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Adventure Canada, Smaller Scale Cruises that Feed the Mind
Man's natural instinct is to go big, from the urban tower that out-skyscrapes all others to the Team Gulp, a one-gallon soda that replaces the stingy 64-oz Double Gulp.
Cruise lines have not missed the trend to exceed and expand. Every year, increasingly colossal ships are introduced that hold more passengers, more food, more hot tubs. Royal Caribbean International's Harmony of the Seas, launched in 2016, is so big, it's divided into 7 "neighborhoods," which accommodate 6,000 people in 2,700 guest rooms.
You can keep yourself so busy on the Harmony of the Seas, it hardly matters where you are. The ship is the star attraction.
However, not everyone craves the hoopla of the big cruise lines. Some travelers want a pluckier nautical adventure that ferries them into less chartered territory: an experience to feed their minds more than fill their bellies and overwhelm their senses.
Enter the expedition cruise, of which Adventure Canada is a leader. Once the realm of scientists and explorers venturing into remote places accessible only by smaller boats, today, expedition cruises take a range of passengers on a unique journey in comfort, but not extravagance.Continue to 2 of 11 below.
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10-Day Mighty Saint Lawrence
The allure of Adventure Canada expedition cruises is three-fold: 1) ready access to 30 experts whose job it is to socialize with passengers and help them understand local geography, wildlife, history and culture, 2) the unique itinerary that includes more remote destinations and communities, and 3) a relatively small number of passengers (the ship accommodates close to 300, but this number has been capped much lower) creates a camaraderie and relaxation.
Each year, Adventure Canada slates 8 or 9 cruises, mostly around Eastern Canada, but one or two will explore Canada's West Coast or global regions, such as South America or the United Kingdom.
In June 2016, Adventure Canada launched its Mighty Saint Lawrence voyage aboard its new cruise ship the Ocean Endeavour. This same cruise, with minor changes, will set sail again in June 2017.
The region covered is historic, geographically remarkable, abundant in wildlife, including a variety of whales, and home to unique and friendly Canadians known as Maritimers, Acadians, and First Nations people.
Much of the Adventure Canada appeal is the company’s ability to get its passengers to smaller, off the beaten track communities thanks to a fleet of 20 zodiacs. These inflated rubber boats usually transport about a dozen people at a time to and from the daily port of call.
Often an ambassador from the community will join passengers on ship before they disembark to welcome them and give some background information and suggestions.Continue to 3 of 11 below.
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Day 1: Setting Sail from Quebec City
The Mighty Saint Lawrence sets sail from Quebec City in the early afternoon, leaving time for a half day walking tour of the city, which Adventure Canada will arrange.
Busses for the ship leave from the Chateau Frontenac and this is where luggage is gathered so it's definitely the most convenient place to stay if you arrive before the day of departure.
Once settled on board, everyone gathers in the lounge to meet Adventure Canada crew and resource staff.
The atmosphere is light-hearted, like orientation at summer camp. Many people know each other from previous cruises, so there is a warmth and buzz that imparts a sense of community. This communal feel permeates the entire voyage and is indeed part of what makes Adventure Canada cruises unique.
The resource people comprise a roster of specialists, including geologists, biologists, photographers, musicians, who mingle with guests and help them appreciate the Atlantic region's geography, history, culture, and wildlife. They play an active and key role in the Adventure Canada experience, from dining with passengers to driving the zodiac boats and leading excursions and workshops.Continue to 4 of 11 below.
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Day 2: The Saguenay Fjord and Tadoussac, North Shore, Quebec
The first morning aboard the Mighty Saint Lawrence, you'll wake to find the ship bounded by the steep cliffs of the narrow, but deep Saguenay Fjord (deep, as in you could sink the Empire State Building into it) and the small towns that dot the river's shores. The Saguenay River's mix of Atlantic Ocean salt water and inland fresh waters cultivates a thriving krill population, which creates an optimal environment for a host of marine animals, including fin, minke, blue, and beluga whales.
Adventure Canada anchors its ship off shore of Tadoussac, the Quebec city famous for its whale watching.
Read More: Whale Watching in Canada, Quebec City Day TripsContinue to 5 of 11 below.
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Day 3: Reford Gardens, South Shore, Quebec
Reford Gardens gives Adventure Canada passengers the opportunity to visit an historic garden, conceived and maintained by Elsie Reford in the 1920s. The gardens are notable for their imaginative design and unique botanical collection, especially given the challenging growing conditions of the Quebec south shore.
Elsie and her husband Robert Reford lived at Reford Gardens, a property that Elsie had inherited from her wealthy uncle. Robert was one of the first owners of a Kodak camera and has a remarkable collection of photographs.
Today, the Reford Gardens comprise a fascinating insight into early 20th-century life through the homestead, photos, and artifacts, but also embraces the contemporary by staging avant garde landscapes and installations.Continue to 6 of 11 below.
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Day 4: Mingan Archipelago, Quebec North Shore
The spectacular natural sculptures of the Mingan Islands are formed of limestone, shaped by the action of the sea. At 50 degrees N, these islands owe as much to the north as to the east for their character. Atlantic puffins and Arctic eiders vie for the attention of birders, while harp, harbour and grey seals cavort in the waters. Not to be outdone, the flora of the islands is wildly diverse, including 450 plant species, 190 lichens, and 300 mosses!Continue to 7 of 11 below.
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Day 5: Forillon National Park
Coasting across the top of the Gaspé Peninsula, where the Saint Lawrence River opens into the Gulf of Saint Lawrence, you'll see the beautiful rocky havoc that glaciers and other geological forces have wreaked on the landscape over millions of years. This region is actually part of the Appalachian mountain range that stretches from Alabama to Newfoundland and features stark, sculptural cliffs that loom and jut.
Adventure Canada stops first at Forillon National Park, an important bird and marine mammal habitat, which also describes a part of human history in the small but gripping Grand-Grave National Heritage Site, where fishing families once made their homes. The park features Canada’s tallest lighthouse, and fortifications remaining from the Second World War when German U-boats threatened Allied shipping.Continue to 8 of 11 below.
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Day 6: Percé Rock and Bonaventure Island
Just off the shore of Percé is its namesake: an immense limestone formation with a "pierced" arch that transforms it from mere rock into a sculptural work of art, garnering reverie and study.
Percé is a major tourist attraction not only for its famous rocky monolith but also for neighboring Bonaventure Island, which is a migratory bird sanctuary for the northern gannet and has over 50,000 pairs of nesting birds, the second largest population in the world.
Adventure Canada gets its passengers close to both attractions in Zodiac boats, which makes for a fascinating study of this region's geology and wildlife. Sitting alongside Bonaventure Island is like being immersed in a snow globe of gannets and other birds; the avian activity is mesmerizing.Continue to 9 of 11 below.
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Day 7: Magdalen Islands
Another archipelago on the Mighty Saint Lawrence program, the Magdalen Islands are in the heart of the Gulf of Saint Lawrence, and famous for their sand dunes, red sandstone cliffs, and undulating landscape. One day on the "Maggies," as they are affectionately known, is an almost cruel and too brief whiff of this remote region that is a unique mash-up of Acadian, Mi’kmaq and English cultures. Foodies, nature lovers, photographers and local craft enthusiasts will all love this stop.Continue to 10 of 11 below.
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Day 8: Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia
Cape Breton, though part of Nova Scotia, has a distinct identity that embraces its Celtic heritage, perceptible through the jovial music, hearty food and charm of the people.
Like the other Mighty Saint Lawrence ports of call in the Atlantic Region, Cape Breton has a dramatic landscape as a result of geological waxing and waning.
Adventure Canada anchors at Cheticamp, a town on the Cabot Trail and at the entrance to the Cape Breton Highlands National Park. Cheticamp is also the Hooked Rug Capital of the World and has a museum to prove it.
From Cheticamp, you can take a bus to Cape Breton Highlands for a beginner or advanced level hike, both which award wonderful views of the region at the top.Continue to 11 of 11 below.
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Day 8 & 9: South Coast of Newfoundland and St. Pierre et Miquelon, France
The final destination on the Mighty Saint Lawrence is not in Canada, but France. How can this be you ask? A little-known fact is that off the coast of Newfoundland and Labrador is the final outpost of colonial France: St. Pierre and Miquelon are a series of islands that remain under French rule. Yes, you need to change your dollars to euros and show your passport when you visit here. But you also get to soak up authentic French culture, eat French food and maybe grab a bottle of reasonably priced champagne for your efforts.
Though a quiet community, it is a fascinating visit with a rich, well-preserved history that dates back to the 1500s and includes battles over treaties, fishing rights, and illegal alcohol trading.
Don't miss the visit to Sailor Island, a largely deserted community that was once bustling with cod fishers and their families. Many of their homes and artifacts were abandoned and stand defiant though decaying on the windswept island.