Ahoy! Have you heard the rumours about European-style canal cruising coming to Canada? Turns out they’re true. We reached out to Lisa McLean, marketing manager with Le Boat for North and South America, to learn more about the news. Here’s what Mclean had to say about her employer establishing itself, with 20 luxury cruisers in its wake, on one of our country’s most famous waterways. — T&C
Q: First of all, can you give us a snapshot of Le Boat as a company?
A: We have a 50-year history as cruise specialists going back to English entrepreneur Michael Streat, who started in 1969 with eight boats on the canals of France. Today, we have a fleet of 940 yacht-style houseboats in nine countries (France, Ireland, Scotland, UK, The Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, Italy and Canada.) The vessels come in different models, so you can easily choose a boat that fits your group size, budget and travel style.
Q: We’re not talking about your average Canadian houseboats here, are we?
A: Hah, you’re right! In Canada, when most people imagine houseboats they think of cramped quarters, bunk beds, ’70s-style shag rug and one shared bathroom. Le Boat offers a higher-end vessel with all of the amenities — a fully appointed kitchen, barbecue, living space, private bedrooms with en-suite bathrooms, linens, towels and electrical outlets (for blower dryers, shavers and curling or flat irons). The new Horizon models also come equipped with USB ports. Our vessels may be stylish but they aren’t speed boats. They’re cruisers, regulated to match the speed limits of canal and inland waterways, so a maximum speed of eight to 10 kilometres per hour.
Q: Where and when did you formally launch in Canada?
A: Le Boat invested $16 million to bring our operation to Canada. Our North American headquarters is now based in Smiths Falls, Ont., an hour’s drive from Ottawa and located along the Rideau Canal. Boaters can voyage anywhere between Kingston and Ottawa on the 202-kilometre-long canal which, given its historical importance, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Our season runs from the beginning of Victoria Day long weekend (May 15 in 2020) to the end of Thanksgiving (October 12 in 2020). We launched our first vessels in May of 2018 and we just wrapped up our second season in Canadian waters.
Q: This is Le Boat’s first presence in the North American market. How did Canada’s Rideau Canal make the cut?
A: The canal is administered by Parks Canada so, from an operational perspective, Le Boat has one point of contact, which is ideal. Sometimes in Europe we’re dealing with a range of canals or waterways, owned by different municipalities or property owners, which can make things a little more complicated. On the Rideau Canal, all locks are operated during the season by Parks Canada staff who are knowledgeable ambassadors for the waterway. Parks staff are also helpful when it comes to directing boaters with cruising tips and travel advice.
Q: Describe the cruising experience on the Rideau Canal.
A: When most Canadians think of the Rideau Canal, they think of winter and the “World’s Longest Skating Rink” in Ottawa. But the canal through spring, summer and fall is unbelievably beautiful. It’s the oldest continuously operated canal system in North America, one of the greatest engineering feats of the 19th century. When you travel along this waterway, you can take in spectacular nature, little historic towns and even, in the case of Kingston and Ottawa, lively cities if you want.
You wake up with mist on the water, loons calling and Canada geese flying overhead. You go to bed beneath clear, starry skies and the sound of bull frogs. You cruise through large and small lakes and through conservation areas reminiscent of Canadian shield country. Sometimes the landscape feels like Georgian Bay, Algonquin Park or the Thousand Islands region, full of private islands and family cottages. You can stop in small hamlets and buy a butter tart from a local bakery, or cruise into downtown Ottawa with the Parliament Buildings on the horizon. It’s pure Canadiana.
Q: What are the benefits of canal cruising with Le Boat?
A: Like Europe’s canals, Canada’s Rideau Canal passes through picturesque little towns where you can stop and explore. You can visit farmers’ markets, music festivals, restaurants, craft breweries and wineries along the way. You can even go fishing, kayaking or hiking. We help travellers create personalized itineraries, depending on their interests. Renting our boats means experiencing these places in a comfortable and luxurious way. The boat is your home away from home and you’ve got all of the amenities of a cottage rental or condo. In Europe, we sometimes refer to our boats as “floating villas.” You can, if you choose, wake up somewhere different every day and, as we like to say, you’ve always got a waterfront view.
Q: Who are your target customers?
A: In Canada, we have a fleet of 20 premier Horizon Cruise boats, with five different models that sleep one to 12 people. Our customers include couples looking to relax and enjoy the romance and ease of canal cruising, and groups of friends wanting to explore a region from the perspective of its waterway as opposed to the highway.
We’re also popular with active families. We offer customers the option to rent bikes, kayaks and stand-up paddle boards along with their boat. The Horizon 5 model, with five bedrooms and five en-suite bathrooms, is perfect for large family groups. Another bonus: we’re pet friendly, so you can bring Fido along, too.
Q: You say that if you can drive a car, you can drive a Le Boat. Really?
A: All of our boats are easy to handle. You don’t need any previous boating experience or a boat license to operate them. Again, they only go eight to 10 kilometres per hour. They’re designed to be easy to use, with bumper pads all around them and simple controls. A steering wheel for left and right. A forward and reverse throttle. Bow and stern thrusters.
Before departure, our base teams teach you everything you need to know. Lots of our new customers have never driven a boat before, but they quickly learn and become confident navigating the waterways. Keep in mind we have 50 years of experience teaching non-boaters and boaters how to use our boats.
If mooring a boat worries you, know that a single button operates the bow and stern thrusters so you can easily align yourself next to a “parking spot,” push a button and move sideways into the space. No worries about parallel parking here! To be honest, I don’t know how to paddle a canoe, but I can sure drive a Le Boat Horizon Cruiser.
Publisher’s note: This post was powered by Le Boat. For more information about luxury houseboat cruising on Canada’s Rideau Canal and beyond, contact Le Boat at 1-844-398-6164 or visit their website here.