Most Americans do not typically think of cruising interior bodies of waters, such as lakes and rivers -- we think of the Caribbean, Alaska, Europe, or maybe even New England. But Great Lakes Cruise Company (tel. 888/891-0203; www.greatlakescruising.com), started by Tom Conlin and his son Chris, has been putting together passenger cruises on the Great Lakes since 1997. The company's six ships can accommodate anywhere from 18 to 420 people, stopping in ports along the Great Lakes in both in Canada and the United States. Many of the company's clients are retired, well traveled, and many have a connection to the area in some way.
Which is why it's sad to say that this year is likely the last one for the MV Columbus, the first vessel the company started out with, as next summer it will sail in Europe and then go to Genoa for an update next November, according to company representative Sharon Derrig. The MV Columbus has a little over 200 cabins, a large restaurant, swimming pool, patio garden and bar, fitness room, hair salon, a wine bar and much more. There are some itineraries in the fall to choose from, whether it's September 17-27 trip from Toronto to Chicago, or vice versa, October 8-18. Another cruise that starts and ends in Chicago goes to Mackinac Island, Michigan, to St. Mary's River and the Soo Locks, and then stops in places in Ontario including Thunder Bay, on to the St. Clair River/Windsor, and then finally back to Chicago. This one departs September 27 and returns October 8. These cruises vary in price depending on which one you choose and the type of cabin you select. The Toronto-to-Ontario cruise starts at $2,794 for an inside cabin with twin beds but prices go all the way up to $6,764 for an outside suite with a veranda, for the Chicago-Chicago cruise.
Right now, the company is offering $25 shipboard credit per person or up to $50 per cabin on select cruises aboard Grande Marina, Grande Caribe, or the Spirit of Nantucket. If you're looking for some savings and looking to travel more immediately, these ships are your best bet. The Spirit of Nantucket has two departures of Cape Cod and the Islands of New England -- June 16 & 23, along with a coastal Maine trip that departs June 30 -- all three are the only summer sailings that are not classified as "waitlist only." These cruises are priced from $2,899 to $4,249, depending on the category of accommodations.
Grande Marina and Grande Caribe can get through shallow waters and narrow channels and offer a more casual, relaxed trip with a maximum capacity of 100 passengers. The trips are BYOB, with no assigned seating arrangements meals, and there is an informal dress code. Consequently, these trips are slightly less costly than those that include alcohol, but they still include entertainment, educational lectures and land tours. The Grand Mariner has availability on a Lake Michigan Getaway that departs June 29-July 5 and another one July 25-31. These trips are priced from $1,595 to $1,865, depending on accommodations. The ship also offers a Northeastern Fall Foliage trip September 23-October 5 and October 5-17, but they're already at waitlist status. Grande Caribe has a Coast of Maine trip June 22-29 priced from $1,760-$2,140; New England Islands August 2-7 and 9-14, priced $1,315-$1,595 and it too, has a waitlist for its Northeastern Fall Foliage trip September 28-October 10.
Great Lakes continues its expansion into other geographic territories that it started last year, and you can view those selections from "other offerings" on the website. Golf enthusiasts might be interested in what the company calls "European Culture in a New World," an 18-night trip from Toronto to Miami that encompasses many cities large and small along the east coast. The cruise on the MV Columbus starts at approximately $4,508 per person -- with stops along the way at key golf courses such as Boston, Baltimore, Charleston, South Carolina and Port Canaveral, Florida. The cruise departs from Toronto on the evening of October 18 and hits Montréal, Québéc City, Halifax, Peggy's Cove, New York City, and the aforementioned golf spots, along with Savannah, Georgia, with a final destination of Miami on November 5. Travel on the MV Columbus includes all meals, welcome and farewell cocktails, educational lectures while onboard, baggage handling, and of course your accommodations. This trip is unusual because it's bilingual -- in German and in English.
If golf isn't your thing, consider a California wine trip down the Napa River. You'll sail from San Francisco and be treated to dinner aboard, and day two starts the excursion into wine country, with a demonstration from chefs at the Culinary Institute of America-Greystone, wine education programs, stops in Sausalito, and tours of wineries (with tastings) and olive groves are also possible. Or you can opt for a hot air balloon ride. It's a four-night cruise, with departures September 24, October 1, 8, 15 and 22: all of them start at $1,949 and can run up to $2,549, depending on cabin style. There's also the possibility of extending your stay, either before or after the cruise, with a one-night stopover package in San Francisco. There is a shorter trip, called 3-Night Culture of the Vine, with departures September 28, October 5, 12 and 19, that starts from $1,299 per person. This, too, departs from San Francisco, with stops in St. Helena at Merryvale Winery, Clos Du Val, Sonoma Valley (tour of Benziger Winery and lunch at Viansa Winery and Italian Marketplace), and back to San Francisco. Wineries on the itinerary are subject to change.
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