Wine consultant Bill Foster holds up a glass of delicately blushed rosé and says, “This is a summer time wine from Nova Scotia, but there’s an unusual array of grape varieties grown to withstand the cold climate.” He explains that the pinkish tannins in this 2012 Luckett Rosetta comes from the red skins of the Marechal Joffre grape.
Foster’s wine tasting is taking place in the middle of the Bay of Fundy, half way between Yarmouth, Nova Scotia and Portland, Maine aboard the Nova Star cruise ferry. Cruise is the operative word because this ten-hour crossing aboard the new 161 metre ship with a capacity of 1200 passengers and over 300 cars isn’t just about getting from A to B. With three restaurants, three bars (four, if you count the outdoor seasonal bar on the lido deck), live entertainment, a fitness centre, spa, duty-free shop and children’s play area, as well as a sizeable casino, the trip is as much about the passenger experience as it is about the destination.
As the wine flows and Foster’s interpretations continue, the bashful audience grows bolder, offering opinions on their first tastes of Nova Scotia wines. Many seem pleasantly surprised by the Rosetta. When Foster calls out, “Strawberry, yes. Definitely cherry. What do you think?” Someone says, “I taste guava.” Foster asks if anyone is from Canada. Mine is the only hand in the air.
I glance outside to see that the earlier rain has long since passed and the fog dissipated – the view is now to the horizon in every direction. Wave-skimming gannets glide by. The sunshine that’s recently parted the clouds strikes the birds’ white plumage. A small flock of storm petrels lifts from the waves and soars easily in the stiff breeze. Still, there’s little sea to worry a ship this size. Perfect conditions to enjoy this on-board introduction to some great wines, to learn more about nose and palate, and to take advantage of one of the great benefits of travelling by cruise ferry.
A Tour of the Ship
According to Jordan Killkelley, on-board Guest Experience Coordinator who escorts me on a tour of the Nova Star, passengers often sit at the grand piano in the Keys Lounge at the stern of the ship and play to the delight of the gathered crowds. The view from here is through a glass wall of the ship’s wake and the receding landscape of the departure port. In many of the seating areas, the windows are large so a view is guaranteed almost anywhere.
Killkelley arranges Foster’s wine samplings, as well as karaoke and the chef’s food tastings on the lido deck. She’s hosted business meetings and presentations, a family reunion and even a bachelor party, though she’s still waiting for her first wedding and reception. “It’s just the first year,” she says hopefully.
Full disclosure, Nova Star provided my wife and I with complimentary room and meals for this crossing to Portland where I’ll be researching a magazine article. Comped or not, I can honestly say that the experience was far more enjoyable than I’d anticipated. From the car decks to the public showers, the ship is squeaky clean and shiny new. It’s also easy to find my way around.
Some ferries seem designed for passengers who might like nothing better than a challenging maze. Aboard the Nova Star, most of the cabins are on the 8th floor while almost everything else is on the 7th. “It’s all on a circuit,” says Killkelley. I notice several people with canes and walkers, making their way around the circuit, sometimes with a crew member in tow carrying a tray of food. Roomy elevators make it easy to get from car to cabin and back again.
Both of us got a thrill when we stepped into our cabin with twin beds on either side of a huge porthole window, the entire room in gleaming white. Drop-down bunk beds are folded into the wall, so a family would find a sea voyage in a room like this quite an adventure.
For me, the room was a portal to the cross-Canada train trips of my childhood when my parents travelled the width of the nation for work. I remember roaming the cars, talking to people and eating in the dining car. In this age of knees-to-nose airline seats and small ransoms demanded for checked baggage, it’s nice to know there’s still a comfortable, leisurely alternative.
In Nova Scotia, the debate about whether or not the Nova Star is the right ship for the job continues after sold out crossings failed to materialize in its first year and costs continue to rise. Only three dozen cars and under 200 passengers are on board this end-of-season Sunday crossing in October, 2014. Anyone who was hoping for a bare bones, inexpensive link between New England and Nova Scotia will be disappointed. But there are arguments in favour of this ship on this route.
The crossing at 21 knots cruising speed is ten hours long, through the day to Portland and overnight to Yarmouth. The daytime crossing is a mini-cruise experience. During the night time crossing, most passengers sleep and do so in comfort. But for those who want to indulge, the musicians play late and the casino is always open. If a cruise crossing is as enjoyable or as restful as the brief holiday at the other end, then it’s worth it. The savings in gas, driver fatigue and hotel should be calculated into the equation when considering a trip to or from Nova Scotia. And you can’t attend a wine tasting in a car.
Well into the crossing, we pass another ship, and I hear one passenger call to another, “Hey, look at the other cruise ship.” To this person at least, the Nova Star is more than a ferry that links Maine and Nova Scotia. It’s a luxury, an experience, part of the thrill of travel. The difference is that cruise ships are essentially floating resorts, an end in themselves. The Nova Star is that rare combination of necessary travel made experiential.
Dinners and Picture of Nova Star – courtesy of Nova Star
All other photos by Darcy Rhyno – All Rights Reserved