Last updated: 01:00 AM ET, Thu June 18 2015

Opinion Home | Captain’s Blog: Cruise Tips and Advice

  • Amber Nolan | June 18, 2015 1:00 AM ET

    Exploring the St. Lawrence was Just One Adventure on MS Saint Laurent's Inaugural Cruise

    Exploring the St. Lawrence was Just One Adventure on MS Saint Laurent's Inaugural Cruise

    Photo courtesy of Haimark

    Haimark Line brands itself as “a new star in coastal cruising” by introducing some head-turning itineraries that ply the shorelines of North, South, and Central America. The approach is similar to a river cruise model: comfortable accommodations with high-end linens and bath products, all-inclusive pricing, and educational lectures onboard.

    In summer, the new MS Saint Laurent sails through Canada and the Great Lakes and in winter the ship heads south and becomes a light expedition cruise, with onboard naturalists and zodiacs for eco-themed excursions.

    The inaugural voyage on May 30 from Montreal to Portland featured Dr. William Cogar, who gave daily lectures about the history of the St. Lawrence River and Canadian Maritimes. Special guest Dan Rather addressed the audience in the Compass Lounge about ethics in journalism and globalization.

    The nine-night voyage traversed the St. Lawrence and coastal ports of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Maine. Although the cruise line shows a promising future, they were still working a few kinks out. The onboard boutique was not open and a handful of amenities were not yet present, like complimentary iPads, docking stations, patio furniture outside of some staterooms, and new interior artwork.  Even though the entire crew of 90 was several members short for the first sailing (they are still building additional crew quarters), service became more polished as the cruise progressed.


    Meals in the Shearwater Dining Room consisted of a selection of international dishes served in three courses (for both lunch and dinner). Small plate mains included items like oven-baked filet of monkfish served in a Mornay cheese sauce or goat cheese dumplings in beetroot cream, with chef specials ranging from roast pepper-crusted beef filets with demi glace to maple-brined pork loin with grilled zucchini. New York strip steak, broiled salmon, grilled chicken breast, cheese plates, and a selection of ice cream were always available.

    Breakfast at the Shearwater included a range of omelets, pastries, yogurt, eggs, bacon, and a daily breakfast special. A cold buffet (outside on deck four) offered an alternative to sit-down service, with breakfast pastries and fresh fruit or small sandwiches, cucumber salad, soup, and a variety of meats and cheeses for lunch.

    One area that really shined was the Cliff Rock Bar and Grill, an open-air dining venue available at no extra charge. Guests prepared steak, fish, vegetables, and lamb at the table on sizzling hot rocks while watching the setting sun dip below the horizon. It was a fun, beautiful, and enjoyable dining experience. The restaurant staff was interactive and even a bit quirky — adding to the feeling of camaraderie on the vessel.

    Entertainment and Excursions

    Time onboard was often spent in the elegant, chandelier-lined lounge reading, watching the scenery, playing board games, and putting puzzles together. Others mingled in the ship’s classic English pub as they enjoyed complimentary house wine, beer, and spirits. Passengers could also book a hair, nails, or massage treatment in the small spa and salon, or unwind in a lounge chair on the sun deck. In the evenings, a musical duo performed classic hits and guests took to the dance floor. Besides educational talks and occasional trivia, there weren’t any other planned activities, and no fitness room, pool, Jacuzzi, or jogging area.

    Shore excursions on the inaugural voyage included a visit to the farmstead in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island that inspired the “Anne of Green Gables” stories, the gravesite of Titanic victims in Halifax, Nova Scotia, walking tours of Yarmouth, Nova Scotia and Quebec City, a driving tour of Acadia National Park in Maine, a stop at the reversing rapids in Saint John, New Brunswick, and a boat tour to Bonaventure Island, a bird sanctuary in Gaspe, Quebec.  

    Other summer itineraries in North America include the 1,000 Islands (Saint Lawrence River) and the Great Lakes, with excursions into Niagara’s wine country, Detroit’s Henry Ford Museum, a traditional ceremony with the Ojibwe tribe of Manitoulin Island, and a horse-drawn carriage tour of Mackinac Island.


    Staterooms range from 130 to 190 square feet, and include generous storage cabinets, large porthole windows with Roman shades, spacious bathrooms, soft bathrobes, ultra-comfortable beds, and a complimentary pillow menu with such options as goose-down and buckwheat. Owner’s suites have 325 square feet with added amenities like an included mini bar, semi-private balcony, laundry service, and evening canapés. Haimark uses an in-depth system of categorizing cabins, so the best value options aren’t necessarily those on the upper and mid-ship levels. 

    As Haimark Line continues to develop its cruise programs, the company’s upscale accommodations, easygoing vibe, and a focus on seeking out unusual destinations will help it shine among other small-ship cruises. This winter, the MS Saint Laurent will sail coastal Venezuela and under-the-radar, Orinoco River, as well as the west coast of Panama, Costa Rica, Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru. 


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Amber Nolan Captain’s Blog: Cruise Tips and Advice

Amber Nolan Amber Nolan loves to be on the water, and although she enjoys the fun and excitement of larger cruise ships, she prefers setting sail on smaller vessels to unique destinations. Originally from western New York, this restless traveler has a knack for finding creative ways to travel and befriending interesting characters along the way. On her most recent adventure, she hitchhiked on private aircraft across the United States. She previously served as the cruise editor at Sherman’s Travel but her work can also be found on and USA Today Travel. She current resides in South Florida.
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