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Canada East - West + Alaska cruise .. EAST review
Post: #1
it was a tricky decision for me to spend the whole of June abroad on holiday with 4 birthdays, Springwatch and lots of sport missed as a result. Tricky, but not too tricky !
As soon as this Tour appeared in the JY brochure it went straight to the top of my wish list. Western Canada has always appealed greatly and to be able to combine the East as well was too good an opportunity to miss. Not only was this a holiday of a lifetime it was also a lifetime of a holiday lasting 29 days ! This is part 1 of my review covering the East. I will add parts 2 & 3 later covering the West and Alaska cruise add on.
June 2 and it was off to Heathrow. I soon located our Tour Manager, Yvette, who was already on hand to help with check in. I also met Amanda from JY who was on ‘work experience’ and was joining the eastern part of the trip to gain an insight into how things worked. An excellent idea on  JY’s part.
Once checked in it was off to the lounge where I met several of my fellow travellers. The lounge starter is an excellent introduction and very welcome.
It was soon time to trek to the Gate (the one furthest away, obviously). Boarding was prompt. I secured a window seat as it was a daytime flight and I was keen to see the scenery below, especially flying in over NE Canada. We had a good flight landing in Montreal half an hour early. There was the usual baggage reclaim meet up and it was off to the hotel. Once there, Yvette advised us that she would be going for a walk and we were invited to accompany her which all of us did at 6pm. She pointed out several of the sights and made some restaurant recommendations for dinner. The 9 men in the group decided on the highly rated microbrewery (!) where we sampled their goods and all bar one opted for the local dish, Poutine. Chips, gravy and cheese curds is the basic. I added some pulled pork. Sounds odd, but it suited my taste buds !
The following day included a City Tour. We were informed Canada has two seasons .. winter and construction. With winters so severe any development has to be done in the summer. This made our tour route somewhat flexible. The highlight was undoubtedly the very impressive Basilique Notre Dame. Another interesting area was the underground ‘city’. It’s basically a shopping mall stretching for some 30k below the surface. This comes into its own in the winter especially when temperatures reach -30c !
Day 3 saw us head off to Quebec. Cool, but dry weather again as we made the 3 hour drive. Our guided tour of the city was interesting. Quebec has a higher and lower half and its very steep in between ! A characterful and very French city dominated by the impressive Hotel Frontenac.
On Day 4 some of us opted to do the whale watching tour. I was expecting a short drive to the north of the city, but instead we were on the road for 4 hours. A very picturesque drive though. Our 3 hours on the boat included lunch. Unfortunately, the boat was full to the brim with around 200 people on board. This didn’t help with the whale spotting with folks 3 or 4 deep in places and constantly changing sides to see. An enjoyable day all the same.
Our drive to Mont Tremblant on Day 5 was done in hot, sunny weather. It included a stop off at a Sugar Shack for lunch where we were given a brief insight into Maple Syrup production before enjoying a tasty lunch menu of local dishes. We were also accompanied by some good ‘fiddle and spoons’ music. No duelling banjos though ! Once our appetites were satisfied we continued on to Mont Tremblant through more dramatic scenery. Once at the pretty ski resort we just had enough time to ascend the mountain by gondola. Views from the top were impressive. It was then back down for a ‘cool one’ and later dinner when the ‘dynamite burger’ did the job nicely.
It was a late morning start on Day 6 for our 1.5 hour drive to attractive Ottawa. We were dropped off in the Byward Market area full of eateries and shops where we had lunch. Later we enjoyed a 2 hour walking tour of the Capital City, which was interesting, but hard on the feet.
Day 7 and a drive to Toronto with a stop off for a Thousand Islands Cruise. A beautiful day and Yvette very wisely had us at the gate in good time, which allowed us to take up good viewing positions on the top deck. Just the 210 people on board this time. It was a very calm and peaceful cruise. Islands in all shapes and sizes passed us by throughout. A very enjoyable hour. With Toronto still 3 hours away we had another break midway at the hugely popular The Big Apple where we indulged in home made apple pie and ice cream. We reached Toronto at 5:15 and it was immediately clear this was a busy and bustling city. The place was abuzz a lot of which was down to the Toronto Raptors closing in on the NBA Championships (think Football Premier League as an equivalent).
The next morning on Day 8 we had a 2 hour guided bus tour of the city ending at the CN Tower.
Most of us had booked this trip up and we enjoyed spectacular 360 degree views of Toronto and its surroundings. Back down on the streets a few of us decided to do a harbour cruise. This afforded great views back at the city and was an enjoyable 45 mins cruise out to and around nearby islands.
There was a general sense of apprehension as Day 9 arrived. This was to be our day at Niagara Falls an absolute highlight of the whole trip. However, for days steady rain and thunderstorms all day long had been the forecast ! As we set off on the 1.5 hour journey from Toronto it was teeming down. As we approached Niagara it started to ease off. Skies became a lighter shade and when we arrived it was dry ! Would it last though ?
We had booked the boat trip under the Falls (well, you have to don’t you ?) for 2:30, so there was plenty of time for photos and a close look at the wonder of it all. The boat was quite an experience !
Thundering roars as the water crashed down soaking us in a swirling shower of mist and spray.
Once back on dry land the ambient warmth dried us out quite quickly. As we drove the short distance to our hotel the weather closed in again. Several of us were keen to try ‘The Keg’ for evening dinner and with steady rain falling taxis were arranged. 7 of us enjoyed fantastic views of the Falls from our table. We dined on excellent (and expensive) food while the night closed in and the Falls light show mesmerised. A great finale for those heading back home the next day.
We weren’t quite done with Niagara just yet though. Due to the less than perfect weather the day before our helicopter flyover was delayed until the morning of Day 10. Great strategy by Yvette again and she had us at the heli pad at 9:00. It was a 10 minute spectacular over the Falls and surrounding area. The highlight of the trip so far.
Back at the hotel goodbyes were said and 21 headed for the airport and home. 6 of us headed back to Toronto for our onward flight to Calgary and the West and to meet up with our 25 strong new group of friends.
This was a thoroughly enjoyable Tour. Seeing and experiencing the big Cities was very interesting and Niagara was special. We were blessed with mostly good weather, which helped enormously and once again it was a great and friendly group to tour with.
I couldn’t help feel though that the best was still to come ...
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