Last updated: 01:30 PM ET, Fri May 29 2015

Record Season Underway for Saint Lawrence Cruise Ports

Cruise Line & Cruise Ship | Theresa Norton | May 29, 2015

Record Season Underway for Saint Lawrence Cruise Ports

PHOTO: Cruise ships dock at the Port of Montréal. (Courtesy of Stéphan Poulin/Tourisme Montréal)

Cruising on the Saint Lawrence River and Seaway is finally coming into its own, with several ports along the waterway projecting record seasons this year.

The Port of Montréal expects to welcome 71,000 passengers this year — an increase of 27 percent over 2014 — from 77 cruise ships. The Port of Québec broke its own record for the third consecutive year in 2014, with 180,836 passengers on 109 ship calls, but is expecting greater numbers this year with 125 scheduled visits.

And Escale Gaspésie, a non-profit organization that represents the towns of Gaspé, Percé and Chandler, expects a record 30 calls and 20,912 passengers this year.

The cruise season got underway earlier this month and will run through October or November. The autumn months continue to be busier in the region, which has a reputation as a fall foliage destination, but it is noteworthy that more ships are visiting in the spring and summer. It is, after all, a stunningly beautiful destination, one that cruise lines and travelers are discovering as an attractive alternative to traditional summer itineraries in Alaska or Europe, particularly for repeat cruisers.

The spring and summer months got a big boost with the arrival this year of Haimark Line’s Saint Laurent, a 200-passenger vessel built in 2001 as the Cape May Light. The ship underwent a $3.5 million refurbishment before its May 30 inaugural cruise. It has several restaurants and includes alcoholic and soft beverages, shore excursions and 90 minutes of Wi-Fi per cabin in the fares.

Other ships expected to visit Montréal for the first time include Oceania Cruises’ Marina and Insignia, the German ship AIDA Diva, and the British vessel Saga Sapphire.

“Cruises are central to our strategic planning,” said Yves Lalumière, president and CEO of Tourisme Montréal. “We’ve set some ambitious goals once again this year. Based on our current figures, it looks like all our efforts — and those of our partners — are going to pay off with a record number of visitors. Now more than ever, Montréal is a top destination for cruise passengers from around the world.”

In fact, both Montréal and Québec are laying the groundwork for future growth. The government of Québec plans to invest $55 million to improve passenger greeting infrastructure at both ports.

“The construction of a new maritime terminal will have a big impact on tourism and generate economic spinoffs for Montréal,” Lalumière said. “We see a bright future ahead.”

Meanwhile, the Gaspé Peninsula took note of the 12 cruise calls in spring and summer, the highest number to date in the early season.

“The spring-summer cruise season, gradually being introduced onto cruise line itineraries on the St. Lawrence, represents a real potential for growth,” said Stéphane Sainte-Croix, executive director of Escale Gaspésie. “Consequently, cruise ship tourism is now present in the region from May to October.”

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