Destination Focus: St. Lawrence: The Ships are Coming

Legends abound about how ports along the St. Lawrence River were named, but U.S. cruise lines and Canadian tourism officials hope that the translation is “Where the River Meets the Big Ships.”

The Canadian government is allocating upwards of $50 million to upgrade port facilities in Baie-Comeau, Gaspe, Havre-Saint-Pierre, Sept-Iles, Saguenay and Iles de la Madeleine and help local officials to develop tourism activities.

“Each of these ports offers something a little different, but they all offer a mix of beauty and unique attractions,” said Rene Trepanier, executive director of Cruise the Saint Lawrence, an association representing the region. Further development of the region as a prime cruise destination will be the subject of a symposium in June in Saguenay, he said. Topics for discussion will include fam trips for cruise lines and travel agents, and a consumer advertising campaign.

The aim is to encourage major cruise lines to include these ports on the itineraries of some of their newer and larger ships.

The efforts are already starting to pay big dividends as several cruise lines are featuring one or more of the ports in their 2009 schedules. The 2,758-passenger Carnival Triumph, for example, will call on Baie-Comeau and Havre-Saint-Pierre on three sailings from New York next summer, and Holland America’s Eurodam and Maasdam will call at Saguenay, Gaspe, Baie-Comeau and/or Sept-Iles in the spring and fall.

“These ports are jewels waiting to be discovered,” enthused Joan DiPietro, vice president of marketing planning for Carnival, which has been negotiating with Quebec officials about the cruise program. “We think the area is like Alaska was 25 years ago in terms of the dramatic scenery and attraction. When the Triumph calls on Havre-Saint-Pierre, for example, passengers can explore the Mingan Archipelago, which is a lot like Glacier Bay. We believe the area has a multigenerational appeal and will be of particular interest to passengers eager for new learning experiences.”

Similarly to Carnival, Holland America Line has been exploring the St. Lawrence area before making a commitment to the new ports. “We are always looking for new destinations to interest passengers, and we expect to do very well in the region,” said Simon Douwes, director of itinerary planning for Holland America.

The development of these ports will enable the St. Lawrence River to set itself apart as a cruise destination and will have the added benefit of making Montreal and Quebec City more likely to become homeports or ports of embarkation and disembarkation, said Yves Gentil, director of the New York office of Destination Quebec.

And while these ports continue to develop, others are preparing for their chance to capture a larger share of cruise business. One such aspirant is Trois-Rivieres, a port about midway between Montreal and Quebec City. “This year we will welcome the Pearl Mist four times,” said Jacques Pepin, vice president of marketing for the Trois Rivieres Port Authority. “We only want smaller ships, but plans for a cruise terminal are under way and we have transportation and guides in place, along with a number of attractions for cruise passengers.”

Excerpt from Cruise Industry News Quarterly Magazine: Winter 2008-2009

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