

The Bella Desgagnés will take you to Minganie and the Lower North Shore© Valérie Fortier

The launching of the impressive MV Bella Desgagnés in 2013 did not go unnoticed. Modern and sophisticated, this 21st-century passenger-cargo ship is also the latest addition to the Groupe Desgagnés fleet and was built in Croatia, but sent to Italy for interior finishing work. It is worlds beyond its predecessor: it can accommodate 380 passengers and 40 crew members; its cargo hold is also twice as large. In fact, don’t miss the opportunity to visit the impressive bridge at the end of the cruise!

The cruise is sold as a package, including cabin accommodations in various categories and all meals (book your spot early!). You can board the ship from various ports, but the weeklong cruise is really worth it: you don’t want to miss any part of this adventure in remote Québec. As a bonus, the daily menu features fresh fish and seafood from the fishing villages along the way. The ship also offers many amenities, including a laundry room, gym, cafeteria and ultra comfortable indoor lounges.

Unique destinations

Natashquan is one of the Bella Desgagnés’s many ports of call© Valérie Fortier

From April to January, the ship leaves its home port in Rimouski, setting off on a 1600-kilometre (1000-mile) journey all the way to Blanc-Sablon, a stone’s throw from the Labrador border. Along the way, it makes a dozen stops in charming villages rich in history. Sept-Îles, Port-Menier, Havre-Saint-Pierre and Natashquan are the first four stops, but what everyone is really looking forward to is visiting the Lower North Shore, beyond the end of the road. This is where the famous Québec film Seducing Dr. Lewis was shot, in the island community of Harrington Harbour, which of course is one of the places the ship stops. I also recommend participating in the shore excursions organized by Voyage CoSte, a cooperative for a sustainable tourism environment that specializes in this region.

In short, the Bella offers a sublime sea experience, with beautiful scenery and the opportunity to interact with the local French-speaking, English-speaking and Innu communities. This is a cruise you won’t want to miss!

For more information about these cruises:

CTMA Vacancier
Relais Nordik

Author David Lang

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