Great Lakes Cruises That Will Inspire You To Explore North America
Five inland lakes make up the Great Lakes in North America, and one of the best ways to explore them is by signing up for Great Lakes Cruises. The lakes include Lake Superior, Michigan, Erie, Huron, and Ontario. They stretch across eight U.S. states and the Canadian province of Ontario, spanning over 745 miles. Together they supply an astonishing 20% of the freshwater of Earth, apart from providing a host of other uses like transportation and recreation.
The Great Lakes are truly beautiful and majestic. When considered as one vast body of water, the surface of the Great Lakes accounts for the largest body of fresh water on Earth. And cruises on the Great Lakes have extraordinary routes and stops on their journey.
What better way to explore the iconic cities, sites, and passageways of these legendary waters than with a scenic cruise? A thrilling expedition will not only uncover some enticing destinations along the five historic lakes but will aptly showcase the breathtaking splendors of its coastline and its spectacular wildlife.
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When To Book A Great Lakes Cruise
The best time to book a Great Lakes cruise is right when a cruise line first opens bookings on that sailing, often more than a year in advance. Youll have your pick of itineraries and cabins and often the best fares.
Because the Great Lakes has such a short season with a limited number of ships, sailings in the region are often in high demand and people plan early. Newcomer Viking, notably, has told TPG it has seen brisker sales this year for its Great Lakes trips than sailings to Antarctica one of the world’s ultimate bucket list destinations.
If you wait to book, youre not entirely out of luck. Cruise lines often run sales in the fall or in the early months of the year . You can take advantage of discounted fares and other perks. Some of the most desirable cabins might be sold out being flexible about your sail date or itinerary can help.
In general, waiting until the last minute is not the best idea, unless you live in a gateway city such as Chicago, Milwaukee or Toronto and dont need to book flights. While some less preferred sail dates or cabin categories may have availability a few months out, spurring cruise lines to drop rates, you might have trouble finding affordable airfare and pre- or post-cruise hotel accommodations that do not eat up your cruise savings.
Great Lakes Cruise Tips
Prepare for lots of “sea” days. The long distances covered mean lots of time spent cruising. Bring a book or deck of cards. If you bring your laptop or iPad, be prepared for long periods without connections. Wi-Fi, when it’s available, is usually slow. Cell phone service generally works well, but be aware of your location — U.S. vs. Canada — and roaming fees.
Beware of engine noise. Long distances between ports also mean cruising at night. Choose you cabin carefully if engine noise keeps you awake. On small ships, forward cabins tend to be quieter.
Pack smart. What should you pack? Passports are required as you’ll be entering Canada. Flip-flops or sandals come in handy for the Niagara Falls boat tour. Yes, you can get seasick on the lakes. Bring your patches or pills in case of rough water.
Consider a pre- or post-cruise stay. Most Great Lakes cruises travel one way. Think about spending time before or after your cruise in Chicago, Toronto or Montreal. You won’t have time to visit these great cities if you don’t book some hotel time. Check with your cruise line for package deals.
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Best Great Lakes Cruise Lines
Most of the world’s biggest cruise lines including Royal Caribbean, Norwegian Cruise Line and Carnival Cruise Line can’t operate in the Great Lakes because their ships are too big to enter the region through the St. Lawrence Seaway. This has turned the Great Lakes into an exclusive zone for a handful of smaller cruise operators that focus on very small vessels.
The three main players in Great Lakes cruising are Viking , Pearl Seas Cruises and America Queen Voyages. The first two lines each have one vessel devoted to the region . The latter line has two Great Lakes vessels: Ocean Navigator and Ocean Voyager.
All three of these lines cater to a generally older crowd, which is the main market for Great Lakes cruises. Viking’s itineraries have the most outdoorsy options mixed into its itineraries. Pearl Seas Cruises offers trips with a lot of small-town stops. American Queen Voyages weaves in more bigger city stops.
Two more lines that occasionally operate sailings in the region are German line Hapag-Lloyd Cruises and France-based Ponant. Tour organizer Smithsonian Journeys also occasionally offers Great Lakes sailings using chartered Ponant vessels.
All of the above lines operate ships in the Great Lakes that carry fewer than 400 passengers. Some carry as few as 202 passengers. In general, the vessels are intimate and relatively high-end, with pricing to match.
Its Time To Consider This Close
If you’re thinking about cruising for your next vacation, you’re probably considering the Caribbean, the Mediterranean, or maybe even a European river cruise. But have you ever thought about sticking a little closer to home and sailing the Great Lakes?
A new itinerary by Smithsonian Journeys and luxury cruise line Ponant will bring guests on a tour of the Great Lakes which are far more like inland seas than actual lakes.
The adventure begins in Toronto on Lake Ontario and starts out with the Great Lakes’ most famous attraction: Niagara Falls. Then, it sails across Lake Erie toward Detroit, and continues on to Lake Huron, where guests can explore the Thirty Thousand Islands, the world’s largest freshwater archipelago. A further port of call is Manitoulin Island, the world’s largest freshwater island, where programming includes in-depth cultural experiences with the Ojibwe people.
Then, it’s off to Sault Ste. Marie, where you can sail the Soo Locks to quickly venture up to Lake Superior before returning to the Ponant ship on Lake Huron. Up next on Lake Huron is Mackinac Island, a carless island home to the historic Fort Mackinac, the elegant Victorian-era Grand Hotel, and more than 70 miles of biking, hiking, and horseback riding trails. And finally, guests disembark in Milwaukee.
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Best Great Lakes Cruise Ports
The best Great Lakes cruise ports include the handful of relatively big cities in the region, such as Chicago, that are loaded with cultural sites, nightspots and restaurants, as well as charming small towns such as Holland, Michigan. Great Lakes cruises also bring days that are all about getting up close to wonders both natural and human-made from towering Niagara Falls to the engineering marvel that is the Welland Canal.
Best Great Lakes Itineraries
A relatively small number of ships sail in the Great Lakes during any given year. But, even so, they offer a wide range of Great Lakes itineraries. Some of the ships that operate in the region will alternate between three or even four different routes during the short summer season, giving you lots of choices.
Lengthwise, you’ll find Great Lakes voyages ranging from seven to 15 nights. Some of the sailings travel across all five of the Great Lakes. Others focus on just three or four of the interconnected bodies of water. Some of the ships also offer sailings that combine travel on one or more of the Great Lakes with a passage through the St. Lawrence Seaway. In some cases, these latter trips include travel all the way to Montreal.
The diversity in Great Lakes itineraries extends to their start and end points. A large percentage of all Great Lakes cruises begin or end in Chicago, Milwaukee or Toronto. But there also are Great Lakes sailings that begin or end in Thunder Bay, Ontario Duluth, Minnesota Montreal and Detroit.
In most cases, Great Lakes sailings are one-way trips. You’ll start in, say, Toronto, and work your way west to Chicago or vice versa. But one line, American Queen Voyages, offers round-trip sailings from Chicago, in addition to multiple one-way itineraries. American Queen Voyages is, notably, the only cruise line that currently has the authority to begin and end voyages in downtown Chicago, with its ships operating from the city’s Navy Pier.
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Highlights Of The Great Lakes & Canada Cruises
Americas Great Lakes are a little-known, unspoiled wonderland, boasting diverse natural beauty, scenic wildlife and some of the most interesting cities in North America. Over 750 miles across with 10,000 miles of coastline, the Great Lakes cover an area twice as large as Pennsylvania. Glide silently by kayak past otters in Georgian Bay, hear the roar of Niagara Falls, hike through verdant old forests or visit Canadas prominent museums to marvel at art inspired by these shores. Here are some highlights you may experience during your journey:
- Explore the largest freshwater ecosystem on earththe Great Lakes
- Watch for wildlife, from bald eagles to moose, bears and beavers
- Hike through stunning forests in this pristine environment
- Learn about Canadas colonial past and the St. Lawrence River
- Kayak in stunning Georgian Baya UNESCO Biosphere Reserve
- View the world-class collection of the Milwaukee Art Museum
- Explore tranquil, scenic Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore
- Transit engineering marvels like the Welland Canal and Soo Locks
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What Each Great Lake Has To Offer
Each Great Lake has its own strength that may impact your choice of which one to visit. Overall, however, keep in mind that most cruises offer shore excursions.
The Great Lakes are truly incredible. They serve as much more than simply bodies of water, providing millions of people with water to drink and nature to explore.
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Great Lakes Cruises 2022
Cruise the Great LakesThough many 2022 Great Lakes sailings are nearly sold out, open spots still remain. If there’s a fully-booked cruise you simply can’t miss, our experts are happy to help you get on the waitlist. Or, if time isn’t an issue, be sure to take a look at our 2023 Great Lakes cruises — they’re already selling fast!ENGAGE A GREAT LAKES EXPERTSAVE ON YOUR NEXT ADVENTURE!Book the 2022 Splendor of the Great Lakes cruise by May 31, 2022 to save on May 11, July 4, & July 29 sailings
Day : Detroit Michigan
Experience the resilient culture of Detroit, nicknamed Motor City because it is considered the automobile capital of the world, which sits on the border with the US and Canada. Celebrate 20th-century American ingenuity during a visit to The Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation and tour the centuries-spanning collection of works at the renowned Detroit Institute of Arts museum. Learn about the citys maritime heritage or discover Detroits role in the Underground Railroad.
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Cross The Welland Canal And The Port Colborne Lock
Less well-known than Panama, Suez and Corinth Canals, the Welland Canal is no less than a jewel of engineering. 42-km long and punctuated by eight locks, it links Lake Ontario and Lake Erie. Sailing down this canal takes an even more impressive turn at Port Colborne where there is one of the longest locks in the world at 420 metres.
Great Lakes Cruise Lines
Three companies cruise the Great Lakes from late May through October. Victory Cruise Lines is the newest entry with the 202-passenger Victory I and Victory II offering nine- and 10-night itineraries leaving from Chicago, Detroit, Toronto or Montreal. Pearl Seas Cruises operates the 210-passenger Pearl Mist on seven- or 11-night cruises between Milwaukee and Toronto. Blount Small Ship Adventures’ 83-passenger Grande Mariner and 84-passenger Grande Caribe sail a variety of Great Lakes itineraries, including seven-night round trips from Chicago, 13 nights between Chicago and Montreal, and a 15-night trip between Chicago and New York.
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Why Is The Price Of Great Lakes Cruises So Expensive
We can’t tell you exactly why the cruises on the Great Lakes usually cost a bit more than say a Danube River cruise, which you’d have to travel to Europe for yet could still cost less than a Great Lakes Cruise.
But a few contributing factors may be the following:
- Ships that are flagged as United States ships have a higher cost to build them in the United States and staff them with American crew, which costs a bit more than European crew members abroad.
- There’s less competition in the United States, with less cruise lines sailing North American waters . Less supply but solid demand and interest drives the cost up.
- Tours and excursions in the United States and Canada may cost more and that cost is charged back to the guests, within the price of the cruise.
As with any cruise, you have to investigate what you’re getting for the cost. You may get sticker shock from an $8,000 cruise but then realize it’s 12 days. The more days, the more the price increases. Compare that with $4,600 for a 7-day river cruise, for example, and you realize it’s a similar per-day investment.
Top At Flowerpot Island Canada
Among the 30,000 islands making up Georgian Bay, Flowerpot Island is certainly one of the most extraordinary. It is part of the Fathom Five National Marine Park. The island gets its name and its reputation from two rock formations in the shape of a flower pot that stand over the crystal clear waters. However, people come here more for hiking trails leading to the lighthouse, allowing them to discover rare flora, and for swimming. The water is cold, the bed rocky and steep.
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Experiencing The Thunder Of Niagara Falls On The Us
North America’s most powerful waterfall and one of its most famous and often-visited natural treasures Niagara Falls actually comprises three distinctive waterfalls on the Niagara River, perched on the border of Ontario, Canada and New York. Every minute, some six million cubic feet of water plunges over the crests of the Horseshoe, American and Bridal Veil Falls and tumbles down nearly 200 feet into the rocky gorge below into a thundering cauldron of water and mist. Experiencing the raw power of Niagara Falls firsthand is something you’ll never forget… and just what you’ll do as you first view the falls from a panoramic spot high above… then don a hooded raincoat and board a private boat for an up-close and very wet encounter with this iconic “wonder of the natural world.”Journey to Niagara Falls today, three distinctive waterfalls perched on the border of Ontario, Canada and New York. View the falls from high above as the water plunges, thenas you board the Maid of the Mist for
Day : Mackinac Island Michigan
Enjoy an exciting day on idyllic Mackinac Island, located in the Straits of Mackinac, which link Lake Huron and Lake Michigan. This charming island is well known as a haven for pedestrians and bicyclists motor vehicles are banned here, and the only way to access the island is by boat. Take a sightseeing excursion by horse-drawn carriage to important historical sites. Or, choose to dine at the elegant Grand Hotel, a Victorian-era building with the worlds longest front porch. Alternatively, explore the forested shores of Mackinac Island by kayak.
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Sailing America’s Inland Oceans
Great Lakes Cruise Company defines luxury adventure with enticing destinations, stunning scenery, and exquisitely designed maritime experiences. Aboard the fleet of ships you can expect personalized service, enriching activities, fine dining and a once-in-a-lifetime adventure. You will be immersed in the beauty of the Great Lakes, and experience the magic of the hand-picked destinations. From historic charm of Mackinac Island to breathtaking shorelines and French Canadian villages, you are sure to soak in every ounce of the fascinating local cultures and spectacular wildlife.
With many itineraries, you will find a cruise that will provide a life-changing experience. As the only travel company in the world to specialize in Great Lakes cruises, we offer unforgettable adventures on these legendary waters. Our team of experts is ready to plan your trip at a pace that suits your taste and needs.
Why Cruise The Great Lakes
The Great Lakes region may not be a bucket list destination on the scale of Alaska or Antarctica. But it has a lot to offer more than many people may realize.
Along the banks of the five lakes that are at the core of the region Lake Erie, Lake Ontario, Lake Huron, Lake Michigan and Lake Superior you’ll find some of Middle America’s greatest cities, charming small towns, historic sites and wonders both natural and human-made. Plus, there are the lakes themselves, which together are roughly the size of the U.K. and make up the largest freshwater ecosystem on the planet. Accounting for 21% of all the world’s fresh water, they truly are a marvel.
All this can be seen via an overland trip, of course, and many people explore the Great Lakes region by car or on motorcoach tours. But the region is so sprawling the Great Lakes touch eight U.S. states and the Canadian province of Ontario that logistically it’s almost impossible to experience the area in a broad way on a single trip without going by ship.
On a single Great Lakes cruise, you can see the world-class architecture and museums of Chicago, take a carriage ride through the carless streets of Mackinac Island, Michigan, and gaze upon the splendor that is Niagara Falls along the New York border all without having to get behind the wheel of a car or unpacking and re-packing your suitcase more than once.
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