Ten Reasons why the Great Lakes make a
Great Cruise Destination
With all they have to offer, it is easy to see why the interest in Great Lakes Cruises is exploding.
Some of the most impressive vistas of the North American midcontinent can be found along the shores of the Great Lakes. The power of the glaciers are evident in the rocky outcroppings of eastern Lake Superior. Six hundred-foot sand dunes on the east shore of Lake Michigan are a geologic wonder in themselves.
In the autumn, the most popular cruising season on the Lakes, the cast northern forest comes ablaze with fiery colors, made even more vibrant in contrast with the deep blue color of the Lakes and the northern skies. Many Great Lakes cruise ships are small enough to explore hidden coves and narrow channels, allowing a fascinating view of the native flora and fauna.
Many small ports of the Upper Lakes have the quaintness of New England fishing villages. The brilliant white portico of Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island becomes visible from miles away.
The urban scenery of the Great Lakes is as impressive as their natural areas. The skylines of Chicago and Toronto are dazzling, particularly at night. Sailing into the Duluth/Superior harbor affords a fascinating view of the city of Duluth arrayed on a steep bluff overlooking the waterfront. Milwaukee, Cleveland, Erie and Windsor have all invested heavily the past decade in the redesign of their lakefronts.
But for shear spectacle, there is nothing in the world like a Great Lakes sunset and no place better to experience one than from the comfortable deck of a cruise ship.
At a time when security weights a bit more prominently on everyone's minds, the Great Lakes offer a safe domestic alternative to the global traveler.
While on the Lakes, a cruise ship is always in either U.S. or Canadian waters, and thus under the constant jurisdiction of the U.S. and Canadian Coast Guards. There is no need for a passport of other documentation typically needed for overseas travel.
Cruise ships on the Lakes are almost always in sight of land and always within hours or minutes of safe harbors. First class medical care is accessible at all times.
On board Great Lakes cruise ships, crews are consummate professionals highly trained to provide four-star service. Since cruise ships in the Lakes are relatively small, crews can get to know their passengers and cheerfully attend to any special needs.
On shore, many Great Lakes port-of-call greet each cruise ship call with a public welcome. It is not unusual for a cruise ship to be met by a brass band, flags and banners waving, and even the mayor. If you're calling in Manistee, Michigan you'll be welcomed by a crowd of local residents in historic Victorian dress and in Holland, Michigan a troupe of wooden shoe dancers.
One comment feature of almost all Great Lakes cruises currently available is enrichment programming. Market research has shown that passengers interested in cruising the Great Lakes have a strong desire to learn more about the region and its uniqueness.
The cruise operators have placed on board experts and academicians from a wide array of disciplines to give lecture presentations and provide commentary on sights seen along the cruise routes. Presenters have included former astronauts who viewed the Lakes from space and undersea explorers actually lecturing as robotic submarines transmit video images of shipwrecks below in real time.
Presentation topics have included Great Lakes ecology, including fishery issues, water quality, ornithology and human impacts; Great Lakes lighthouses, hundreds of which dot the coastlines of the Lakes; and the colorful maritime history of Great Lakes with its famous shipwrecks and storms.
For most cruise companies around the world, bigger has been perceived to be better. Cruise ships in some of the major markets are now being built to carry between 2,000 and 3,000 passengers. In the Great Lakes, however, the largest cruise ship has a capacity of 400 and most of the others are in the range of 100 or less.
This allows for more personalized service of board, a quieter, more peaceful cruise experience, and the opportunity to meet fellow passengers and not get lost in a crowd.
For veteran travelers and people who have taken cruises around the world, the Great Lakes represent a new destination, on that has remained virtually unknown in the modern era until recent years.
The Great Lakes cruise ship trade is experiencing an amazing revival, thanks to new investments by ship operators, new investments by ports, a good dose of entrepreneurial spirit, and a new interest in the Lakes from within the region, across North American and even in overseas markets.
Whereas there were only about 300 cruise berths sold annually on the Great Lakes as recently as 1995, there were 10,000 sold in 2001. When the German-built ship C. Columbus came up the seaway in 1997 on her maiden voyage, it marked the first time in two decades that a full-scale passenger liner, either domestic or foreign, had operated in the Great Lakes.
And this is a waterway system that at one point boasted literally hundreds of cruise ships. During the peak of marine travel in the Great Lakes, Chicago alone saw two million vessel passengers a year. The most frequently cited quote in describing the height of the industry was by marine historian Harry J. Wolf who said, "At one time, there were more people asleep on boats in the Great Lakes than on any ocean in the world."
Before 1997, the last overseas-flag passenger ships to call in the Lakes were Stella Maris in 1974 and World Discover in 1975. In 2002 some seven vessels will offer a total of over 70 cruises on the Lakes.
There is no more centrally located cruise destination in North America. Within the Great Lakes basin itself is a resident population of 30 million people, but the region is also only a couple hours plane ride from the East Coast, the West Coast and the Gulf. The region is served by international airports in all its major markets.
Nowhere is the rich history of the Great Lakes region more visible than on the Lakes themselves and in their port communities. Cruise passengers travel on routes first taken by Native Americans and later by European fur traders, missionaries, military flotillas and explorers. In the northern reaches of the Lakes, many of these routes remain undeveloped and appear just as they did to the "voyageurs" centuries agao.
Some of these vestiges of those eras remain such as historic forts on Mackinac Island and at Thunder Bay dating back to the Frend and Indian Wars. Many Great Lakes ports were established during the great Lumber Boom era of the late 1800s and early 1900s and have entire districts of ornately restored Victorian Mansions and public buildings built by the lumber barons.
Almost every major Great Lakes port has a marine museum chronicling the great ships that have sailed on the Lakes over the years, from the barques and schooners in the ages of sail to the mighty bulk carriers of today, some over 1,000 (I think we are missing the end of this sentence)
On the map, the Great Lakes are bisected north and south by the 45th parallel. By definition, this is an imaginary line, but it is actually a fairly good demarcation of the Lakes' unique split personality.
Above the 45th parallel are the resources, and below it the consumers. Above the 45th are the great spans of forests producing lumber and paper products, and the iron ore mines feeding North America's largest concentration of steelmakers. Below the 45th are those steelmakers, along with the rest of the Great Lakes basin's manufacturing might, and over 90 percent of the region's population.
This diversity makes a cruise on the Great Lakes a fascinating journey that might combine the eclectic, multicultural urbanism of such great cities as Chicago, Detroit, Toronto, Cleveland, Toledo and Milwaukee with the unblemished wilds of Georgian Bay or the boreal forest of Lake Superior's north shore.
People who have never seen the Great Lakes are typically amazed at the scale of this singular natural resource.
From a geographic perspective alone, the Great Lakes/Seaway system is unique in the world. The Great Lakes over 95,170 square miles of water surface, about 61,000 in the U.S. and 34,000 in Canada, and define a 10,000-mile coastline, which is longer than the entire U.S. Atlantic seaboard.
Free of lunar tide and with only light surface currents, they have offered a friendly environment for navigation and maritime commerce for centuries.
In 1959, fulfilling a dream dating back to the 1700s, the Lakes were linked to the Atlantic Ocean by a deep-draft channel and series of locks in the St. Lawrence River that comprised the St. Lawrence Seaway. It was a development that coincided with - and contributed to - the emergence of the North American heartland as the world's preeminent center of agricultural production and industrial might.
The Great Lakes/St. Lawrence corridor is unique for the scale and sophistication of its market, and the extensive integration of its economy. The eight Great Lakes states, and the provinces of Ontario and Quebec are home to almost 100 million people, a third of the combined U.S.-Canadian population.
David L. Knight
Great Lakes Seaway Review
221 Water Street
Boyne City, Michigan 49712 USA