Fall foliage cruises in the eastern U.S. and Canada are extremely popular. Forests full of leaves turning vibrant autumn colors are exhilarating, especially for the people from places where the seasons never change.
But here is a secret about fall foliage cruises on mainstream cruise lines: the Quebec to New York cruises mostly sail in the middle of the 10-mile wide St. Lawrence Seaway, too far from the shores to see any leaves. When you hit the open sea, the only trees appear in ports, such as Halifax and Bar Harbor, which can host two or more cruise ships at a time, each carrying thousands of people.
But I know of a small cruise line that is one of the best-kept secrets in the business for viewing fall and all its colors.
Blount Small Ship Adventures is the only cruise line that can take you from New York City to Montreal the back way - up the Hudson River to the Erie Canal, which you then transit all the way to Lake Ontario.
Inside this Great Lake you visit the “Thousand Islands” region before you enter the mighty St. Lawrence Seaway. You then sail downstream all the way to Quebec, and into the Saguenay River--one of the last breeding grounds of the rare white beluga whale. Finally you return to enjoy three nights docked in Montreal before you disembark.
Blount has the only ships in service specially designed to transit the Erie Canal. The Grande Mariner and Grande Caribe are flat bottomed vessel that need only six feet of water. Above the two public decks is an open top viewing deck where everything can be lowered to floor level in order to clear the bridges along the way, including the pilot house which descends like an elevator.
Each of the two Blount ships carries just 88 passengers (the line had three ships, but founder, Luther Blount, left one to various universities when he passed away in 2006). Today, the cruise line, and the shipyard which builds them, are owned and operated by his three daughters: Nancy, Julie and Marcia.
Blount does not advertise. Its “marketing” is almost entirely word-of-mouth, and I just heard about this 13-night itinerary, one of the line’s most popular, will be discounted by as much as 40 percent if you can arrange to leave in about 30 days. To be specific, prices start at $2399 per person, with wine and beer included with meals. Tours are reasonably prices and gratuities are separate.
About the Blount Small Ships
The Blount vessels are small. The staterooms sizes range from just 80 to 100 square feet, but they are comfortable and utile with showers and bathrooms. Cell phone service is nearly constant, and the line offers complimentary Internet service, but no television. Nighttime brings enrichment lectures and either local entertainment or a movie. But the attraction here is the scenery - within close proximity all the time, the unique ports of call and the instant camaraderie among the guests that one only finds on small ships.
The food is delicious and plentiful, including the wine, beer and soft drinks included with lunch and dinner. Otherwise the format is “bring your own bottle” and they supply free soft drinks as mixers. There is also an area of the dining room that you can raid for snacks any time of the day or night.
This is admittedly a slow year for cruise vacations, hence the bargain price on this itinerary. But while river cruising in Europe has exploded in the last five years, it is just beginning to gain the notoriety it deserves in America. Logically speaking, given its unique itineraries, Blount deserves to be one of the most popular cruise lines anywhere, but it is still just a family-run business serving word-of-mouth customers. Shh, don’t tell anyone else!
The available date for this discount is October 18, 2013. The cruise is 13 nights. Click here for more details and mention code “X646”, or contact Blount Small Ship Adventures/ 800-556-750.
Paul Motter is the editor of CruiseMates.com, an online cruise guide. Follow him on Twitter @cruisemates.