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MS Leeward: Canada and New England
If you are looking for a change of pace from the typical Caribbean cruise, or are interested in an itinerary that provides a wide variety of options at each port, then you should seriously consider a Canada/New England cruise. When reviewing our options we looked at Norwegian Cruise Line, Holland America and Cunard. All three lines offered similar itineraries with most cruises running between New York and Montreal. We decided on NCL's Leeward when we learned that she had been chartered by a local travel agency and would be offering a series of cruises between Montreal and Alexandria, Virginia - which is practically our own backyard.
Our ports of call included: Montreal; Quebec City; Halifax, NS; Bar Harbor, Maine; Provincetown, Massachusetts (then cruising Cape Cod Canal); and Alexandria, Virginia. We flew to Quebec City a couple of days before the cruise and stayed at the Chateau Frontenac - which is absolutely beautiful. We liked Quebec City so much that we plan to return soon and spend more time exploring the city and surrounding areas. The people were extremely friendly and readily spoke English to us, although both our children, ages 3 and 4 ½ had a great time speaking the few words that they knew of French to anyone who would listen. There were a few trying moments on the trip - mostly related to limited dining hours - but overall the we recommend the itinerary and the ship.
We flew up early and stayed at the Chateau Frontnac which is part of the Canadian Pacific Hotel chain. Originally built in 1898 the hotel/castle is ideally located on a 200 foot high bluff overlooking the St. Lawrence River and historic Old Québec. The copper turrets and stone towers give the hotel an almost magical look and it is perhaps the most photographed building in Canada. A number of new rooms and amenities have been added over the years and today the hotel offers everything a business or leisure traveler could want. The health club is great with a nice pool you can swim laps in and a patio you can catch a few rays on.
The hotels has a total of 613 rooms, including 24 suites and 264 non-smoking rooms. There are also six wheelchair-accessible rooms. There are three restaurants ranging from "coat and tie" formal to "deli" casual. Babysitting is available and during the summer a children's activity center is available for a fee ($6/hour). For those interested in skiing during the winter months, the Mont Ste Anne ski area is a 35 minute drive from the hotel.
After you check in, take a horse-drawn carriage ride tour of the city from the carriage stand across the street. It's fun and a great way to get your bearings and decide where to go within the city.
There were only 500 passengers on the LEEWARD during our cruise, so we enjoyed all the public rooms without a crowd. We especially liked the views from the Observatory lounge and had our before dinner cocktail there nearly every night. Since our cruise was during September in Canada, we had no trouble finding seats near the Sports deck pool and lido - only a couple of brave souls swam in the pool filled with near freezing ocean water! We did notice that the lido was a nice place to sit in cooler weather since the big glass windows blocked some of the wind. As we made our way South and the weather got warmer, our kids really enjoyed the children's splash pool with the sliding board.
We spent some time every morning in the gym getting some exercise -- so that we could eat even more that day -- and found it to be satisfactorily equipped. We thought it would have been nice if the treadmills faced the windows instead of the center of the room, so that one could take advantage of the ocean view while exercising. If we had one complaint about the public areas of the ship it would be that the promenade was too narrow, and therefore jogging was not allowed. It was even difficult to walk around, because there were people in the way and no room to pass. Also, since it was so narrow, there were no deck chairs - and on other ships this is one of our favorite places to relax with a book to people watch.
We had two sea days and five days in port. During the sea days, standard shipboard activities like napkin folding, afternoon tea, bingo, skeet shooting and line dancing lessons were offered. We did none of these, preferring instead to exercise in the gym, relax on deck, or play ping pong with the kids. By the way, the line dancing lessons were held in the gym every morning and there were so many people that the exercisers were not able to get to the equipment sometimes - I don't get it, why not hold the lessons somewhere else, like in the Stardust lounge?
And what is the deal with the Art Auction that seems to be appearing on more and more ships these days? Nobody was interested and very few people went, yet it seemed like there was an auction every single day of our cruise. And the auctioneer was constantly on the public address system telling us that we had better hurry up, the art auction was starting in fifteen minutes and then again in five minutes. We were so annoyed at the interruptions by the p.a. system that we wanted to go to the auctioneer and give him a piece of our mind, but then that would have totally ruined our nap. We are a little curious (and a little miffed) that there were no church services aboard given that our cruise was over a Sunday. It seems that there have been at least one clergy member conducting at least an ecumenical service on every other ship we have traveled.
One highlight of the trip for both our kids and us was NCL's kids program. On our trip, the children's program had to be moved to one of the on board conference rooms due to water damage to the original room. The counselor did such a great job that the kid's would probably been happy wherever they were.
Quebec City: There is too much to see in Quebec City. We were glad to have had the two days before the cruise to spend in this beautiful city and tour the old part of town. Therefore, when the ship called here on our cruise, we signed up for the tour of Montmorency Falls and St. Anne de Beauprais church. This was an excellent excursion and our guide was very entertaining and informative. We had a crystal clear blue sky and a pleasant 70o F day to view these spectacular waterfalls. The tour included a gondola ride to the top of the falls, where we were able to walk across the falls on a suspension bridge for a great photo opt. Then we took a drive around the beautiful isle d'Orleans and headed to the Basilica of St.Anne de Beauprais where we were in time for Sunday Mass. We also had time to walk around the whole interior and exterior of this breathtaking church (something about crutches here and Halifax:
We docked in Halifax and were welcomed by the town crier and several bagpipers on the dock. We thought this was a very nice touch. We then caught a shuttle bus to the historic wharf. We were charged $5 Canadian for this service, and were surprised when we found out that the other ships in port provided free bus service for their passengers - and their buses were much nicer. The shore excursions seemed to be somewhat limited here, so we decided to do our own thing and went to the Maritime Museum to see the Titanic exhibit, which was very interesting. Afterwards, we found a great playground for the kids in the shape of a big wooden ship about a block from the museum. It was really hard to get them to leave so that we could make it back to the ship in time for the Scottish dancers from Halifax who were being brought on board for a special performance before the ship sailed, but the promise of pizza and ice cream finally did it.
Bar Harbor: Another beautiful day in paradise… After tendering in, everything was a short walk from the dock. We loved Bar Harbor, and intend on going back to stay at the magnificent Bar Harbor Inn, with it's spectacular waterfront location. After walking through some of the town's quaint shops, something I'd like to do more of when my preschoolers are not with me, and running around the park right in front the the dock, we spent a very enjoyable rest of the afternoon walking on the rocks and searching tidal pools in front the Bar Harbor Inn for critters. The giant, smooth rocks were so beautiful, and the kids were thrilled to find tiny crabs, shrimp and various mollusks hiding among the seaweed and pools of water. The kids then obliged their parents by posing for pictures in front of "Balancing Rock" before catching one of the last tenders to the ship.
Provincetown, Massachusetts and Cruising Cape Cod Canal: Again, the only shore excursion sponsored by the ship that appealed to us was the Jeep tour of the sand dunes, because we thought we would see a lot and also be able to get out and stick our toes in the sand, but we were warned away from this by the Didion representative that said he had had a lot of complaints from passengers previously on this tour. So we decided to go it alone and after walking around the beautiful streets looking at the quaint houses and shops, it became quite clear that our children considered this to be an extreme form of punishment And, since we are great believers of "when you can't beat 'em, join 'em" we finally gave it up and bought a bunch of junk food (fried shrimp, chicken nuggets and french fries) and went to a small beach not too far from the dock for our picnic lunch. We had a couple of towels smuggled off the ship in our backpack, so the kids had a great time walking and wading along the beach, then we dried off and headed back to the ship. Cruising Cape Cod Canal proved to be a very interesting and enjoyable
The food and service had been less than impressive on our last NCL cruise but on this trip they were very good. Our only real complaint had to do with the fact that since there was only one seating (due to the reduced number of passengers) at 7:15 which is a bit earlier than we normally like to eat on a cruise.
The Leeward has two dining rooms - the Four Seasons which seats 270 and the Seven Seas which seats 367. Both are small enough that you feel you are eating in a nice restaurant rather than a big room at sea. As with the rest of the NCL fleet, the Leeward offers passengers alternative dining in the smaller Le Bistro.
Like such rooms aboard NCL's other ships, the one here is a comfortable, cozy room where Italian and Continental are served in an open sitting...Try to get a table in here for at least ONE meal! And the food's not bad...not bad at all...plenty of choice and lots of it...you're going to eat too much anyway...so why bother to complain...if you get something you don't much like....tell the waiter and he'll be happy to bring you something else...
The Leeward has a nice little gym with Cybex equipment for weightllifting and a couple of treadmills and stair machines. For some strange reason, on our cruise they insisted on offering dance lessons in the gym rather than one of the public rooms. As a result, if you tried to get a workout in at the same time the room was very crowded you had to step around the dancers to get to the machines. As we mentioned earlier the promenade is too narrow to allow jogging so this was a major disappointment.
NCL offers a kids program during certain hours in the morning and evening. Our kid raved about it and couldn't wait to return each day. Since the ship was half-full on our cruise, the early and late seatings were combined into a single seating starting at 7:00. This made it more difficult to feed the kids since room service from the dining rooms which normally starts at 6:00 didn't start until 7:00 which made us late for dinner a number of times.
There are 2 restaurants, 5 bars and lounges, a theater, library, fitness center and one swimming pool aboard.
Stateroom prices range from $1,995 per person to $2,450 per person for the 7 day trip.
For additional information contact the TravelPage.com Cruise Desk at 888.700.TRIP
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NCL's address is:Norwegian Cruise Line
7665 Corporate Center Drive
Miami, FL 33126
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