Courtesy of Mark Tre
CLIA last year acknowledged the importance of Canadians to the cruising market, estimating the size of the Canadian cruise market travelling in CLIA ships in 2009 at 775,000, larger than any European country except the UK and Germany. But because they usually cruise with Americans in American-frequented ships, they remain a large but invisible part of the market.
Many American ports have benefitted from homeland cruising, particularly Seattle, San Diego, Galveston, Houston, New Orleans, Tampa, Jacksonville, Charleston, Baltimore and Boston. The sole exception is Philadelphia, which has just closed its cruise terminal. The question therefore is why not Montreal or Quebec?
With such a small population compared to the United States, the Canadian cruise market tends to get absorbed into that of its larger neighbour, but in Europe or Australasia, it would be large enough to support several ships of its own, at least a dozen or even more, depending on their size.
Canada’s Pacific Coast and Alaska
The Canadian cruise market has two coasts. The Pacific coast, primarily Vancouver, has been the base for many ships since the days of Canadian Pacific, Canadian National and Alaska Cruise Lines, It remains today the main port for ships sailing to Alaska. The West Coast port has recorded a slight drop in recent years, but Vancouver nevertheless remains a major port with over 837,000 passengers, the majority of whom were embarkations or disembarkations, on 177 calls. How does that compare with ports in Eastern Canada? There is hardly any comparison.
The East Coast and Atlantic Provinces
The East Coast market is growing, having reached 550,000 cruise passengers in 2006, the last year for which statistics are available. The main cruise ports are Saint John, Halifax, Sydney, Corner Brook, St John’s and Charlottetown. The vast majority of these, however, are transit passengers and there is no major embarkation or disembarkation port in the region.
Major North American lines calling in Atlantic Canada include Carnival, Celebrity, Crystal, Cunard, Holland America, MSC, NCL, Princess, Royal Caribbean, Seabourn and Silversea, while European lines include Aida, Fred Olsen, Hapag-Lloyd, P&O and Saga.
Of these lines, Carnival never goes into the St Lawrence as its ships only sail to Canada’s Atlantic coast and head back to New York. Carnival Glory, for example, concentrates on short 5- and 7-night cruises from New York to Saint John and Halifax. Although it had a plan to cruise into the St Lawrence for the first time since Mardi Gras visited Montreal in the 80’s, in 2010, this was dropped, but quite why was not made clear.
Princess Cruises, meanwhile, will expand its Canada-New England programme in 2011, running summer cruises for the first time – the area has often been thought of as more of an autumn destination, despite the fact the the weather is better in summer. Caribbean Princess will sail four 9-night voyages as far as Charlottetown from New York between May and July.
Princess will also offer fourteen autumn Canada-New England voyages on two different itineraries. Caribbean Princess will sail 7-night round trips from New York to Halifax and Crown Princess will sail 10-night one-way voyages between New York and Quebec. Crown Princess will get as far as Quebec, Caribbean Princess will join Carnival Glory in the short cruise trade to the Maritime Provinces.
A History of Canada-New England Cruising
Following in the wake of the Quebec Steamship Company’s Orinoco, which offered the first Canada-New England cruises between New York and Quebec in 1894, the Furness Bermuda Line took over and continued running such cruises up into the mid-1960s.
An early entrant into Canada-New England cruising, in the 1970s, was Norway’s Royal Viking Line, whose five-star ships called at Montreal and Quebec on many of their summer cruises.
In 1995, Royal Viking was taken over by Cunard, whose Queen Elizabeth 2 also made an annual cruise to Quebec, as far up the St Lawrence as she could navigate, while other Cunard ships sailed to Montreal. RMS Queen Mary 2 then made her maiden Quebec call on September 22, 2004, the first of two 24-hour overnight calls that year.
The Bahama Cruise Line also sailed the New York-Montreal circuit every summer between 1980 and 1993 with Veracruz. This line, later Bermuda Star Line, then part of Commodore and finally Crown Cruise Line, was absorbed into Cunard even before Royal Viking. In 1992, Crown Monarch came into the trade and in 1993 Crown Jewel replaced her but after Cunard took over their marketing, it moved the ships to other routes. Seabourn, later part of Cunard and now Carnival, began sailing the New York-Montreal circuit in 1990 and increased its presence to fourteen voyages in 1991.
Between 1986 and 1995, Royal Cruise Line was a regular St Lawrence caller before being absorbed into NCL, whose ships started offering St Lawrence cruises from New York, Boston and Montreal in 1998. Sun Line and Ocean Cruise Lines also performed one or two seasons of Canada/New England cruises in 1986-87.
In 1988, Princess Cruises entered the trade and the original Sky Princess became the largest passenger ship to call at Montreal in 1989. Since then, Princess ships have continued to get bigger and now turn at Quebec because they are too tall to fit under the Quebec Bridge on the way to Montreal. Regency Cruises cruised Canada-New England from 1990 to 1995, and in 1991, Crystal entered the trade and its Crystal Harmony became the largest cruise ship to call at Montreal.
Holland America’s Rotterdam (V) turned at Quebec in 1991, and was succeeded by the Westerdam (II) and the newly-built Veendam (IV), each in turn the largest Holland America liner to sail to Montreal. To-day, the St Lawrence ship is Maasdam.
In 1998, Royal Caribbean International became a more recent entry to the trade, with its Vision of the Seas becoming the largest passenger ship to call at Quebec, her tonnage having surpassed that of Cunard’s QE2. Its Brilliance of the Seas then became the largest liner to reach Quebec on her inaugural arrival in 2002. This position was in turn taken by Queen Mary 2.
The St Lawrence and Its New Ports
In terms of cruise passenger numbers, in one year, 1990, Montreal handled 33,000 cruise passengers, and in 1991 it handled 46,000, when cruise trade increased by 28%. But that spurt was due to the 1990-91 Gulf War, when some ships were routed away from the Mediterranean to the St Lawrence. By 2007, the number had dropped to 35,000 on 45 ships but rose back to 40,000 on 26 ships in 2009. Quebec, meanwhile, has now peaked 110,000.
But these numbers are very small out of a market of almost 800,000 cruisers, especially as they are mostly transit passengers. If half of them were Canadians, they would account for only about 7% of the market. Could the number be a lot higher if a ship or ships actually offered round trip cruises from Montreal and/or Quebec? Would passengers come? The old saying of "if you build the ships the passengers will come", as it applies to the cruise trade, might be applicable here. MSC did a 14-day cruise, roundtrip from Quebec, this past fall.
According to some, the St Lawrence River now offers the greatest potential for cruise growth. The number of passengers having reached more than 100,000, the objective had been to reach 200 000 last year and 400 000 by 2014.
These ports now include not only the more traditional ports of Montreal (40,000 cruise passengers in 2009), Quebec (102,000 passengers), Gaspe (14,500 passengers) and Charlottetown (80,000 passengers), but also Saguenay (37,700 passengers), Baie Comeau (3,700 passengers), Sept Iles (7,500 passengers) and Havre St Pierre (one call with 500 passengers). These numbers are only the beginning as none of the new ports had seen cruise passengers at all since the Quebec North Shore highway was opened in 1960 and the Clarke Steamship Company withdrew its weekly sailings in 1961. But now all of Baie Comeau, Sept Iles and Havre St Pierre have been equipped with new cruise terminals and the facilities and attractions are there in order to start inducing new trade.
Cruising from Montreal
In the round-trip cruise trade from Montreal (as opposed to the Canada-New England trade), Canada Steamship Lines and Clarke Steamship had both operated round trip 7-day cruises from Montreal to ports in the Lower St Lawrence and Saguenay River. After they left, those that had followed included Cunard in 1967, the Baltic Shipping Company from 1967 to 1980, Balkantourist’s Varna (formerly Furness Bermuda’s Ocean Monarch) between 1970 and 1972, the Greek Line in 1971 and the Black Sea Shipping Company in the 1970s. Polish Ocean Lines also performed many summer cruises from Montreal up until 1987. Then things stopped.
After no round-trip cruises from Montreal for more than a decade, the Black Sea Shipping Co returned in 1992, with weekly cruises by Gruziya, leaving Montreal every Friday for the St Lawrence and Saguenay and as far as St Pierre and Miquelon. In 1995, however, following the privatisation of her owners in Odessa, she was arrested at Montreal for non-payment of bills and the service ended.
Since then, save for the introduction of a cruise ferry to the Magdalen islands in 2002, Montreal’s cruise trade has once more consisted almost exclusively of ships alternating on one-way departures between Montreal and New York or Boston. One has to ask why a market of 800,000 cruisers (that will surely soon reach 1 million) might not support a summer-long season of round-trip cruises from Montreal and/or Quebec?
An aspect that has not even been brought into this is whether having to fly to Florida or elsewhere in order to be able to board a cruise ship has limited the potential for the Canadian market. This is certainly the case in the UK. And the airline industry in North America has developed a reputation for sometimes being unreliable and miserable, so large numbers of people might have decided that cruising wasn’t worth the trouble. Only the harsh Canadian winters force people to fly to the sun by winter – and Canada is nothing if not seasonal.
In 2010, Holland America’s Maasdam was the only major cruise ship to call at Montreal during the months of May through August, largely because as cruise ships were getting larger many of the new ships could not pass under the Quebec Bridge. Beginning in September, Maasdam was joined by Silver Whisper, AidaLuna, The World, Crystal Symphony and Amadea. Maasdam made eight calls, Crystal Symphony two and the other ships one each. Only two ships made more than a single call at Montreal last year, while Quebec saw as many as four ships in a day. In 2011, Maasdam and Crystal Symphony will be joined at Montreal by Regatta and Seven Seas Navigator but this is still quite a poor showing for a city that claims to be Canada’s "European Metropolis."
Meanwhile, Princess Cruises, Norwegian Cruise Line and Royal Caribbean are among the lines that now make Quebec their point of departure and arrival with their new larger ships. And some 102,000 passengers visited Quebec during the 2010 season, an increase of 18% over 2009. Of that number, 60,000 were transit passengers while 42,000 either started or ended their cruise there. Four ships inaugural calls at Quebec: Aida Cruises’ AidaLuna, P&O’s Arcadia, Phoenix’s Amadea and Celebrity’s Celebrity Summit.
There remain numerous challenges for the St Lawrence cruise industry, chief of which is the development of summer traffic. In 2010, for example, the season started at the end of April but more than 80% of the traffic occurred in September and October. And that does not even begin to take into account the possible impact of ECA’s – Emission Control Areas.