A holiday that was several years in the planning, and meant to be one of those ‘once in a lifetime’ events where the experience is much more important than the expense. Originally it was to have been a celebration of my 60th birthday but Covid-19 got in the way. The following year we made plans again and this time everything was booked and ready; but following a lengthy illness we had to cancel at the last moment and I ended up spending a month in hospital. Thankfully (and very luckily) we got most of our money back. Third time around and we put the trip into the hands of a local travel agent, hoping it would take some of the stress out of the organisation.
It was Jill’s dream holiday, and off she went to tell Marion Owen Travel of our plans. Fly to New York for a three night stay, a nine night cruise up the New England coast into Canada, two nights in Quebec and then a train journey to finish with three days in Montreal.
On the day we first had to fly to Amsterdam and pick up a connecting flight to JFK in New York. Brother Harry drove us across the Humber Bridge and dropped us at the small airport where we hoped to be soon on our way.
Friday 22nd – Hull to New York
As starts to a holiday go, this couldn’t have been much worse.
Our KLM flight to Amsterdam was initially delayed by 30 minutes. I received a text update telling me it was now on time, only to receive a second one announcing the 30 minute delay again. But as we were about to board, a disabled woman fell while getting out of her wheelchair and staff didn’t appear to have the ability to cope with the situation. The fire brigade was called in and by the time we set off we were 75 minutes late.
Because of this we missed our connecting flight and had to spend a very expensive 4 hours at Schipol airport. The KLM staff offered no help or sympathy. The sum total of their apology was a €12 voucher each to spend in a place where they charged €30 for a burger!
The later flight was also delayed by 30 minutes as the catering truck was late. Then once on board it appeared they hadn’t brought enough food to go around. We were not given a choice of meal but just had to make do with a stodgy vegetarian pasta.
After a 17 hour journey we finally reached New York; then had to queue for almost 2 hours to get through an extremely inefficient passport control. There were hundreds of people queuing to get through only a couple of control booths, and everyone had to be finger printed on rickety unreliable machines before being allowed through.
Our onward train and subway journey was also hampered by out of date technology causing us confusion and delays. We couldn’t use a card to get a ticket, we had to put cash into a machine to get a cardboard slip, which took me four attempts to get into the slot at the turnstile.
The trains were like something from a bygone age, full of down-and-outs sleeping on the seats with food remains all over the floor. I guess it was part of the New York experience but it was a relief to get off.
After nearly 22 hours we reached the Shoreham Hotel on West 55th; with thoughts of a relaxing drink and then sleep. But the very basic hotel we’d picked didn’t even have a bloody kettle in the room!
A cleansing shower was taken before getting our heads down, hoping for a rejuvenating sleep. We we’re both awake again 4 hours later; our UK body clocks telling us it was time to get up.
We’d lost our first night in the Big Apple, and with heavy rain forecast for the next two days this was not going well at all.
Saturday 23rd – New York
We started the day with a tasty Mexican style breakfast at nearby Toasties (highly recommended) before setting off in search of the sights.
Number one was Grand Central Station. An unimpressive facade led into the truly impressive interior. There were hundreds of tourists taking photos of the parts they’d seen in film sets, (us amongst them). We spent quite a while admiring the architecture before heading back out into the rain.
We treated ourselves to a couple of plastic ponchos in a vain attempt to stay dry.
Jill wanted to see the Chrysler building next. There was the usual confusion in navigation; we found it eventually and hadn’t realised we were standing right in front of it. From street level at this location, it was impossible to really appreciate or even recognise the building.
The Empire State Building was much the same. Although this time viewed from further away the top half was hidden in mist as the rain continued to pour.
A boat tour around Manhattan Island couldn’t be completed as the rain had raised the Hudson River level to the point where our vessel couldn’t make it under one of the bridges. We got to see the Statue of Liberty from a wind and rain lashed deck before turning back towards the city. The tour guide was one of those who seemed to think silence was not allowed. His rapid fire mumblings about buildings we couldn’t even see made the return journey seem interminable.
Later that afternoon we were booked to look over the city from ‘the edge’. This was a higher alternative to the Empire State, with a glass ledge where you could lean across to look out over the streets100 stories below if you were brave or stupid enough. It took a while to find the place and when we arrived, we were greeted with the news that visibility was zero up on the viewing platform. No refunds were offered; our only option was to rebook for the next day. But Sunday’s weather was so bad we didn’t bother going back.
Tired, wet, and disappointed we returned to the hotel. The plan had been to change and head out to the bright lights of Broadway. Instead, I went across the street for a bottle of red and we spent the night listening to the radio.
Sunday 24th – New York
The Big Bus open top tour was today’s first activity. Mercifully the rain had eased off for a while and we enjoyed half an hour of the sights.
As we got off to head for the ferry across to Dumbo the rain returned with a vengeance. It was so heavy once we got to the other side that we had to shelter under a bridge for a while.
Badly in need of a rest, we found ourselves a proper pub that sold decent ale. It’s surprising how few of these there were around New York.
Jill had wanted to walk across the Brooklyn bridge back to Manhattan, but had suggested abandoning the plan due to the weather. We persevered however, and really enjoyed the walk despite strong wind and driving rain. I had been sceptical about doing this. Having walked across our own Humber Bridge I thought it might be just as boring but couldn’t have been more wrong. The bridge itself is stunning and even the appalling weather couldn’t spoil the view of the Manhattan skyline. This for me was the highlight of New York.
We picked up the bus again with a grumpy young driver who rushed to the stop near Times Square and pulled in with no announcement that this was the terminus other than stopping the engine and turning off the lights. Due to the lack of seats downstairs and the fact that we were dripping wet, we sat on the open deck upstairs and were treated to face-fulls of wet leaves and branches that were overhanging the street.
Jill suggested heading back to base rather than walking to the Square; but we were already soaked so decided we may as well stay out.
The area was teeming with people watching the huge advertising screens. It really was quite a sight. I shudder to think how much the advertisers would have to pay for the privilege.
We were determined not to spend another night in the hotel; and thankfully I found a decent bar which was only in the next street. We enjoyed some nice ales and a couple of excellent burgers at the eye-watering price of £138! If there’s one thing we learned about the Big Apple it’s that it’s a very, very, expensive fruit.
Monday 25th – New York & the Atlantic
We had time to kill before heading to the cruise terminal. Instead of taking a walk through Central Park before leaving the hotel, due to the rain (had I mentioned the rain?) I suggested we go back to our room to chill until check out time; then head through the park after that as it was almost on route to the terminal. That was a big mistake. Dragging our heavy cases made the little time we spent in the grounds really hard work. We were both shattered by the time we’d walked to the ship. We should have left our cases at the hotel reception while enjoying a walk and got a cab to the dock.
We had checked in online which was supposed to make boarding quicker. Although we didn’t have to queue very long, we spent more time at the counter picking up our boarding cards from a young man who didn’t seem to know what he was doing.
The rooms were not ready for quite some time so we had to sit and drip dry at a bar before being allowed to finally get in and unpack.
We left New York in the rain, and I can’t say that we were sorry to leave. Jill had been so looking forward to this trip which had turned out to be one big disappointment. She had cried more than once. The following day I was shocked to see in the news that the city was actually underwater. The subways were flooded and the roads had turned into rivers; we’d got out just in time.
The Norwegian Joy was a beautiful ship, but so busy with passengers that it was impossible to find a seat at times; especially at meal times.
Our first night was a short one as we we’re both so tired. We had a decent meal and far too much Wild Turkey bourbon before having an early night.
Tuesday 26th – Boston
It wasn’t raining. Boston wasn’t wet!
Heavy seas meant that we were an hour late arriving. As time was limited, we opted to board an ‘all day’ hop on hop off bus tour. Only it wasn’t all day. We purchased tickets and boarded a bus at 10 past 4, only to see a sign announcing that the last pick up from stop 1 was 5 o’clock. There was no time to actually get off and explore anywhere. We were fuming that the tour operators didn’t bother to point this out at the ticket kiosk, especially when we realised the tickets had cost the princely sum of $147! We did get off the bus at Boston Common with the intention of walking back to the ship but thought better of it. We were lucky to get the last 2 seats on another bus that was making its way back to the cruise terminal.
Back at the ship, the huge amount of people that had arrived at the same time, and prioritising the unusually large number of wheelchair users, meant that we had to queue for nearly an hour to get back on board.
What we saw of Boston looked like it would have been a nice place to walk around had we been given the chance. But unfortunately, this had turned out to be another wasted day of what was proving to be a pretty rotten holiday.
Wednesday 27th – Portland, Maine
At last, an enjoyable day!
Warm sunshine greeted our arrival in Portland, warm enough even to break out the shorts.
There was no queue waiting to get off the ship, and it wasn’t far to walk into the town. Although true to form we went the wrong way at first and ended up in a very seedy neighbourhood as we rushed to try and find Jill a toilet.
Back in civilisation we enjoyed a couple of local beers, and ate the best crispy fries I’ve ever had (along with a fiery hot chicken wrap).
We took time to wander the attractive harbourside streets and even browsed a few shops before taking a leisurely stroll back to the ship.
In the evening we enjoyed an excellent steak meal before having a night cap in one of the bars. There was some great entertainment on too with a fabulous vocalist.
This had been by far the best day so far.
Thursday 28th – All at Sea
We slept in and were lucky to reach the breakfast buffet just before it closed.
Today was a chill-out day. While struggling to cope with the very limited Internet connection; Jill found out that we’d already racked up around $130 in on board charges. This was turning out to be one bloody expensive holiday.
We rounded off a relaxed day with a theatre visit, enjoying Footloose before having a couple of night caps and staggering to bed.
Friday 29th – Sydney, Nova Scotia
We woke up in Canada to another beautiful sunny morning.
The harbour front itself was very attractive and the walk into the historic area with its brightly coloured clapperboard houses was short. Sydney was a lovely place to visit and things were definitely looking up.
We spent quite some time wandering the area, and had a locally brewed beer in one of the bars before heading back for a late and very tasty lunch back aboard.
The heat built up throughout the afternoon, and we had to seek shade aboard the Norwegian Joy. A couple of drinks and a short nap in the sun; then it was back to our room to freshen up before heading out for a relatively sober evening. A couple of beers, a couple of glasses of wine, a nice meal and a bit of music. Then we were off to bed and on our way further north.
Saturday 30th – Charlottetown
This town was a larger version of Sydney. There was a walking trail taking in similar looking buildings but despite the extra size there was less to do.
It was warm again and easy to work up a thirst; but when seeking out refreshments there was nowhere to be found. We only came across one pub and despite it being Saturday afternoon it was closed.
We returned to the ship early, pausing at the waterfront to eat some ‘PEI fries’ from a small cabin. They were better than the ship’s fries but not a patch on the ones we’d enjoyed in Portland. We were also plagued by an army of intensively irritating wasps which made the experience not very enjoyable.
A nap and shower; then it was back up on deck to watch the cruiser being unhitched from some underwater anchor points. Quite a crowd gathered as we couldn’t see how they were going to do this. The problem was that they couldn’t. Onlookers drifted away after announcements of delays and we gave up on watching the entertainment.
We dined with two other couples in a very crowded Manhattan restaurant. Sharing a table was a good way to jump the queue and we enjoy meeting and chatting with others.
Then it was off to the theatre to watch a solo act doing Whitney Houston songs. A short but enjoyable show.
Sunday 1st – En route to Saguenay
I woke early after a restless night and had a stroll around deck 16. When Jill joined me for second breakfast, I was lucky enough to briefly catch sight of a whale surfacing for air.
A thick fog rolled in and for a while the visibility was zero. It was an eerie feeling cruising through an impenetrable mist with the loud fog horn sending out its warning.
Later on, the fog cleared and an announcement from the captain said they would be keeping the speed slow for the next 2 hours as we were passing through a ‘whale avoidance’ area. We grabbed our binoculars and did a slow tour of the waterfront deck hoping to catch sight of a few leviathans. Naturally we were disappointed.
For a full day at sea there was surprisingly little entertainment on board. We couldn’t even entertain ourselves on the internet without forking out a ridiculous $30 a day.
Although sunny, there was a strong cold wind blowing so most people stayed inside, circling like hungry vultures in search of a seat with a view.
After braving the outside seating for a while, we opted to grab a drink and head back to our room to relax and get ready for the evening… theatre at 7.00 followed by a late meal.
Wow! What a show. We shouldn’t have left it so late to head for the theatre as it was filling quickly. Luckily, we got some great seats though with part of the performance area on a small stage directly in front of us. Music, dancing, magic and acrobatics added up to a stunning spectacle.
Monday 2nd – Saguenay, Quebec
We had plenty of time to spend ashore today which was a shame really. Saguenay was small with some lovely houses and a very noisy helicopter that took off every 15 minutes.
We would have booked an expensive tour that might have taken us somewhere more interesting but they were all fully booked up. Other people must have realised how little this small town had to offer.
As a cruise destination it’s definitely one to be overlooked.
Tuesday 3rd – Quebec
We docked early in Quebec and went out to do a bit of a recce before our later excursion. Carrying jackets and wearing jeans we were soon heading back to the ship; it was far too hot outside.
We killed a bit of time and changed into cooler clothing before alighting the coach trip to Canyon Sainte-Anne and a winery.
The canyon was stunning. Waterfalls and rapids running under bouncy (and very high) suspensions bridges. And a lot of steps.
The trees were turning a multitude of colours, and we had plenty of time to loiter and photograph before reboarding for an interesting trip to the vineyard where we tried a few samples of plonk while listening to a talk about how the wines were made.
It was a really good day out. The only blot on the day was a stupid Canadian law that meant the ship could open only one bar per deck whilst in port, and our favourite ale bar was closed for the night.
Wednesday 4th – Quebec
On Wednesday we disembarked for an overnight stay (nearly) in the town. Our travel agent made the mistake of booking into La Plaza hotel half an hour away from the town by taxi.
Leaving our baggage at the cruise terminal we spent the afternoon wandering around old Quebec. A lovely place full of cobbled streets and old buildings; many of which were decorated for the upcoming harvest festival and Halloween.
Taking the funicular railway up to the top, we somehow managed to climb several hundred more steps as we circled the old walls of the town.
The taxi to our hotel cost $40. We intended to freshen up and go back into town. Taxis there and back again would have set us back $120 for the day; so we opted to use public transport to go back into old Quebec. We waited at the wrong stop and missed the bus. By the time we’d caught the next one and journeyed into town we’d lost 2 hours before finally reaching our destination. This was the only blot in an otherwise very enjoyable day and evening.
The bus journey back seemed much quicker; and the driver was much more pleasant and helpful than the grumpy one from earlier in the day.
The hotel was very comfortable with probably the biggest room we’ve stayed in. The only thing letting it down was the poor buffet breakfast next morning which we had to pay extra for.
Thursday 5th – Quebec / Montreal
Next morning, we bussed it back to the centre with no hiccups; dropped our luggage at the station and went for lunch.
The town was absolutely teeming with tourists. It was too hot to walk about. We watched them flooding by from the small balcony at the La Borges bar; enjoying a couple of beers and a croque monsoir.
Quebec had moved to the top of the table for this trip, but we now had to head for the 3 pm train for the last leg of our holiday.
Aboard the train someone appeared to be occupying our seats. They helpfully pointed out as we showed them our boarding pass that the date showed the 5th of September!
Jill went into full panic mode; but when the conductor scanned our invalid tickets, he wrote down the code saying it wouldn’t be a problem and he’d get the train company to update them. I’m not sure how this worked as we were probably now in someone else’s seats; and if the date was correct on the ticket, we were a month late for our journey.
This was the second major cock-up from Marion Owen Travel. I don’t think we’ll be using them in the future.
After just over 3 hours on the train, it was thankfully a short taxi ride to the hotel. The room was superb, spacious, air conditioned, a huge bed, and our very own kitchen and dining area.
We were tired, and despite the time of day and the season, it was still hot and humid outside. Rather than changing and trudging around looking for a restaurant; we decided to relax, stay in and cook.
IGS was a huge supermarket only a 10 minute walk away, packed to the rafters with practically every foodstuff you could think of. It was however, very expensive. A couple of beers, the basics of a meal and a bottle of wine were not a great deal cheaper than eating out.
Back in the room we were in for a bit of a surprise, finding that despite having a full size kitchen, the only thing to cook with was one large silver soup pan. There wasn’t even a corkscrew but luckily the wine was a screw cap!
Luckily, we’d bought a ready-made pepper sauce so I was able to heat that and then drop the chicken breasts in. The mini potatoes had to be baked (one of which exploded), and the green beans were microwaved in 2 tiny cereal bowls. Despite the challenge it turned into an enjoyable meal.
Friday 6th – Montreal
After a chaotic buffet breakfast in a noisy and overcrowded room, we ventured out onto the streets. First impression was of a dirty busy city with lots of roadworks and scaffolding. Thankfully we managed to find our way into a much more attractive area around Montreal Old Town and spent some time wandering the area.
Jill’s cousin had recommended a river cruise. The kiosk was closed when we got there with a young woman stood behind it busy on her phone. The kiosk appeared to be locked. After waiting a while in hope, someone arrived with the news that the cruise wouldn’t be going ahead.
With thoughts of rest and refreshment, we went in search of the Brewski brew pub. It took a bit of finding but was worth it as we enjoyed a couple of excellent beers and a plate of grilled halloumi on tomato sauce with a garlic ciabatta.
There was a nearby museum which was reputed to be one of the oldest residences in Montreal. It was full of interesting stuff and local history. We passed an hour so there before taking a meandering walk back to base.
Home cooking was the preferred option again, but this time I chose stuff that could be cooked in one pan!
Saturday 7th – Montreal
The rain was back with a vengeance.
I’d woken with a painful swelling on my temple from a mosquito bite.
I went down to breakfast with a throbbing temple to find that the breakfast room was worse than the day before. I was not in a good mood.
Today was our last, the heavy rain was set in for the day, and I found myself now just looking forward to going home.
There was no way we could walk the streets again but we had a contingency plan; visiting the Biodome where we hoped to see emperor penguins amongst other stuff.
It was a short walk to the subway, along a urine scented covered sidewalk lined with the cardboard beds of the homeless. Thankfully the subway was in contrast, clean, modern, and far superior to the journey from New York’s JFK.
Once at our destination station the Biodome was only a hundred yards away, but the sheeting rain was so heavy we waited it out inside the building until our ticketed time in the hope it would ease off. It didn’t.
The Biodome was packed. Despite the crowds we enjoyed a couple of hours wandering through the different areas, each one featuring a different kind of theme such as a tropical rainforest, where sweat was running down my back, to the polar area where a very miserable looking bunch of penguins were held captive. I’m not a lover of zoos and much prefer to see animals in the wild where they belong.
Back in the area near to our hotel, we later found an ‘Irish’ bar where we enjoyed a couple of really refreshing local IPA’s. We decided to go back there later that evening for a meal as the food looked pretty good. It wasn’t as good as we’d hoped but we still enjoyed an evening out without having to walk around in the rain.
Sunday 8th – Montreal & Home
We had time to kill before we were due to head to the airport. After wandering around the underground shops and looking for somewhere to eat, we opted to go back to the Irish bar for a couple of drinks. Like many other places on a Sunday, it was closed. We ended up having a sandwich and coffee in a small cafe before boarding the shuttle bus to Pierre Elliot Trudeau airport. On the plus side, the bus was cheap and picked us up right outside our hotel, on the down side it was 40 minutes of standing room only in a hot sticky atmosphere with a young American woman who seemed totally incapable of closing her mouth for more than a few seconds at a time.
Although the airport seemed fairly small when we first arrived, after a wander around I found out how big and confusing the place was. Signage was almost none existent, and there were no conventional check-in terminals. Everything was self-service, and it proved something of a nightmare to find out where we were supposed to go.
Airport experiences were definitely bottom of the list for fun things to do on this holiday!
Thankfully the transfer from Amsterdam to the UK went without a hitch and Harry was there to pick us up as soon as we touched down.
There had been highlights and we’d had a few laughs, though we tried not to think too much about how much we had spent. But this dream holiday overall had been a disappointment, for Jill in particular who had really been looking forward to New York. I’m not sure we will ever attempt something this big again after the experience we had, but by the time the worst of the memories fade, you never know we might just change our minds…