When we think of cruises, we usually think of the Caribbean, maybe Europe, Alaska or even New England. We don't always think of cruising interior bodies of water such as lakes, even the great ones. But Great Lakes Cruise Company (tel. 888/891-0203; www.greatlakescruising.com), run by Tom Conlin and his son Chris, has been putting together passenger cruises on the Great Lakes since 1997, starting with the MV Columbus. The company's seven ships can accommodate anywhere from 18 to 420 people, stopping in ports along the Great Lakes in both in Canada and the United States. "Our clientele seems to be people who have traveled all over the world except for their own backyards," says company sales representative Kelly Jo Walter. Many of their clients are retired, and many are people who have a connection to the area in some way.
Walter says some of its most popular tours are the six night "Lake Michigan Getaway" on the Grande Mariner and/or the Niagara Prince, popular with first-time cruisers, and the "Toronto-to-Chicago" (or the reverse),which provides a big ship atmosphere on the MV Columbus, but with fewer people.
Current specials include a $25 credit per person (up to $50 per cabin) for select sailings about Grande Mariner, Grand Caribe, Niagara Prince or Nantucket Clipper. The Georgian Clipper in particular has been refurbished with upgrades inside and out such as new paint, bedding, carpeting and curtains, says Walter. This cruiser is large enough to accommodate 18 passengers comfortably, and small enough to travel in places that are too large for larger ships. Right now, the company is offering a special of 25 percent savings on all 2006 sailings of the Georgian Clipper and luckily, the booking deadline has just been extended to July 31.
For 2006, its main voyage is the six-day "Kingston to Kingston", with plenty of departures available for the summer. Only the Friday July 28, Sunday August 27 and Thursday, September 21 trips are sold out thus far, but there are nearly two dozen departure dates to choose from, from now through mid-October. The itinerary includes departure from Kingston, Ontario, to Picton and Waupoos, with a sightseeing tour of a winery and cidery. The next stop up the St. Lawrence Seaway is Brockville, then Ottawa, and then past the Thousand Islands with a stop (and a walking tour of) Gananoque before a return cruise back to Kingston. This trip takes place in Canada and the prices are listed, before the discount in both Canadian ($1,769) and U.S. (according to today's exchange, about $1,573); discounted prices run approximately $1,326 CAD, $1,179 US. The price reflects two people sharing a cabin, all meals aboard the ship, shore excursions, luggage handling and the PST -- provincial sales tax.
Select sailings on The Nantucket Clipper are available at a savings of 30 percent. Two trips -- the St. Lawrence Seaway and Thousand Islands and Cruising the Shores of Lake Michigan -- are included in the offer. Many of the trips have a waiting list. The St. Lawrence trip is available for departures July 8-16 and July 16-24. This trip's itinerary starts off in Quebec City, and cruises through dams, locks, canals to Montreal, and then Prescott, Kingston and Toronto, Ontario, through the Thousand Islands. You'll end up in Buffalo to disembark. Prices on the website are posted at $2,700 ($1,890 with discount) or the main deck (category 1) all the way up to lounge and promenade decks (category 6), at $4,740 ($3,318 with discount).
The August 28-September 4 sailing, "Cruising the Shores of Lake Michigan," is the only one of this particular trip that isn't classified as "waitlist only" status. You'll start in Chicago and cruise to Milwaukee, pass lighthouses along the way, and stop in Sturgeon Bay, Mackinac Island, and Grand Haven, for the Dutch heritage of Holland. Upon return to Chicago you have a day to take in the city. Prices start at $2,370 (with discount, approximately $1,659) for main deck cabin to $4,140 (with discount, approximately $2,898) for the lounge and promenade decks. Prices do not include transportation to embarkation point, but they do include accommodations, welcome and farewell cocktails, all meals aboard the ship, an historian and naturalist guide, port charges and baggage handling aboard ship.
Finally, new additions this year are a bit afield from the Great Lakes; specifically, New England and the Mid-Atlantic region. Sailings with space available include "Fall Foliage on the Hudson River" October 26-November 2; "Sailing the Historic Chesapeake Bay and Hudson River," November 2-12; and "Colonial America and the Battlefields of the Civil War," November 12-23. "We're expanding to more waters and waterways to provide new opportunities to our clients who are interested in small ship cruising," says Walter.
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