On April 18th the ship finished its Caribbean season and parked itself in Freeport, Bahamas, for a much-needed overhaul, or ‘refit,’ as it’s called. In addition to the expected maintenance and cosmetic improvements, there was an enormous demolition/renovation of the theatre, casino and piano bar. Many crew members remained onboard for this process, mostly officers, deckhands, cabin and restaurant stewards, all of whom were put to work on an as-needed basis to helped with the demolition and cleaning, mostly without benefit of running water and AC. Somehow they managed to complete most of the refit in just 14 days working ‘round the clock. The ship sailed from Freeport on the 22nd of April and arrived in Fort Lauderdale on the 24th, ready to embark passengers for the 13-day repositioning cruise, kicking off the Canada-New England season.
A ‘repositioning cruise’ refers to the journey taken when a ship changes itineraries at the end of one season and begins a new season at another destination. Cruise ships almost always take passengers on repositioning cruises, and generally the cruises themselves are a bit cheaper, as it is still sort of the off-season at the next destination.
For some reason, during repositioning cruises the company inevitably adds a couple of obscure ports of call that don’t have much to offer other than their inherent natural beauty. This would be wonderful were we to go at peak season when the sun is shining and the snow has fully melted. Such is never the case when we visit those charming albeit arschkalt French-Canadian villages dotting the coast of the St. Lawrence River in the early spring and late fall.
There had been much conjecture in the previous days as to whether or not the weather conditions would allow us to drop anchor and lower the tender boats when we reached Narragansett Bay, where we would tender into Newport Harbor. As it happened, the fog conditions upon arrival made it impossible to safely navigate the tenders into Newport Marina, so the Captain announced that the port of Newport would have to be cancelled. As the ship raised her anchor, it got tangled in the anchor of a nearby vessel, thus delaying our departure. During the ensuing mayhem of untangling the two anchors, the fog began to lift, so the Captain decided we would be able to reach Newport after all! However, with all the time spent hemming, hawing and untangling anchors, the guests were only able to spend a total of four hours time in Newport. The fog returned just as the last two tender boats were returning to the ship and got lost in the harbor for about 20 minutes. Ship happens.
The port of Gloucester, MA, was completely cancelled because of bad weather. By now the guests had begun to get a bit surly, not that I blame them. Normally I don’t have too much sympathy for whiney passengers, but this was EXTREME cruising! Thank God the sun was shining when we hit Bar Harbor! Despite our pre-season arrival the locals were out in full force with a warm welcome. Halifax and Charlottetown held steady with overcast skies and temperatures in the mid-forties. No bagpipe welcome…sigh.
Our arrival in Quebec City on the second to last day of the cruise brought a palpable collective relief. Not the best weather there either, but in comparison to our recent ports of call Quebec City is such an oasis of modern amenities, creature comforts and, oh, the FOOD! From Poutine to crêpes, fondue, choc- croissants and all things Maple, the magic of Quebec City’s architecture, history and surrounding natural beauty is only surpassed by its out-of-this-world gastronomical offerings.
Too bad about the bomb threat. A bomb threat…in Canada! On Thursday, May 4th at 8:45am, someone made an anonymous phone call to the Quebecan Port Authority, saying a bomb was scheduled to detonate on the ship at noon. I was already off the ship helping with the tour dispatch. The whole port area went under shutdown for four hours. Guests and crew who were already off the ship were not permitted back on. The remaining crew onboard, together with the local authorities and their bomb-sniffing dogs, picked over the entire vessel. Of course they found nothing; it was an empty threat, thank God.
In the mean time guests returning to the ship wanted to know why they could not re-board the ship; and what’s that DOG doing? Hmmm, what to say, what to say…I think I told the guests there had been some sort of security breach, bla bla bla, “please have a seat and await further instructions, thank you”. Finally, about 2 hours into this gong show the Chief Security officer got on the PA and truthfully explained the situation. No one would be allowed back onboard until the ship was completely cleared of any threat. He apologized for the inconvenience and announced that lunch would be brought to them in the terminal:-D) LUNCH! I was hoping it would be lunch from outside—Poutine, crêpes, choc-croissants and all things Maple—but they brought us sandwiches from the Lido. Actually the guests took the bomb scare in stride, especially since lunch was included.
With that debacle behind us, this repositioning cruise was entering the homestretch. We were scheduled to reach Montreal the very next day, where the guests would disembark and a new cast of characters would be coming on; so would begin the 7-day Canada/New England run. However, later that afternoon the Captain came on the PA and announced that due to severe flooding in the province of Quebec the St. Lawrence River had risen too high for the ship to clear a bridge necessary reach the port of Montreal, which meant that the guests would have to disembark in Quebec City and travel by coach to Montreal. The newly embarking guests also had to travel via coach (a three-hour drive) from Montreal to Quebec to join the ship. This crowning jewel of inconvenience was met mostly with laughter from the guests. As I said, I rarely have sympathy for passengers, but…these poor people… The crew on the other hand, was delighted by the news, as it meant we would be spending two consecutive overnights in a fabulous port of call!
Fast forward: We are now in the swing of the 7-day Canada/New England season. The levels of the St. Lawrence River continue to be to high for our ship to navigate, so we have been bussing the guests to and from Montreal, using Quebec City as the port of embarkation…works for me.
Spring officially stood us up but my needy ‘inner teenager’ continues optimistically longing for a fashionably late but spectacular summer. Quebec City has been teasing us—just look at these photos!