Tom Stieghorst
Tom Stieghorst

One of the more underappreciated waterways for river cruising is the St. Lawrence, Canada's second longest river after the Mackenzie.

Stretching about 1,200 miles from the eastern tip of Lake Ontario to the Gulf of St. Lawrence near the Ile D' Anticosti, only about half of the length is classic river cruising, with the section north of Quebec City widening into more of an estuary.

But an itinerary on the upper St. Lawrence includes three excellent Canadian ports: Montreal, Trois-Rivieres, and Quebec, as well as navigation of the long border between Ontario and New York, featuring the Thousand Islands archipelago.

Increasingly, smaller coastal and oceangoing ships are making the journey up the St. Lawrence and through the locks to cruise the Great Lakes. Most of these ships have to be quite small to fit beneath the bridges west of Quebec.

Lines such as Victory Cruise Line and Pearl Seas Cruises have the route on their schedules for 2018. Other cruise lines that have Great Lakes/St. Lawrence itineraries in the works include Hurtigruten and Hapag-Lloyd Cruises.

Windstar Cruises for the first time this year will offer 12-day cruises between Montreal and Boston or New York.

Cruise the St. Lawrence, a confederation of nine Canadian ports along the river, lists 31 cruise lines that visit at least one of the nine destinations.

In addition to oceangoing vessels, several river-only ships are in the market. The 70-passenger Canadian Empress is a classic 1908 steamboat-style replica operated by St. Lawrence Cruise Lines of Ottawa. It offers 4- to 7-day cruises including a week-long Heritage Waterway cruise from Kingston, on Lake Ontario, to Montreal and back. Summer rates start at $2,788 Canadian per person.

Last year Croisieres M/S Jacques-Cartier, based in Trois-Rivieres, took over and renovated the 66-passenger Jacques-Cartier, giving it an observation area, a health and well-being space, a spa and a sauna. An 8-day cruise from Toronto to Montreal is one of a half-dozen itineraries. Prices for 2019 begin at $3,725 Canadian, based on double occupancy.

Other lesser-known options include CTMA Cruises, which runs a cruise ferry from Montreal to les de la Madeleine; Blount Small Ship Adventures; and Adventure Canada, which sails the St. Lawrence on its way to remote regions of Canada's east coast, including Labrador and the High Arctic.

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