Ask Mickey Mouse: Cool Quebec City is a hot cruise ship destination

Date 23/10/2018

Written byTaylor Ireland


In the last blog we looked at how Quebec City’s waterfront on the St. Lawrence River is being transformed from what was pretty much an inaccessible industrial wasteland, into a spectacular, award-winning expanse of parkland that has taken back the river for recreational use by citizens and visitors.

Another redeveloped stretch of the waterfront, in the heart of the Old Port, is also drawing increasing numbers of visitors. These visitors are coming on board cruise ships and luxury liners from all corners of the world. The explosion in cruise ship traffic in Quebec City is a truly remarkable phenomenon that highlights the spell the city has put on the global tourism industry.

This fall, the Port is expected to welcome yet another record number of cruise ships, including a real feather in the harbour-master’s cap – the Disney Magic, making its maiden voyage up the St. Lawrence in late September. When Mayor Régis Labeaume announced the news last year he invited Disney characters like Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck to the press conference. He said the inclusion of Quebec on the Disney itinerary elevates the city to a whole other level in the global cruise market. The city is planning an evening of celebrations and a big fireworks show to welcome the famous ship and its 2,700 passengers.

The Disney Magic’s addition to the flotilla of cruise ships visiting the old city represents the amazing growth in the popularity of the destination in the 20 or so years since Quebec revived its historic role as a port of call for tourists. This year Quebec was named the top destination for Canada and the United States by the Cruise Critic website, a subsidiary of Tripadvisor. Even more impressive, the city came third among all world destinations, behind Glacier Bay, Alaska, and Aries, France.

By any measure this a remarkable resurgence for a port that used to welcome many thousands of people each year, mostly passenger ships bearing immigrants, but also visitors from around the world. The port declined gradually as the St. Lawrence became more navigable towards Montreal and other travel options, such as train and aircraft, became popular.

The big comeback started in  2001 when the Port of Quebec Authority (APQ) took over operations of the Pointe-à-Carcy terminal from the federal government. With a $32 million investment the authority built a dock and boarding facility that could accommodate the new fleet of cruise ships that were starting to grow in popularity. The new terminal opened the next year, with MS  Rotterdam the first cruise vessel to inaugurate the port. The ship has made the trip to Quebec several times each season ever since and its company, Holland America Line, says Quebec is the top choice of the clientele for its several ships.

The visit that really put the Port of Quebec back on the cruise map was in 2004 when the Queen Mary 2 made her maiden voyage to the city. The event was marked by organized tours aboard this historic ship, at one time the largest vessel of its kind.

In the years since, there have been many improvements to port facilities to handle the staggering increase in cruise ship traffic. In 2008, the federal government financed port projects to mark the 400th anniversary of the city and the 150 anniversary of the official creation of the Port Authority.

Last year, the Port transformed a former desolate parking lot on the waterfront where cruise ships dock into a beautiful green public space, called Place des canotiers in recognition of the original means of crossing the river. This summer the spectacular annual fireworks festival was held in the riverside park, a stunning treat for visitors and citizens alike.

Last year, the Port handled more than 132 dockings of 34 ships from the world’s top cruise lines. Five of those ships made their inaugural stop in Quebec. On one weekend there were eight ships docked in the port at the same time. A record total of more than 200,000 visitors disembarked during the May to October season, taking in the sites and sampling the food and culture of the old city. Combined spending of passengers and supply for the ships poured more than $100 million into the local economy.

Like most cases of rapid growth, the Port now finds itself at a point where it needs to expand even more to handle the volume of cruise ship traffic, plus be able to welcome the beasts of the sea with more than 5,000 passengers aboard. These ships are becoming more common and were not anticipated when the Port launched its cruise ship strategy 20 years ago.

Earlier this month, the Port announced a project to essentially add a completely new docking area that can handle ships with high volumes of passenger traffic. Besides the new facility, to be built on the docks east of the main quai area, the plan calls for a major expansion of the current visitors reception centre. The Port estimates that by 2025 these improvements will allow the city to welcome double the amount of cruise ship visitors.

That’s a look at the “pleasure” part of Quebec’s Port operations. In the next blog, we’ll get down to business and talk about ambitious plans to make the city a major player in the global cargo industry.