It’s been 40 years since St. Lawrence Cruise Lines first set sail on Canada’s rivers. Now, in its 40th anniversary year and dealing with the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, the Kingston, Ontario-based company is more dedicated than ever to continue sailing for generations to come. We sit down with Daniel Beals, Advertising and Marketing Coordinator, to discuss how the pandemic is impacting operations, what the company is doing to ensure passenger safety, and what agents need to know when booking future voyages.
For agents who are not familiar with the company, tell us a little about St. Lawrence Cruise Lines.
St. Lawrence Cruise Lines is a family-owned and operated business in Kingston, Ontario. The company was founded in 1981 and the 2020 cruising season would be our 40th season on the river. We are still hoping to celebrate that milestone within 2020, but some of our planned anniversary celebrations have been moved to 2021.
Since that first cruise season, our goal has been to share the tremendous beauty and rich history of Canada’s Rivers with our passengers. We run 4-, 5-, 6-, 7-night cruises from May to mid-October between Kingston, Montreal, Ottawa, and Quebec City. We have one ship, the M/V CANADIAN EMPRESS, which is a 32-stateroom replica steamboat. The exterior design of the ship pays homage to the historic riverboats of the St. Lawrence River, while the interior has a modern style and amenities.
How has the COVID-19 pandemic impacted your operations? If you’ve paused operations, when do you plan to set sail again?
Like the rest of the cruise industry, we have been forced to delay our season until it is deemed safe for us to operate. In the meantime, we have been working to prepare the ship for the realities of cruise travel after the pandemic. For us, that means working with Health Canada and Transport Canada to ensure that our passengers and crew will be safe and comfortable However, we are fortunate that we operate a small ship (max. 64 passengers) with private rooms and free-moving air. We expect to receive a timeline from Transport Canada in the coming two weeks which will tell us our starting date. In the meantime, news updates can be found at www.stlawrencecruiselines.com or calling us at 1-800-267-7868. We are also taking bookings for 2021 and the full schedule is available on our website.
Do you foresee more Canadians travelling closer to home following the pandemic? If so, what does this mean for St. Lawrence Cruise Lines, which offers cruises within Canada?
Our passengers are typically 50% from Canada and 50% from the United States. However, we do believe that Canadians will more inclined to stay close to home, and at this time we are looking to focus specifically on Canadians passengers for 2020 and forego international travellers until 2021. We believe this will help us ensure the safety of our passengers and crew.
Describe for us what a typical cruise looks like. And what new safety protocols, if any, is St. Lawrence implementing to reassure guests following the pandemic?
Our most frequent cruise is a 4-night return cruise through the Thousand Islands that begins and ends in Kingston, Ontario. Due to our small size, we are able to dock nightly in the small ports along the river and show our passengers the history and culture of communities on the St. Lawrence River. We suspect there will be many changes to safety protocols following the pandemic, and as a federally regulated industry, we will be working hand-in-hand with Transport Canada and Canada Health to ensure the safety of our passengers. For 2020, this will probably involve smaller passenger counts with only Canadian travellers, as well as updated policies on sanitation and social distancing.
What do you want travel agents to know at this time with regard to bookings, cancellations and future voyages?
Because we are a small cruise line, we are able to provide extensive communication between travel agents and our Reservations department. This means travel agents will be able to speak personally to someone in Reservations during office hours. Similarly, notifications on bookings and cancellations will be facilitated by a personal call or email, according to the needs of the travel agent. This open line of communication will be backed up by news on our website, but we pride ourselves on strong relationships with travel professionals, and we would urge travel agents to take advantage of get information directly from our staff. There will continue to be uncertainty about the cruise schedule for the next couple months as Canadian officials make important decisions around public safety, but you can always get an update by calling our 1-800 number.