Saint Lawrence River Sees Uptick in Cruise Ship Visits

The Saint Lawrence River has been much busier this year for cruising than initially expected, emphasizing the region's cruise popularity.

During the 2023 cruising season, more than 40 vessels docked for more than 400 combined days across the main cruise ports found along the Saint Lawrence River, surpassing officials’ post-pandemic recovery expectations. This is a great indication of the region’s recovery as well as how attractive the area is for cruise travel.

Saint Lawrence River Recovery Efforts Exceed Forecasts

In a bit of good news for the cruising industry, the Saint Lawrence River’s post-pandemic voyages have far exceeded the expectations of Cruise the Saint Lawrence administrators, which in turn helped create a robust 2023 cruising season in Eastern Canada.

In 2023, 43 different ships were moored for more than 450 days in total at the nine main ports of call on the Saint Lawrence River. Furthermore, approximately 460,000 passenger days were tallied in 2023, which is only slightly less than the 489,000 passenger days recorded in 2019 (pre-pandemic). 

For comparison, the 2022 season ended with a mere 266,000 passenger days, which is one of the reasons why Cruise the Saint Lawrence authorities had expected to hit pre-pandemic passenger levels no sooner than 2025 — not 2023, although these positive numbers are a welcome surprise.

“The popularity of Destination Saint Lawrence continues to advance by leaps and bounds as we develop new niche market segments with the capacity to drive sustained growth in passenger traffic to pre-pandemic levels and beyond,” said René Trépanier, Cruise the Saint Lawrence Executive Director.

Cruise Ship in Montreal, Canada
Photo Credit: Firefighter Montreal / Shutterstock

The nine ports of call along the Saint Lawrence River — most of which are in Quebec, Canada — are Montréal, Trois-Rivières, Québec, Saguenay, Baie-Comeau, Sept-Îles, Havre-Saint-Pierre, Gaspé, and Îles de la Madeleine.

Different Seasonal Growth Along the Saint Lawrence River 

The autumn cruising season in this part of Canada continues to enjoy widespread popularity, especially from September to November as fall foliage presents colorful vistas to enjoy. Even so, the Saint Lawrence region also attracts vessels as early as spring and continues to maintain steady maritime activity growth during the summer as well. 

“Although autumn remains our busiest season,” Trépanier pointed out, “cruise lines are constantly discovering promising new attributes, not the least of which is the four-season potential of the Saint Lawrence region.”

From April to late June 2023, there were 61 port visits recorded along the Saint Lawrence, marking a substantial increase from the 37 visits recorded the previous year. Furthermore, during July and August 2023, the region saw 57 port visits, up from only 20 recorded in 2022.

Viking Octantis
Viking Octantis (Photo Credit: Viking)

In 2023, the Port of Quebec’s cruise season began in April with Viking Octantis. The season, which fulfilled its promise to become the most extensive the Saint Lawrence River region has ever experienced, ran from April 23 to November 5, with Silversea’s Millennium-class Silver Shadow ending the season.

Cruise enthusiasts typically embark and disembark for their voyages at the destination ports of Montréal and Québec. Around 90% of these passengers arrive via international flights. Since many cruise guests opt for pre- and post-cruise tours in Québec, they also help boost the local economy in addition to the cruise sector.

A growing variety of ship categories — especially in the expedition and luxury sectors— have been making more and more stops at Cruise the Saint Lawrence member ports over the last few years as well. 

Cruise Ship in Quebec, Canada
Photo Credit: Jonathan Thibeault / Shutterstock

Looking ahead to 2025, Destination Saint Lawrence is set to transform into a year-round haven for cruise lovers (who aren’t afraid of the cold). The highly anticipated French ship, the eco-friendly icebreaking Le Commandant Charcot, PONANT’s innovative hybrid electric polar expedition vessel, will lead the way, making winter holiday sailing a reality in Eastern Canada.

Fueled by liquid natural gas and accommodating 200 passengers, Le Commandant Charcot will embark on four 12-night sailings from late January to early March 2025. Some of the enticing ports this rugged cutting-edge luxury vessel will call upon include Îles-de-la-Madeleine, Gaspé, Sept-Îles, Saguenay, Québec, and more. 

In the years to come, in addition to the autumn season, Destination Saint Lawrence is on track to see an increase in cruise ship traffic during the spring, summer, and chilly winter as well, which is good for business and people who adore cruises.

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