Embarking Ocean Endeavour in Quebec City
After a restful overnight stay at the famous Fairmont Chateau Fronteac in the heart of Quebec City last night, I’m ready for my latest adventure: an active 10-day journey along the St. Lawrence River through the heart of the Canadian Maritimes aboard Adventure Canada’s Ocean Endeavour.
Our itinerary for the next 10 days takes us through the heart of Canada’s East Coast, with calls on Saguenay Fjord, Gaspe and Forillon National Park, Ille Bonaventure Provincial Park, Prince Edward Island, Cape Breton Island, Quebec’s Magdalene Islands, St. Pierre et Miquelon (actually an overseas territory of France), and St. John’s, New Brunswick, where our journey ends.
June 1, 2016
I’m Canadian, and sometimes it’s easy to forget just how big this country is. My journey here from Western Canada took an amazing seven hours and 49 minutes, according to my flight itinerary with Air Canada. I had to connect through Montreal to get here; for all its fame and popularity, Quebec City’s Jean Lesage International Airport is remarkably small.
By the time I arrived at the Fairmont Chateau Frontenac (itself a National Historic Site of Canada) it was coming up on 8:30 p.m. I walked across the street to the nearby Le Chic Shack for some hearty poutine and locally-brewed Quebecois beer. After a nightcap in the Fairmont’s 1608 Bar it was off to bed. Adventure Canada puts guests up in the Chateau Frontenac for a pre-cruise stay, which I approve of. Although there are other noteworthy properties in the city , the 1893-built Chateau Frontenac is a must-stay at least once.
Today, I took the opportunity to once again explore this beautiful city before returning to the Fairmont Chateau Frontenac for our group transfer to the Ocean Endeavour at 1:45 p.m.
My haphazard route took me through the heart of Vieux Quebec – Old Quebec – and the more “modern”, upper part of Quebec City that sits adjacent to the Fairmont. This is one city where you owe it to yourself to pop into local retailers; even ‘big-box’ store Simon’s has some very cool, decidedly Quebecois outfits that aren’t available in many parts of Canada.
Of course, you also have to try the poutine: a Quebecois specialty that is now the de-facto Canadian contribution to the culinary world. It’s French Fries, topped with cheese curds, topped with gravy, served in a bowl. Other kinds of poutines are available, from ones with pulled pork and Montreal Smoked Meat to seafood poutines and “loaded” poutines with nearly every conceivable ingredient thrown into the mix.
With the calories packed on, I made my way to the Ocean Endeavour.
The Ocean Endeavour
Built in 1982 as the Konstantin Simonov for the Soviet ferry-shipping company FESCO, Ocean Endeavour was also known as Francesco, The Iris, and Kristina Katarina. As the latter, she was given a substantial refurbishment by now-defunct Kristina Cruises, a Finnish company best known for the years it ran the pretty little Kristina Regina on runs throughout the Baltics and Northern Europe.
Purchased in 2014 by Quark Expeditions (well, a fleet management company – but let’s say Quark for simplicity’s sake) and renamed Ocean Endeavor, she underwent another multi-million-dollar refit before entering service for the company last year. Adventure Canada charters her out each summer to run its voyages throughout the Canadian Maritimes, Canada’s High Arctic, and Greenland.
Inside is where this multitude of refits has paid off. With the exception of the main staircase towers (which still sport an odd woodgrain style that is ageing about as well as I am), very little of the ship’s Soviet-era past remains. Much of Ocean Endeavour’s interiors date from when Kristina Cruises refitted the ship in 2010, right down to the directional signage that still sports English and Finnish. Kristina Cruises basically stripped the ship’s interiors and rebuilt them from the ground up, and Quark followed suit, adding little touches here and there to convert her into a proper expedition vessel.
It’s no surprise that an expedition ship like this now sports racks of rugged Zodiac rafts just aft of the funnel, or a dedicated Mud Room down on Deck 4. But it might surprise you that it also has a dedicated library, male and female saunas, a fitness room, and a decently-sized Spa.
I embarked the Ocean Endeavour in the Port of Quebec this afternoon and quickly settled into my home for the next week and-a-half: a Category 6 “Comfort Twin” stateroom up on Deck 7. At 135 square feet, it’s not overly spacious, but it is well-designed, with two twin beds, a small table, a large closet, picture window, and a bathroom. Plus, this is an expedition cruise: you don’t exactly lounge around in your stateroom on active voyages like this.
Adventure Canada also provides each guest with a complimentary reusable water bottle to use throughout the voyage. Water refill stations are available throughout the ship, and the water in your bathroom tap is potable. That’s maritime-speak for “drinkable.”
My view is semi-obstructed, but quite nice, with a great view of the promenade deck and a set of lifeboat davits. But it’s enough to see the ocean, and the shutterbug in me likes the fact that I can zip down the corridor and be outside in less than 30 seconds.
Two curiosities are present in these rooms. First, there’s no Thermostat, which means your method of controlling the temperature is limited to shutting a damper (via a small lever mounted to the vent on the ceiling) to control the flow of the air to your liking. That’s flow, not temperature. Not Adventure Canada’s fault; replacing the ventilation on this ship would cost more than the thing is likely worth. But, something you should be aware of.
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