Saguenay Cruise Port

Port of Saguenay: An Overview

Get ready to be dazzled. A true natural wonder, the Saguenay River (Sag-uh-NAY) Fjord is the fourth largest fjord in the world and the southernmost navigable fjord in North America. Sculpted by ancient glaciers, the 60-mile-long, one-mile-wide fjord is lined with towering cliffs up to 1,150 feet tall, and it plunges to depths of up to 900 feet. Slipping through this magnificent fjord will be one of the highlights of your trip, whether you visit in summer when the hillsides are shrouded in green or in autumn when the scenery is bathed in russets and gold.

A trip through the fjord -- perhaps with a beluga sighting or two -- will be your introduction to the port. Saguenay itself is a city with several boroughs, linked with nearby Lac Saint-Jean as a tourism region. The area is a true outdoor playground for Quebecoise, drawing folks from more urban areas like Quebec City, 130 miles to the south. The port area is called La Baie, while the downtown and cultural districts are in nearby Chicoutimi, about a half-hour drive from the cruise terminal.

Figuring out where you are and where you want to go might be confusing if not for the helpful, friendly folks who welcome you to the port and the resources available in the cruise terminal. Although there are interesting cultural attractions -- including a rousing musical show staged by volunteers that's been running for 27 years -- you'll probably be captivated by the wild, woodsy beauty of the national parklands along the fjord and the myriad cool ways you can explore the fjord -- on foot, by land tour, via kayak or even by helicopter. Can't decide? There's always the option of the hop-on, hop-off bus, a great way to get an overview of this engaging area.

Hanging Around

Inside the cruise pavilion, you'll find a tourist office, booths helmed by regional craftspeople and tour operators. The facility is also home to computers with free Wi-Fi (just ask), a car rental office and, outside, taxis and the hop-on, hop-off shuttle bus.

Don't Miss

Saguenay Fjord: Cruisers get exquisite views of Saguenay Fjord as they enter and leave the port, sometimes with bonus features you can't plan, like whale sightings or -- on our recent fall foliage cruise -- a sunset sailaway under the arch of a double rainbow. So, coming or going, you'll have a chance to admire this magnificent natural wonder, and you'll probably want a closer look.

Saguenay Fjord National Park: A trip to Saguenay Fjord National Park (800-665-6527), with parklands on both sides of the St. Lawrence River, is a great way to see more of the fjord, either on your own or as part of a shore excursion. A 100-kilometer network of short and long hiking trails offers dazzling views and reveals glacier-carved marine terraces called dunes and other natural features. Baie Sainte-Marguerite is a prime spot for watching beluga whales, while the village of Sainte-Rose-du-Nord (the "Pearl of the Fjord") along the Fjord Route, a marked tourist road, is considered to be one of the prettiest towns in Quebec.

Sea Kayaking: This is another fun way to explore the fjord. An outfitter called Fjord en Kayak (418-272-3024) offers two or three-hour outings suitable for families.

La Fabuleuse: You might not rank a cultural show high on your list of "must-sees," but everyone who has seen La Fabuleuse (418-698-3333) gives it rave reviews. Performed by 200 actors and a menagerie of animals, this show -- running for many years -- highlights the history of the Saguenay region, from the landing of Jacques Cartier to the Great Fire of 1870, the Flood of 1996 and other notable moments. It's amazing to think that the cast is totally composed of volunteer performers.

Zodiac Tour: Yeah, yeah, the fjord is pretty and all, but if you want an adrenaline rush to go with your outdoor outing, consider a Zodiac tour departing from Saguenay National Park's interpretation center. You'll get a safety briefing and be suited up (for warmth) before embarking on a fast, fun, bumpy ride in a rigid inflatable boat. (800-665-6527)

Via Ferrata: Looking for a physical challenge, with views of an area most tourists don't see? Take on the Via Ferratta. This hair-raising entry-level rock climbing course comprises three circuits that traverse the steep cliffs of Baie Eternite, with fabulous overlooks of the bay. A professional guide leads the way. (800-665-6527)

Getting Around

On Foot: From the terminal, get your land legs with a stroll along Mars Park; a two-minute walk leads to a small public market (booths with craftspeople), the pretty Saint-Alphonse Church, Savonnerie Che'vre-Feuille, a soap factory, and O'Gelato & Cacao, featuring gourmet chocolate and ice cream. Tip: Use the church steeple as a landmark to find your way into town.

By Bus: For a small fee (around $15 Canadian), ride the red hop-on, hop-off shuttle bus and visit museums, cheese factories, artist studios and parks -- not a bad way to make it a "DIY Saguenay" tour that features only the stuff you want to see. One circuit takes in the Bagotville Air Defence Museum, the Fjord Museum, glassblowing and gem-cutting studios, the Ha! Ha! Pyramid (a 70-foot-tall pyramid adorned with 3,000 yield signs, marking the devastating flood of 1996) and the public market. Another route focuses on downtown and the cultural area, including the Saint-Francois-Xavier Cathedral, La Pulperie (a paper museum), the Little White House and the public market.

By Car: National Car Rental has an office inside the terminal. It offers everything from small compact cars to minivans and even throws in an audio tour of the area. If you're on a big ship, reserve a car to avoid being shut out. Allow close to an hour each way for the scenic drive on Route 170 East to Saguenay Fjord National Park. Tip: For an overlook of the fjord, drive to L'Anse-Saint-Jean, the highest point. From there, a 10-minute hike rewards you with cool views.

Lunching

Of course, you can get a nice, gooey dish of poutine, the signature Quebecoise dish of cheese curds and fries smothered in gravy is a staple at roadside food stalls, and nearly every sit-down restaurant offers its own take. And you won't go wrong with fresh seafood. Residents recommend the mixed platter (typically fried) so you can sample it all. Lobster, shrimp, crab, and halibut are the usual suspects.

La Grange aux Hiboux: Located a short walk from the cruise dock, La Grange aux Hiboux is a pleasant place to settle in for lunch, enhanced by views of Ha Ha Bay. The French-fusion menu is heavy on seafood (including excellent mussels and salmon salad); most guests go for the lunch buffet for about $13.95 Canadian. (521 rue Mars, La Baie; 418-544-7716; open 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Tuesday to Sunday)

Bistro Cafe Summum: Mix with residents at Bistro Cafe Summum, an upscale bistro with terrace seating that attracts diners with a hearty brunch and nearly around-the-clock dining. The popular smoked salmon sandwich is stuffed with onions, capers and cheese, while the apple pancake is gooey indulgence thanks to layers of bacon and cheddar. You can't go wrong with the classic trio of a burger, shoestring fries and a microbrew. A bonus: good value for the money. (786 rue Victoria, La Baie; 418-544-0000; open 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday to Friday and 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday and Sunday)

Restaurant Opia: You'll feel like you've stopped at a friend's house for dinner -- a friend who's a whiz in the kitchen -- at the charming Restaurant Opia, which is set inside a country house and located close to the cruise terminal. An outdoor patio and bountiful flower boxes add to the ambience. There's a bar on the main floor and a dining room upstairs, with dark woods and crimson walls. Expect hearty fare like braised veal cheek and mushroom risotto, plus inventive touches, perhaps "popcorn" sweetbreads, poutine studded with lobster and ribs marinated in Canadian whiskey. Plan extra time because service can be slow when things are buzzing (which is often). (865 rue Victoria, La Baie; 418-697-6742; open for lunch 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesday to Friday)

O'Gelato & Cacao: Just looking for a sweet treat? Pop into O'Gelato & Cacao, home of temptations aplenty, including a wonderful selection of gelatos and sorbets, artisan chocolates and other sweets, along with specialty teas and coffees. Enjoy at one of the tables overlooking the riverfront. (992 rue Victoria, La Baie; 418-306-8686; open 10:30 a.m. to 9 p.m.)

Where You're Docked

Ships dock at La Baie, a borough of the city of Saguenay on the shores of Ha Ha Bay, where you might see kite-boarders launching from Mars Park along the shoreline. After a memorable greeting from volunteer actors at the show "La Fabuleuse" (the port of Saguenay is famous for its warm welcome), head to the cruise pavilion to gather any needed information.

Watch Out For

Just because people speak some English doesn't mean you'll always understand what they mean (which is why aprons printed with local lingo are so popular). The phrase la'la' is often used at the end of a sentence as a reflex.

Currency & Best Way to Get Money

Currency is the Canadian dollar. Visit www.xe.com or www.oanda.com for currency-conversion rates. Credit cards are accepted nearly everywhere, especially Visa and MasterCard. Most retail shops and restaurants will accept U.S. dollars but will give you change in Canadian currency. The closest ATM to the cruise terminal is located across the street from Saint-Alphonse church at 632 Boulevard De Grande-Baie Sud.

Language

The region is primarily French speaking, but English is widely spoken and well understood, especially by those in the tourism and service businesses and at the cruise port terminal. Signage is mostly in French, and if you rent a car, note that mileage is given in kilometers.

Best Souvenir

This is blueberry country, so anything bleuet-related (like blueberry jam) will be a tasty reminder of your trip. Look for the blueberry chocolate made by the Trappist monks at the Chocolaterie des Peres Trappistes factory store; they've been making chocolate since 1944. (Reveal your purchase aboard the ship at your own peril; it will disappear in an instant!)

Resident crafters make soap and skin potions, create stunning art glass and weave luxurious soft goods from alpaca yarn. All are readily available, especially if you visit the artisans along the Craftsman Road, a popular shore excursion. If you're amused by local lingo, bring home an apron (you can get these at the cruise pavilion), featuring sayings like Hey, Chose! (You there!), T'as ben pas de genie! (You're one sandwich short of a picnic!) and Fais pas simple! (Stop kidding around!).

For More Information

On the Web: Tourisme Saguenay

Cruise Critic Message Boards: Canada

IndependentTraveler.com: Canada Travel Guide

--By Diane Bair, Cruise Critic contributor

Photos courtesy of Tourisme Saguenay and photographers Charles David Robitaille, Luc Rousseau, Maxime St-Laurent and Carol Charest
  • Saguenay: Azamara Quest
    Eboracum_d
    We received an incredibly warm welcome from the local townsfolk who greeted us with traditional music and dancing as we landed. Everyone we met in walking around was very willing to talk with us and tell us more about life there. There is ... Read more
  • Saguenay: Eurodam
    Late traveler
    This is a cruise port that is really making an effort to appeal to cruise passengers. A great welcome from the locals including children in costume. The ship had said there wasn't much here but we took the hop on, hop off and found it quite ... Read more
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