I have cruised on the Amazon, Mekong, Irrawaddy, the Nile and other rivers around the world but I still had not experienced the waterways of New York. I live only a few miles from Lake Ontario and the Erie Canal, and like many people, I hadn’t experienced the unique places near my home.
New York State actually became the Empire State because of its waterways. Explorers and invading armies reached New York via the St. Lawrence River and Lake Ontario. During the Revolutionary War, the British thought they would win the war if they conquered New York. It would divide the rebellious New England colonies from the southern ones. Obviously, it didn’t work.
After the American Revolution, the Erie Canal was constructed, and this led to the development of the rest of the United States. I had always wanted to explore the waterways, but except for day trips on small portions of the Erie Canal, I didn’t think it was feasible.
When I learned about Blount Small Ship Adventures’ “Locks, Legends, and Canals” which covered nearly all of New York State’s waterways, I knew I had to sign up for their two-week trip. It departed from Montreal, went to Quebec, and then up the St. Lawrence River to Lake Ontario and the NYS Canal System, cruising down the Hudson River to New York City. For me, it was a dream come true.
My home for two weeks was the Grande Caribe, a purpose-built vessel designed to make it through the narrow and shallow waters of canals. The experience turned out to be much more than I anticipated.
In Quebec, the first port of call, I walked along the cobblestone streets of the old city nestled along the river and below the towering Chateau Frontenac on a guided tour. There was free time in the afternoon, so I walked a short distance from the Grande Caribe to the Museum of Civilization. I felt as though I was in France. The tour included a side trip to the impressive Montmorency Falls that, at 272 feet, are 98 feet taller than Niagara Falls.
There was another short stop during which Blount provided a shuttle to Old Montreal, but I stayed aboard. Chef William showed me how to make a traditional Canadian Tourtiere, which was to be on the dinner menu.
Like a stealth ship, while everyone was sleeping, we departed Montreal and traversed the South Shore Canal’s two locks. The St. Lawrence Seaway system is connected by five short canals that bypass the rapids. They include 15 locks that are 766 feet in length and filled and emptied by gravity.
During the day, we locked through the rest of the Seaway’s locks. The Snell Lock raised us 45 feet. Truly an engineering marvel. Locking through a canal never gets boring. We went through US customs in Ogdensburg, New York, which was a no-brainer. The custom agents came aboard and took care of everything while we had breakfast.
The morning tour was to the Frederic Remington Art Museum. Remington is famed for his bronze sculptures of the Old West.
The western end of the St. Lawrence is home to the 1000 Islands and Millionaire’s Row. Midday, we docked on Dark Island for a taste of how the “Robber Barons” lived, with a tour of five-story Singer Castle, which has 28 rooms and secret passageways.
Our last stop on the St. Lawrence was at Clayton’s Antique Boat Museum, a boat-enthusiast’s dream come true with every kind of boat from Native American dugouts to private luxury yachts to Gold Cup Boats. I was surprised to find that Dr. Seuss did the artwork for Esso and that Guy Lombardo’s love of racing earned him the title of “The World’s Fastest Bandleader.”
We crossed Lake Ontario during the night and docked in Oswego, where the pilot house was lowered so that the Grande Caribe could fit under the “low bridges” of NYS’s canal system. What started in 1817 as the Erie Canal grew into the 525-mile NYS system now on the National Register of Historic Places. It was life in the slow lane. As we motored along at five miles per hour enjoying the beautiful fall foliage, I would occasionally see people in cars and trains whizzing by, never knowing the beauty and serenity they were missing.
We made several short stops along the canal with the option of taking a side trip to Cooperstown’s Baseball Hall of Fame and The Farmer’s Museum or the Fenimore Art Museum. I was familiar with them, so I elected to stay on board and savor the scenery.
Our last stop on the Canal System was Troy, New York, the home of Uncle Sam. Samuel Wilson was a meat packer and an Army inspector in Troy who supplied rations for the soldiers during the War of 1812. As required, Wilson approved the goods by stamping them “US,” and the Uncle Sam legend grew. During the Troy stop, the cruise raised the wheelhouse and readied the Grande Caribe for river travel.
The 315-mile Hudson River starts in the Adirondack Mountains and flows into the Atlantic Ocean at NYC. Captain David Sylvaria provided an informative narrative as we passed historic places, lighthouses, other points of interest and the towering palisades. The weather was glorious and the foliage brilliant.
There were two excellent side trips to Historic Hyde Park, the home of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, and the US Military Academy at West Point. I love the tidbits I learned that aren’t in textbooks. When England’s King George VI and Queen Elizabeth visited Hyde Park, they were treated to an American picnic complete with hot dogs, about which the Queen inquired, “How do you eat these?” While the King picked them up with his hands, the Queen used a knife and fork. At West Point, I found out that President Dwight D. Eisenhower graduated in 1915 with an astounding number of demerits – 307! I wonder if those who served under him in World War II were aware of that.
The views of the Statue of Liberty and the NYC skyline were impressive from our vessel. On our last full day there was a walking tour that included NYC’s High Line, an imaginative linear park built on a disused elevated rail track. In the afternoon I took the city tour that hit all the highlights of The Big Apple including a reflective stop at the 9/11 Memorial.
I have never taken a voyage on a popular, large cruise vessel. I think ships that can hold more people than the number in my village of 1,200 may not be for me. On this smaller vessel, the trip was well worth it. I visited two countries, three world-class cities, some of the world’s most important waterways, and historic places. I enjoyed gourmet meals, informative talks, musical presentations, and I only had to unpack once for two weeks. On board, the staff and other passengers created a causal and friendly atmosphere. It was my dream come true cruise. Now I hanker to cruise to the other Great Lakes.
If you go: For more information, visit Blount’s Small Ship Adventures, or call toll-free at 800-556-7450. “Locks, Legends, and Canals” is just one of Blount’s unique offerings. They also sail to The Bahamas, Lake Michigan and along the Atlantic Coast. With a maximum of 88 passengers, they advertise that they “Go Where the Big Ships Cannot.”