If a cruise is good enough – and an autumn sailing through Canada on the five star, ultra-luxury Seabourn Pride more than qualifies - it doesn't matter about the weather
The skies were unremittingly grey and the rain was sheeting down as we cruised along Canada's Saguenay River. Although we were well into the autumn, the celebrated fall foliage was stubbornly refusing to show its colours, so the observation lounge had the dreary atmosphere of a British seaside resort promenade in the middle of winter.
To cheer myself up, I'd picked up a video in the onboard library to watch in my suite. Typically, I had just set it in motion when the PA blared into action, a rare event on the sophisticated Seabourn Pride. "Beluga whales off the starboard bow," was the exciting news calmly delivered in his usual low-key tones by our Norwegian captain.
It was cold, wet and pretty miserable out on deck but the day - and the cruise - was lit up by the presence of dozens of beluga whales, spouting off all around us. As if they knew how delighted we were to see them, they stayed around until the captain decided it was time for us to move on.
It was my second cruise to this part of the world and each time the whales have shown up right on cue - a better appearance average even than on Alaskan cruises. Cruises through the Canadian Maritimes have another edge over Alaska: the ports of call along the way. Alaska has the glacier trips but the ports are distinctly one-sled towns, while along the St Lawrence Seaway, there is the chance to visit Quebec, Montreal and sometimes Toronto, too.
Most ships are too large to negotiate the series of locks between Toronto and Montreal but not Seabourn Pride; she is just 10,000-ton. She also only carries a maximum of 212 passengers, so it is a pretty exclusive experience in every sense.
Apart from an expensive (£110) tour to the Niagara Falls, there is not too much to see around Toronto, but it does have some great shopping. Clothes, books and CDs are all around two-thirds of the price you pay in the UK. It is a walkable city, too, and the underground is fast, clean and reliable (unlike some we could mention). It does not reach everywhere, though, which is how I came to be driven by cabbie Charlie, who preferred his current job and lifestyle to the one he used to enjoy - if that's the right word - as a social worker in England. But the move had cost him his marriage - his first wife went back to Blighty because she couldn't take the cold weather. Moving to England for the weather must be some kind of first, at least.
In Montreal, the winters are so severe that a whole city, complete with shopping malls, restaurants and offices, has been created underground. But it was a warm sunny Sunday when we were in town so we stayed above ground and were rewarded come midday when the sleepy city came alive. By mid-afternoon, everywhere was buzzing, with shops and sidewalk cafes all open and doing plenty of business.
In Quebec, one of my favourite cruise ports of call, there is a funicular between the Lower Town and the Upper but, after idling and eating too much on the ship, the walk up and then around the ramparts was refreshing and the views over the St Lawrence spectacular. In an inspired piece of itinerary-planning, the ship stays in Quebec for two days, which means there's a chance to sample dinner at one of the city's many fine - and French, of course - restaurants.
There are, though, some disadvantages to being on a small ship, however luxurious, as we found when we hit a major storm in the Gulf of St Lawrence. We were thrown around for a couple of nights but it did give us some extra empathy with those who were on the Titanic, a disaster with strong connections to our final Canadian port of call: Halifax in Nova Scotia.
Bodies from the Titanic were recovered by boats sent out from Halifax and buried in the local cemeteries. The excellent Maritime Museum has a permanent Titanic exhibit, augmented by a new 3D film of the ship in her resting place at the bottom of the Atlantic. This is well worth taking time out to watch.
The weather abated and the ship delivered me safely to a balmy Boston, where I disembarked for the final time.
Seabourn cruises do not come cheap (despite big reductions in 2009) but there is still plenty of value for your money. For a start, all drinks and tips are included in the price. There are only lavish suites - no cabins - on board Seabourn Pride. In some of these, floor-to-ceiling windows have been converted into sliding doors with a teak-topped glass wall behind, giving the effect of a private balcony. The fact is, though, that if you need to ask the price, you probably can't afford it - but at least beluga is included.