Sunday, September 25, 2011

Empress Cruise in Toronto

'Long live the fun!' Sweet. It was a beautiful day to be on the water boating around Toronto Harbour in the Empress of Canada cruise ship. We went with friends and it was very enjoyable, great views, food was nice and if you wanted to dance you can go to the top of the ship and boogie. I was taking pictures with my cell phone so it doesn't do justice to the great view of the skyline and the lights reflected on the water.
The view of Toronto's skyline from Polson Street as the sun sets.

The dock is at 11 Polson Street (head down Cherry Street and turn right onto Polson Street and go right to the end) and the parking lot is right there. I was worried about getting a spot because of the Cirque Du Soleil's Totem at Cherry Street and the Polson Pier concert but they had plenty of space available.
The Empress bow looking towards the City.

You have to book ahead because it is a popular attraction and we decided on the Saturday, September 24, 2011 8:00pm trip. The cruise lets passengers on board at 8pm and you line up early to get a seat because not everyone was guaranteed a seat (on our cruise everyone that wanted seats got one), it was first come first served for tables, dinner and desert. Looking online I thought that the earlier you got in line you would receive coloured tickets that would determine the order that you ate - not true. It was also not supposed to be a dinner cruise, rather it would be an appetizer buffet. So this is what really happened (FAQs and information follows based on my experience, check with Empress if you want confirmation or additional details) for our cruise.
1. Drive to the Polson Street parking lot at the end of the street and pay your parking fee (ours was $20).
2. Get there early to make sure you get a table. We were at least a half hour early and we were in the middle of the pack. The lineup starts at the gangplank in the far northwest corner of the parking lot, right beside the helicopter landing pad.
3. They grab your coupons and/or tickets and tell you that your tickets for dinner and drinks will be provided as you are going into the ship.
4. Save a table, seating is tight and tables are on the first and second floor - the dance floor is up top on the third floor.
5. Once you save a table head to the dinner line where you present your dinner coupon and the put together the plate right there with your food. We had chicken, pasta, salad and a roll and everyone in our party liked dinner. It is first come, first served and I think they had two stations, one on the first and one on the second floor. They have bars on all three levels, the one on the first floor closes soon after dinner is over as everyone seems to head up to the next two floors - especially to the dance floor.
6. Your cruise ticket comes with two beverage tickets - beer, wine and mixed drinks are one ticket, non-alcoholic drinks are half a ticket. Fancy coffees and liqueurs were $7 each.
7. Later, after dinner has been put away, they bring out a desert table on the second floor. You can get one of  such tasty offerings as brownies, nanaimo bars, etc along with coffee.
8. You could smoke on the open bow of the boat after it leaves the dock.
9. The ship cruises along the inner harbour heading west from the dock passing by ferry docks, Rogers Centre, Harbourfront, Ontario Place and the Island Airport before heading out of the harbour and into Lake Ontario. You circle around the south side of the Toronto Islands before coming back into the harbour from the Cherry Beach side. Total time from loading to returning is about 3.5 hours. The view from the water is great so bring your camera to get some great shots.
10. Their season runs from April 1st to December 31st and you can contact them at (416) 260-5665.
11. We got our tickets through a tenant/community appreciation event. We spent about $40 for the 'city lights cruisess' coupon book which included 8 tickets to the cruise. You had to pay a $14 departure fee, two drink minimum ahead of time, fuel surcharges and taxes so each person cost just under $40. At this price it is very affordable and reasonable to take a cruise and enjoy the dinner and dancing.

See more pictures after the jump.

Some friendly strangers having fun on the dance floor.
Ann and Lori on the trip to Polson Street.
Ann and James arrive at the Empress.

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