Photos by Jason Leppert
Maple Leaf Adventures
At a Glance
By the Numbers
• Lifestyle: Standard
• Tonnage: 130
• Launched: 1912 (2004 refit)
• Passengers: 12
• Crew: 5
• Passenger Space Ratio: 10.83
Take a Bow (What to Like)
Pain in the Aft (What to Dislike)
• Unique Converted Tugboat
• Fantastic Crew Members
• Wonderful Off-board Experiences
• Very Small Staterooms
• Next to No Entertainment
• Limited Dining Selections
Who Should Book
• Adventure-seeking travelers looking for something completely different from a regular cruise.
Who Should Skip
• Cruise travelers wanting lots of personal space and onboard amenities.
Reviewing Maple Leaf Adventures' MV Swell is an irregular exercise from most cruise ship features because it is an entirely different animal: a truly unique wood-hulled converted tugboat that was built in 1912, the same year the Titanic set sail. As such, its rankings are padded in a couple of areas because it cannot be evaluated on the same scale as, say, the largest cruise ship in the world, Royal Caribbean International's Harmony of the Seas.
In fact, what makes the Swell so special is that it only accommodates up to 12 guests versus the behemoth's 6,500 or so. Having sailed on both, I can attest to how marvelous the smallest variety is. The Swell is a beautiful vessel, definitely closer to boat status but regal in her own right. Lots of stained natural woods indoors and out give it a classy yacht feel, and plenty of old-school polished hardware conveys its grand history.
There is no denying that the ship's six staterooms were very small. They technically can accommodate two each, but as many beds are wedge-shaped and storage is limited, I alone filled my cabin up quickly. Cozy as it was, as a solo traveler I made do quite nicely, and the bed was comfortable to sleep in, especially with a great skylight overhead and a super quiet vessel at night thanks to evening battery operation.
The fact that each cabin comes equipped with a private ensuite was quite convenient as well. Again, the facilities were more utilitarian, but the square footprint residential-style shower was easy enough to navigate. What was annoying was the lack of provided body soap, but I understand this is now available. Otherwise, cabins are heated but not air conditioned, but cracking open the porthole and door with a privacy latch helped draw in cooler temperatures.
As one would accurately expect, onboard there were few activities, but a hot tub was present on the back deck to take a quick dip, and there was a decent selection of books in the parlor's library. My favorite thing to do was to visit the bridge frequently. With so few passengers, the crew was able to make it an open variety, and a barstool in the back allowed extended moments for taking in the passage while chatting with the captain.
Of course, the real appeal of a trip onboard the Swell was its expedition activities. Two pontoon boats were towed behind and plenty of stops, all anchorages, allowed access to some beautiful and intimate territories in Canada such as Haida Gwaii. There were also opportunities to fish from the ship's deck or kayak in a secluded bay. Particularly fans of flora and fauna got a big kick out of discovering an abundance of natural wonders with Maple Leaf Adventures.
For featuring such a small galley, I was truly amazed how much food was able to be served onboard for breakfast, lunch, an afternoon snack and dinner. Flavor profiles were equally impressive given the limited nature of the facilities. In some cases, we even fished for a meal or picked sea asparagus from the shore to include as a side that were expertly prepared by the chef.
The biggest limitation, however, was in choice. While the chef did a fine job of accommodating special dietary needs, there just wasn't much in the way of selecting from a menu. Understandably, what was available was pretty much all you could eat. There were some other proteins like chicken served, but the primary fare was seafood. So, anyone like my wife who does not care for fish would have been disappointed in that regard.
As a ship mostly dedicated to off-board experiences, entertainment was slim. As you can see from an example of daily events below, agendas consisted mostly of shoreside explorations dotted with dining, and we didn't mind in the least honestly. You can't expect shows onboard such a small vessel, but there was a flat-panel television that allowed the occasional screening.
Especially enjoyable one evening was a chance to watch an episode of the campy Canadian television program "The Beachcombers" in which the Swell was heavily featured. The silly narrative and dialogue made us all laugh, but it was cool to see our ship and a bit of its historical use. At other times, slideshows were sometimes shared among passengers, and book readings filled the remaining periods.
Besides the great activities ashore, the highlight onboard was the excellent crew. Everyone from the expedition team to the deck hands were very friendly and always approachable. In one instance, I misjudged a water landing, causing my tennis shoes to be swamped by a incoming wave, and the crew went out of their way to dry them out in the warm engine room. In fact, the chance to tour said engine room was a treat as well. Altogether, kudos to an exceptional product that I'd sail on again in a heart beat.