Thursday brought a new to all of us port, another dose of brilliant sunshine, crisp clear skies, great plans, and…quite a bit of frustration. As you will see, sometimes even carefully made plans fail to materialize, and you just have to go with the flow.
I had struggled with Saint John during the planning process. It seemed like it was harder than many ports to find interesting tours, and there weren’t as many choices of guides/companies as I’m used to. I thought careful planning was important, because we were going to be one of three big ships the day we visited, and I knew space/tours would be at a premium. Nobody seemed to have a vehicle available that would keep us all together, so I finally settled on a 2 van tour with Freedom Tours called Fundy Coast to Fundy Shore. The tour sounded fantastic — lighthouses, covered bridges, sea caves, even waterfalls that reversed directions because of the extreme tidal changes. As you’ll find out, we did see those places, but the pictures in my head, the pictures on the internet, and the actuality of our day weren’t a match. However, I’m getting ahead of myself. Let me back up a little…
We arrived in Saint John early on a beautiful morning. Serenade of the Seas was ahead of us, and she looked beautiful in the early morning light. It was fun to see the Serenade — we had a great cruise on the ship in 2015 and have lots of wonderful memories of the Serenade.
We were off the ship nice and early, because our tour was scheduled to start an hour after the ship arrived. Well, we tried to be off nice and early, but I caused a delay. Right before we entered the terminal I reached for my camera. Oops! My camera was sitting exactly where I left it in my cabin ready to be packed for the day. I went back to get it while Jim waited in the terminal for me and the rest of our group (we were 11 for this tour) walked across the street to the Freedom Tours office. Jim and I finally made it out of the terminal with my forgotten camera.
As soon as we arrived at the Freedom Tours office I knew something had gone awry by the looks on everyone’s faces. I was informed there was a “problem” with our reservation. There was actually more than one problem. The problems weren’t related, but they both negatively impacted our day.
The first problem was there were no vehicles or guides for us. The scheduling personnel had gotten confused, and they thought we were arriving on the Crown Princess later in the day and would be touring at noon.🙄 I’m honestly not sure how they could make such a huge mistake. I had reconfirmed the tour less than two weeks in advance, and everything I had (I save EVERYTHING!😂) said Regal Princess. At any rate, we sat down to wait while they tried to find guides and vehicles for us. I thought this was puzzling, but we were there and committed to the tour, so we waited. While we were sitting there looking at the walls a guide came in and there were some hushed conversations between the guide and management. Are you getting a warm, fuzzy feeling about this? Me either!
After about a 45 minute wait and being told repeatedly our vans were on the way, the guide ushered our whole group along with another tour onto a bus and we headed to the market. Our itinerary called for us to visit the market at the end of the day, so with the change to our itinerary we arrived just as they were starting to open. Many of the vendors didn’t even have their wares out on display yet.
We stayed a very short time, before we were told our vans were there and we should follow the guide to begin our tour. We walked down the street, and piled into TAXIS! At this point, the few positive feelings I had left were rapidly disappearing.
To make a long story short, the Saint John government had reinterpreted/enforced a law about two weeks before our visit. The rule forbids guides from also being drivers unless they have a taxi license. Freedom’s way of handling that was to hire taxis for their customers and put a guide in the vehicle, but unfortunately in our case since we had 11 people, that meant there was only room for one guide between the two vans. One van had no commentary, no explanation, nothing. The drivers were pleasant, but they were admittedly just taxi drivers, not tour guides and weren’t able to share any information about the sights. Our (not inexpensive) tour was really not much more than transportation for large chunks of the day. Here’s a link to an article about the situation: http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/new-brunswick/tour-guides-labelled-taxicabs-by-inspector-1.4348458
To their credit, Freedom did issue a 50% refund, but not until I wrote and complained that we hadn’t gotten what we paid for. I don’t understand why they wouldn’t have been honest with us up front and let us know what the problems were. I felt responsible and was very upset about the way things had turned out, especially since I had encouraged others from our Cruise Critic roll call to join us. The way the situation was handled really left a bad taste in my mouth. It’s not so much the problems as the attempt to pass off our non-tour as an acceptable product and hide the issues. I realize they had to deal with a bad situation not of their creation, but so did all the other guides in Saint John, and somehow they managed to provide what they had been contracted for. I would not consider Freedom Tours again if I ever found myself back in Saint John, and I don’t recommend anyone giving them a chance. They just had too many opportunities to make things right, and instead kept quiet until I sent a rather strongly worded e-mail.
The problems with Freedom tours aside, we had a nice day but not a great one. Given the small size of St. Martins and the limited choices for tours, three big ships was probably two too many, and overcrowding contributed to the issues.
We started with a drive through town followed by a stop at the Reversing Falls. Saint John and the Bay of Fundy are known for their extreme tidal changes, and that causes a phenomenon on the Saint John River where the water flows in at high tide and then rushes back out at low tide.
We stayed about 15 minutes, then began the long drive out to the fishing village of St. Martins. On the way we stopped at what was, to me, the most interesting sight of the day. We visited a tiny, beautiful inlet where we really got a feel for the dramatic tidal changes. Look at the boats and then look at how high the docks are!
I was somewhat disappointed in St. Martins and the whole Bay of Fundy part of our tour. I had a picture in my head (based on Freedom’s description and photos) of the covered bridges and lighthouse, the sea caves, and the quaint restaurant. What we found didn’t quite live up to expectations. A big part of it was the crowds…because of the three ships and our late start, there were people and vehicles (including several big tour buses) everywhere. The lighthouse had been moved inland, so it was actually guarding land! There were very few places to sit at the restaurant because most of the seating was reserved for the big tour groups. It just wasn’t a great experience.
After we left St. Martin we went back to the Reversing Falls so we could see the water flowing in the opposite direction, and then went back to the ship. I think we were all ready for the touring part of the day to end! We were “home” early enough that I was able to get a load of laundry done, sit outside for a wonderful sailaway, and still make myself presentable for formal night #2. We had a great evening in Bellini’s and then a long, leisurely dinner with new friends.
The day wasn’t a total loss. We had great weather. We were together and enjoyed some beautiful scenery. Things don’t always go according to plan, especially when traveling…you just have to make the best of it and hope the next stop/tour is better. I think this carpet from an elevator on the Regal says it all!
Our next and last stop was Halifax, and we were hopeful for better luck with my carefully laid plans and a great day!