Niagara Gazette

Features

August 24, 2006

Great Lakes cruise features WNY

DETROIT — A massive freighter towers over the Grande Mariner as the 183-foot-long cruise boat slips past the Motor City skyline en route to Mackinac Island.

By the time the Grande Mariner and its 65 passengers reach Chicago four days after seeing Detroit, they will have traveled through the Erie Canal and four of the five Great Lakes.

It’s a journey of contrasts, with stops in reviving Rust Belt cities and quaint tourist towns, passing heavily industrialized stretches of the Detroit River and miles of unspoiled coastline.

The route is rich in history and natural beauty. And the trip is one of dozens of multi-day vacation cruises planned this year for the Great Lakes, from weeklong Lake Michigan coast excursions to fall leaf-peeping tours that stretch into the far northwest reaches of Lake Superior.

“It’s just beautiful travel and beautiful scenery,” says Roy Keith, the Grande Mariner’s captain, who for the last decade has taken cruise ships onto the Great Lakes.

Largely dormant since the 1960s as international air travel and tropical cruises increased in popularity and affordability, the Great Lakes cruise tradition began a revival in the mid-1990s.

For travelers accustomed to the massive cruise ships of the Caribbean and Mediterranean, the Great Lakes boats are modest. The pace is easygoing, passengers get to know the crew on a first-name basis and the scenery along the way — best seen from the top deck — is much of the attraction.

“When you travel by car, you’ve got to find those hot spots,” says Ryan McMullen, cruise director on the Grande Mariner. “When you travel by water, you just have to sit back and watch those hot spots come by.”

The trip on the Grande Mariner, which is owned by American Canadian Caribbean Cruise Line Inc. and can hold up to 100 passengers, began in the company’s Warren, R.I., home port. The boat passed by New York City and traveled up the Hudson River, heading through the Erie Canal and stopping in cities along the way.

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