//Sailing the Great Lakes

Sailing the Great Lakes

As ABTA wrote in its end-of-year Travel Trends Report in 2019, when it named Chicago and Michigan Lake among its destinations to watch in 2020, “the Windy City has a spectacular lakeside location on one of the five Great Lakes, is home to one of the liveliest music scenes in the USA and has even designated 2020 as the ‘Year of Chicago Music’.”

Boasting some of the USA’s most incredible food, best-loved sporting venues and eye-catching architecture, the Illinois city also provides remarkable access to natural beauty. Lake Michigan, one of the five Great Lakes – Lakes Superior, Huron, Erie, and Ontario – boasts dune regions, including Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, home to sand dunes reaching 140m above the lake, as well as 59 lighthouses.

While the Lakes themselves have long attracted tourism, their emergence as a cruise destination is relatively new. Joining Victory Cruises, which has pioneered cruises on the Great Lakes, are Ponant, which has undergone a period of fleet expansion; Ritz-Carlton, which will enter the yacht cruise market; and Viking Cruises, which is building two expedition ships. All three lines will sail the Lakes within the next few years. Last year, Cruising with Jane McDonald, the Channel 5 show that has done as much as anything to raise the profile of cruising, featured the Great Lakes in its season six premiere. 

Guests will discover the charming city of Parry Sound, in the heart of the Unesco Biosphere Reserve of Georgian Bay, as well as Port Colborne, which provides access to Niagara Falls. 

From 2022, Viking’s 378-guest Viking Octantis will run three itineraries on the Lakes, including an eight-day Undiscovered Great Lakes cruise from Thunder Bay, Ontario, to Milwaukee in the US state of Wisconsin and the eight-day Niagara & The Great Lakes from Toronto to Milwaukee. “When we were planning our Expedition Voyages to some of the most remote places on the planet it made sense to include The Great Lakes, especially as we believe it is an undiscovered part of the world. It is an area of diverse natural beauty, abundant wildlife and some of the most interesting cities in North America,” says Neil Barclay, head of sales at Viking UK. “We will be giving our culturally curious guests the chance to immerse themselves in the local culture and to learn about First Nations traditions, as well as to visit world-class institutions like the Milwaukee Art Museum.”

A superior destination

Jane Archer joins Victory Cruises on the Great Lakes

There are two words on everyone’s lips as we sail across Lake Michigan. Mackinac Island. It’s the next stop on our Great Lakes cruise and the place, I have just learned, that every American aspires to visit because it is a slice of Victoriana in the US.

There are horse-drawn carriages (cars are banned from the island), the main street really is called Main Street and lined with wooden shops selling fudge and souvenirs. I’m travelling with Victory Cruise Lines, acquired last year by the American Queen Steamboat Company, which operates paddlewheel boats on the Mississippi, Columbia and Snake Rivers.

Now on sale through Cambridge-based Light Blue Travel, Victory is a great option for agents looking for something new and different to excite clients. That’s because this cruise is certainly very different, dipping in and out of small towns and flyover cities in the US and Canada that don’t figure on most Britons’ tourist radar (all bar two of the fellow passengers on my cruise were from North America) but are definitely worth more than a second glance.

The Great Lakes live up to their name, covering an area the size of the UK and Northern Ireland and containing one-fifth of the world’s fresh water. The five lakes – in size order: Superior, Huron, Michigan, Erie and Ontario – are all linked by rivers and waterways. On both Victory itineraries, you sail them all.

The itineraries are brilliant, the ships are comfy (cabins are small, but the service and food was impressive) and prices include all drinks, which makes life on board convivial.