I have cruised on the Amazon, Mekong, Irrawaddy, the Nile and other rivers around the world but I have 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 have not experienced the unique places near my home. New York State became the Empire State because of its waterways. Explorers and invading armies reached NYS via the St. Lawrence and Lake Ontario. During the Revolutionary War the British thought if they would win the war if they conquered New York. It would divide the rebellious New England colonies from the southern ones. Obviously it did not work. After the American Revolution the Erie Canal was constructed 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 just had to sign up for their two-week trip. It departed from Montreal, went to Quebec, and then up the St. Lawrence to Lake Ontario and the NYS Canal System cruising down the Hudson River to NYC. 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 because the adventure included tours stops in Canada, along the St. Lawrence, on the NYS Canal System, and the Hudson ending in NYC.
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 Hotel Fontanenac on a guided tour. I felt as though I was in France. The tour included a side trip to the impressive Montmorency Falls that at 272 feet is 98 feet taller than Niagara Falls. There was free time in the afternoon so walked a short distance from the Grande Caribe to the Museum of Civilization. There was a short stop in Montreal where Blount provided a shuttle to Old Montreal I stayed aboard and Chef William showed me how to make a traditional Canadian Tourtiere which was 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 766 feet in length that are 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, NY which was a no-brainer. The custom agents came aboard and took care of everything while we had breakfast. The morning tour visited 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 with 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 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 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 Fennimore Art Museum. I was familiar with both so I elected to stay on board savoring the scenery. Our last stop on the Canal System was Troy, NY, 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 home of FDR and the US Military Academy at West Point. I love the tidbits that I learn that were not in my textbooks. When England’s King George VI and Queen Elizabeth visited Hyde Park they were treated to an American picnic complete with hot dogs which the Queen inquired, “How do you eat these?” While the King picked them up the Queen used a knife and fork. Dwight Eisenhower graduated in 1915 with an astounding number of demerits – 307! I wonder if those who served under him in WW II know that.
The views of the Statue of Liberty and the NYC skyline were impressive. On our last full day there was a walking tour that included the 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 voyage on one the popular, large cruise vessels. I think vessel that has more people on it the number of people in my village of 1200 may not be for me. The trip was value-laden because I visited two countries, three world-class cities, some of the world’s most important waterways, excursions to historic places, along with gourmet meals, informative talks, musical presentations, and for two weeks I only had to unpack once. 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 log on to or call toll-free 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.”