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French tourists aboard luxury cruise ship stop in Clayton for a day

Julia Botero
The MS Saint Laurent made its first stop in Clayton on the ship's maiden voyage from Montreal to Toronto.

Clayton welcomed a slew of new visitors last week. A luxury cruise ship on its maiden voyage from Montreal stopped at the town’s docks. The ship was filled with nearly 200 tourists from France, and most on board were seeing the Thousand Islands for the first time.

The MS St. Laurent drifted down the St. Lawrence River and came to rest in Clayton just around 9 on Thursday morning. The ship is an eye-catcher, docked in the center of the village, its royal blue hull contrasting with the colorful row of Adirondack chairs facing the river,  

Milie Anderson and her husband stopped to take pictures.  

“Its beautiful, just beautiful. We stay in Cape Vincent for the summer and when the boats are here we always come up and see 'em. That’s the biggest one I can remember though,” Anderson said.

The St. Laurent is relatively small compared to the size of the ships that cruise through the Caribbean. But it is the biggest to stop in Clayton.

Gene Howard lives in the village year-round and he watches as people emerge from the boat and stand in line to clear customs.

“Look at the people who are getting off. They are going to spend money here. My taxes are going to go way down," Howard said.

As the tourists fill the sidewalks, cameras slung over their shoulders, cars slow down. One guy stops his truck and yells from his window.  

“Where are they from?"

The people are from France. The ship is from Montreal.

"Wonderful. Welcome to Clayton.”

Bertrand Figuier is a travel writer who lives in Paris. He says most of the people on the ship work in the travel industry in France and are in some way connected to the company operating the cruise.

“And they came to visit and taste the first cruise on the St. Laurent,” Figuier said. 

Entering the Thousand Islands this morning, Figuier said, was breathtaking.   

“Extra, great, far out….No really. It was really surprising. I think it will be surprising for all French. They can’t imagine what they can see in this place. The islands, the house, the lights. This morning coming in with the boat. It was just far out. Superb. “

Ingard Fillette  is waiting for lunch at the Clayton hotel.

“We took a little boat to the see the islands. The mille islands. No Thousands Islands. Mille is in French,” Fillette said.

She closes her eyes and nods her head when thinking back on her tour of Boldt Castle.

“Oh, magnifique, magnifique.”

The village of Clayton scrambled to prepare a list of activities for the ship’s passengers. News that the cruise would be stopping here was only made official in April. The ship is scheduled to stop here 10 more times throughout the season. Its a big economic boost to the village that relies on summer tourism to keep it afloat during the long winters.

At the Antique Boat Museum, Margaret Hummel straps on wristbands to a handful of passengers getting off a bus. She says, just like for every business in the village, every extra bit of attention helps. 

 “You know, ten stops and with 140 passengers at every stop thats a lot of visitors who are guaranteed in a season,” said Hummel.

And businesses downtown say the French tourists were shopping in the day and a half the ship was docked. They even paid a visit to the local cheese shop, River Rat Cheese. Fran Voght works behind the counter.

“Most of the people that we got from the cruise ship were interested in the honey. They were all par-le vou-ing Francaise. I was able to use the little that I learned in High school to talk with them. One of the even called me Madame,” Voght said.

Back at the dock, Gene Howard is still there, chatting with people who stop and marvel at the ship.

“The people who live here enjoy it. Whatever comes into this village rubs off on me. It doesn’t put money in my pocket but you know, Clayton will take anything. Help keep Clayton green, bring money. Right?"  Howard said.

The MS St. Laurent’s final stop in Clayton will be October 10. Between then and now over a thousand new visitors will tour the village of Clayton and the Thousand Islands.