For several years, Norma and I have wanted to cruise the east coast and into the Canadian Maritime Provinces. We finally accomplished this in May by boarding Holland America Line’s beautiful, 55,500 gross ton Maasdam. We sailed with 1,250 other travelers from Ft. Lauderdale, Florida and ending in Montreal, Canada. It was a pleasurable, 15-day voyage beginning in Florida and calling at Charleston, South Carolina, Newport, Rhode Island, Bar Harbor, Maine then on to Halifax and Sydney, Nova Scotia before stopping at Prince Edward Island then over to Gaspe, Sept Iles, and cruising the Saguenay Fjord, stopping at the town of Saguenay before cruising into the scenic city of Quebec staying two days and ending in Montreal. All the stops were most interesting and Holland America Line should be congratulated for putting together such an interesting itinerary.
The ship was sparkling “ship-shape” and our cabin was very nicely laid out for a longer cruise with plenty of closet and drawer space. The bathroom offered a shower over the tub. Our cabin window was large enough to enjoy the sea rolling by.
The crew was the most friendly of any experienced to date. The officers are Dutch and also friendly mingling with the passengers.
The cuisine was perfect. Offered was a large selection of main dishes with tasty side dishes. The desserts were extremely delicious. Most of the passengers commented about the wonderful food and choices offered. For the first time we selected “dine anytime” which was served on the 7th deck. We could eat dinner at our leisure anytime between 5:30 p.m. up to 8:30 p.m. any night. We could ring the dining room and book a reservation up until 4 p.m. that day. This gave us plenty of time to enjoy sightseeing ashore before dinner. We didn’t have to rush back to the ship for the meal.
The passenger make-up was mostly experienced cruiser seniors. Ninety percent of them had sailed with Holland America Line in the past. This is a heck of a lot of repeat passengers and says much for the Line.
We enjoyed a day at sea after departing from Ft. Lauderdale giving us the opportunity to settle into our cabin and time to scout out the ship and its many public rooms and two swimming pools. One pool is covered with a magradome which can open to expose the swimming pool and surrounding deck. This is on deck 11 which also offers the open selection grill as well as the spa and exercise rooms.
Our first port call was at Charleston, South Carolina. We had never visited this rather large, southern city in the past. We decided to purchase a sightseeing tour consisting of riding in a horse-driven carriage for 27 blocks showing us the historic city with her stately homes with their lovely gardens, magnificent public buildings and majestic churches. In the afternoon, we booked a tour to the Boon Hall Plantation. We drove to the neighboring town of Mt. Pleasant to visit the beautiful and historic site which was used in the filming of “North & South” as well as “Gone With the Wind.” It is large, very green with southern moss hanging from the trees. The mansion is filled with furniture of the Civil War period and it was fun to walk through the structure. The owners had some 85 slaves who were housed in small brick houses on the plantation up to the end of the Civil War.
We now headed northward past New York City and Boston for our second port call at Newport, Rhode Island. Our tour here included a ride past the more than 250 mansions facing the sea which you may have seen in movies and other photos. Some of the most famous families had or have homes here. The surrounding coast area is loaded with beautiful trees and lawns which compliment the gardens and grounds of the mansions. The mansions are even grander than I had imagined. We spent some time at a mansion which had been the background and interior shots used in the original movie “The Great Gatsby” which starred Robert Redford and came out some time in the 1970s, I believe. The home reminded me of those features found in castles in Europe. It consists of 28,000 square feet of living space, including a ball room the size of a skating rink. We also enjoyed lunch at a restaurant named the Barking Crab, where we enjoyed a large bowl of clam chowder. It was the best ever!
During our days at sea, the ship offered talks on various subjects of interest, games to participate in, cooking classes, exercise sessions and movies both seen in a theatre and viewable in one’s cabin.
Just about every night at 8 p.m., a live show was presented featuring headline acts, music galore, magic shows and stand-up comedy. For the more than two weeks aboard the Maasdam, we saw the best live shows I have ever witnessed on a cruise ship.
As the Maasdam continued sailing north off the New England coast, we next stopped at Bar Harbor, Maine. Here, we chose a tour that included a ride through the Acadia National Park. It is one of the most beautiful drives in this part of the world, with dense forest and scenic meadows with interesting inns and homes along the way.
The population in Bar Harbor is about 2,500 during the winter months and more than 40,000 during the summer. Many private boats are anchored in the bay, which is most colorful. We walked the downtown area stopping at some of the most interesting shops. We had lunch here consisting of lobster. Couldn’t leave here without enjoying the most famous item in Bar Harbor. Yummy!
At Halifax, Nova Scotia (it means new Scotland) we toured the rather large city and enjoyed the many sights of the area including the famed Maritime Museum which houses a section devoted to the Titanic. Over 100 of the survivors were brought here after the sinking. Many bodies were also brought to Halifax and buried here. Nova Scotia is one of the 10 provinces that make up Canada.
At 4:30 in the afternoon we set sail for Sydney where we also toured, and on to Charlotte Town on Prince Edward Island. It is now day 10 of our adventure and we toured the vast surrounding area of green, rolling hills and open meadows and stopped at the estate which featured “Anne of Green Gables” characters in the book of the same name. It’s a rather large farm and we also walked through the rather small two-story home. The city of Charlottetown has some 35,000 people. Beautiful island!
Gaspe was the most northern point of the 15-day cruise and located on the Gaspe Peninsula. It is French Canadian and the people speak mostly French. During a tour, we found mostly green, rolling hills with interesting farms occupying the land mass. The homes are smallish with distinctive colors of paint, much as you would find in Norway. As you drive the highway passing by small villages, you notice there are no fences. It gives a very open feeling. This postcard scenery sells Gaspe and the entire peninsula.
Next up was Sept Illes, located on the St. Lawrence River. I had never heard of the city until I read the itinerary we were to take on Maasdam. I was surprised to learn that Sept Illes was the second largest Canadian seaport after Vancouver. Iron ore is the big commodity and exported from here to other parts of the world. The town has some 30,000 population and many work producing the iron ore. Native Canadians are also here, and some live in a reservation similar to our own here in the States. However, these reserves are found in sections of the cities. We took a rather lengthy tour of the outer area and enjoyed the sights.
Saguenay is located on the Saguenay River off the St. Lawrence River and is, in fact, a Fjord much as you would find in Norway. Beautiful! The town welcomed the Maasdam as it docked early in the morning. Many of the town’s people showed up dockside to welcome the first large ship of the summer season. We later attended a lavish theatre show depicting the history of the Saguenay area from the early times to present. The presentation used almost every theatrical effect possible. The stage was about 250 feet across and enjoyed a cast of some 150 players in costume. I counted six horses and other animals. All sorts of effects including laser were used. They outdid Radio City Music Hall’s lavish shows.
We enjoyed two full days in Quebec City as the ship remained docked at the foot of old town. The town is loaded with French architecture with buildings going back 250 years with cobblestone streets. Here, we toured the city, both old and new sections, as well as nearby Island of Orleans where we enjoyed lunch at a country house. We also visited Montmorency Falls just outside Quebec City.
We continued down the St. Lawrence River to end the cruise in Montreal.
We had visited this large and interesting city in the past, so elected to fly home after disembarking. Holland America Line provided a coach to the airport.
All in all, it was a fantastic cruise packed with interesting sights and friendly people. We want to thank the Holland America Line and officers and crew of the Maasdam for providing such a wonderful cruise experience.