When The Cat, a 320-foot, high-speed catamaran, abandoned its route from Portland to Yarmouth, Nova Scotia in 2009, New Englanders stopped seeing Canada's most scenic peninsula as a long-weekend getaway. The winding, 11-hour drive from Boston was both the only option and too much trouble. That is set to change on May 15, when the MV Nova Star is due to make its first run north. The new ferry service, which offers luxury cabins, room for cars, onboard shows, and gambling, will make the 10-hour run nightly, returning the next day and creating an easy passage to the Maritime Provinces.
"I've made the ride up to Nova Scotia from Maine 30 or 40 times and, let me tell you, I'll be taking the boat," says Mark Amundsen, President of Nova Star Cruises. "Based on the data we've seen, a third of people will use the ship for 23-hour mini cruises while the rest take longer trips."
Amundsen knows that convenience is a big selling point for the new service, but he would rather talk about the boat, which he found in drydock in Singapore, where it had been built for a different, abandoned project. The boat is kitted out with all manner of amenities and catalytic converters designed to reduce emissions, but it is its size that makes it (quite literally) uniquely suited to the task at hand. At 528 feet long, the boat comes in a hair under the maximum length allowed in Yarmouth's narrow harbor. According to Amundsen, that meant that only six boats on Earth fit the requirements set out by the Canadian government, which is subsidizing the route, in 2012. Five of those feasible boats were already in use.
The boat made the 10,000-mile trip from Singapore earlier this year and will be christened in Boston on May 12 – a major event designed to attract cruisers from the region's largest city. In the meantime, the Coast Guard is inspecting the ship and FleetPro Ship Management, which is responsible for the technical and hotel management sides of the business, is spitshining the vessel.
"We hope we give people a chance to explore," says Amundsen. "And Canada needs the tourists to come back."
More information: The Nova Star leaves nightly at 9 PM. Cabins begin at $89 and go up to $219 for Deluxe Ocean View suites. Prices will be slightly higher in summer than during the rest of the year. Transporting a compact car will cost roughly $170.