Around this time last year, I was lucky enough to get to go on a cruise ship to Canada onboard the Saga Sapphire. I was teaching French to the passengers and in return, I got to experience the wonders of a cruise to Canada. I have to admit that to begin with, I was a little apprehensive about going on a cruise by myself for a whole month where I wouldn’t know anyone, but I had an amazing time! I know this might seem like an odd time to talk about travel, with the COVID-19 outbreak, but it’s a great time to reflect on travel and dream about when we will be able to travel again. And so, I would like to review my trip and give you a few tips on how to make the most out of your cruise! These tips will be applicable for anyone, but, where applicable, I’ve mentioned some tips to make it easier if you’re working on a cruise.
As we had to travel all the way across the Atlantic to get to our first destination, our first six days were spent on the Saga ship. I had initially thought that I might find the ship days boring, but between work, teaching and all the activities on board, it was jam packed!
Tip 1: Beware the WiFi
In all honesty, I was amazed that we had any working WiFi connection in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, but it was patchy at times. Most days, the connection wasn’t good enough for a long chat with my husband and I struggled to log on to dictionaries to use while doing my work, but it worked after a fashion. So I would say, if you’re planning to go on a cruise, either as a passenger or an employee, make sure everyone at home, whether that’s friends, family or clients, know that you may be incommunicado some days. If you’re still working, factor in that it may take you longer to complete your work or you may not be able to send work until you get to a destination off the ship with WiFi.
Tip 2: Make the most of the activities
There’s plenty on board to be keep you occupied during sea days! Take part in quizzes, dance classes, arts and crafts activities and so much more. Especially if you’re on an all-inclusive cruise! Don’t feel like you have to do everything though, take advantage of the time to relax and enjoy the sea views.
Tip 3: Look out for wildlife!
I was fortunate enough to be able to see whales, seals and dolphins from on board ship, partially because there was a fantastic ORCA team letting us know when anything was spotted! Look at the sea around you to see if you can spot anything.
Our first destination was St John’s in Newfoundland and Labrador and it was absolutely beautiful, if very cold for May. I headed out by myself and took lots of photos of the ‘lollipop’ houses and beautiful churches. Such a wonderful day. It even started amazingly, as we were greated by a pair of Newfoundlands! So cute! Plus, we got to see icebergs as we were heading into port, which were awe-inspiring.
Tip 4: Don’t be afraid to go on a solo adventure
It might seem scary at first, but you don’t need a buddy to enjoy the wonderful destinations you’ll be visiting. Plus, if you travel independently, you get to decide exactly which sights you want to see, which is perfect when you only have a limited time in one place.
Our second destination on our saga cruise was Gaspé, a really small port in Quebec. It was very beautiful, but basically only consisted of one street!
Tip 5: Take the opportunity to practice your skills
If you speak the language of the country you’re visiting, then take the chance to practice those language skills, even if you only speak a few works. If you can sing, join a choir practice on ship or fine-tune your art abilities at one of the craft sessions. You can always improve!
Tip 6: Make the most of free WiFi
While most European destinations (for the moment at least), allow us to use our data and mobile packages abroad, you can’t in North America (and other continents). So, if your destination means you can’t use your normal package, make sure you switch on aeroplane mode and head to a café to use their free WiFi to chat to your family and friends at home.
Sept Îles is a wonderful town in Quebec, full of indigenous people and culture, poutine, French-speaking Canadians and beautiful nature.
Tip 7: Get out in nature!
Where possible, on port days, try to find some nature to explore. You’ll appreciate being on solid ground and also, you’ll get to see so many landscapes you’ve never experienced before!
Tip 8: Find out about the indigenous culture
In Sept-Îles, I loved visiting an indigenous museum with information about the innus who lived there before the French and English arrived. It gave me a real picture of the rich history of the country I was visiting. If you are teaching on board, you can also find great resources to use in your classes on sea days!
Montréal is a wonderful, big city with lots to explore! It pairs the modern with the classic for a completely unique look.
Tip 9: Make the most of when you have two days in a port
If you have an overnight stop, then you’ll have a little bit longer to explore somewhere. Make the most of this time, by planning ahead and deciding which things you want to see most, prioritise them and schedule them into the time you have. Don’t overbook yourself though! Make sure you include plenty of time for coffee and tea breaks!
Quebec is a beautiful city, full of history and culture. I wish we’d had more time there. I particularly enjoyed the funicular railway up to the top!
Tip 10: Set an alarm
I don’t mean for getting up in the morning (although that is helpful!) Ships have a time that you need to be back on board. They will leave without you if you’re not back on board at that time! To stop this for happening (although, if you like a stop, it can be very tempting to stay), work out the furthest point you’ll be from the ship, how long it would take you to get back and set a timer, allowing yourself that time + an extra half hour. You’ll be very thankful that you don’t have to worry about it and can just enjoy the time on land!
Tip 11: Try local specialities!
In Montréal, I tried poutine (delicious Canadian speciality made of chips, gravy and cheese curds) and beaver tails (a tasty pastry) in Quebec. I would definitely recommend saying yes to any local dishes you come across, it’s one of the best ways of finding out about a place!
Cornerbrook was another small, English-speaking town in Canada, whose oldest building is the same age as my house!
Tip 12: Take advantage of small ports
If the port is small and there aren’t many museums or other sights to explore, take the chance to relax a little. If you have a cruise where the destinations are close together, you can get a bit over-saturated with ports. Find a cute spot for a coffee, sit in a park and read (you can often borrow books from the cruise library) or hang out with some on-board friends.
Sydney, not to be confused with the one in Australia, is another small port in Canada. I enjoyed the local art.
Tip 13: Look around you!
Whether you’re out with friends or venturing out alone, make sure to stop and check out your surroundings. It’s one of the best ways to appreciate the local culture!
Unbeknownst to me, Halifax is tied to the history of the Titanic. Due to bad weather, we arrived a little later than expected and it was pouring with rain, but I still made time to run to the Maritime Museum.
Tip 14: Be flexible!
The sea is ever-changing and, as such, you might find you aren’t able to call into a port, call in later or even visit a new port. Therefore, be flexible with your plans and be ready to look up a new destination at a moment’s notice!
Ponta Delgada, Azores
Our final destination was technical Portugal! Despite being in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, this collection of islands belongs to Portugal and are surprisingly warm!
Tip 15: Dress for the weather
Before you head on your cruise, check the weather of all the destinations you’re going to be visiting (they could vary a lot if you visit a lot of countries/a very large country with variable climates). Make sure you pack appropriately and check the weather before you leave for the day trip (you don’t want to have to nip back to the ship unexpectedly!).
So I hope that helped if you’re planning a trip on a cruise once lockdown is over, or maybe it just provided a nice sense of distraction!
Next week I’ll be sharing my top ten tips for learning a new language! I figured you might have some free time during lockdown and would be looking for a hobby to keep you entertained or a new skill to master.