The writer took a tour of the Henry Ford Museum in Detroit. // © 2015 Lisa Frobisher
Feature image (above): From Mackinac Island, Haimark’s The Saint Laurent sails on Lake Superior. // © 2015 iStock
Sailing through the Great Lakes is like two different adventures. There are times when you are close to shore, with views of towns, homes and various industries. Then, all of a sudden, you’re in what could be any ocean in the world, with nothing but water in sight. The size and scope of these lakes is amazing, and the people who live by them come out of their homes to wave and take pictures of the passing ships.
The most recent entrant to Great Lakes cruising is Haimark Line, which has transformed the former Cape May Light into the 105-stateroom Saint Laurent that sails all five of the Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence Seaway between Montreal and Chicago; Montreal and Portland, Maine; and Chicago and Toronto.
I departed this July on the cruise line’s 10-day Chicago to Montreal itinerary. The ship was postponed due to an earlier accident, and we spent a night in Chicago — normally a pre- or post-cruise excursion — where the guided architectural river tour was one of my favorite outings on the trip.
Mackinac Island is the first scheduled port, and we were met by tour guides and horse-drawn carriages (there are no cars on the island) that brought us to the amazing Victorian-era Grand Hotel. We were given time to stroll through Fort Mackinac, a former American military outpost, and the charming town, which held many seductive fudge shops.
The Saint Laurent sails from Mackinac to the dramatic Soo Locks into Lake Superior and arrives at Sault Ste. Marie, where Haimark offers a tour that teaches visitors about the lock systems and visits Valley Camp Museum Ship. Housed inside the ship’s cargo hold is a 20,000-square foot museum with more than 100 exhibits, including lifeboats from the sunken Edmund Fitzgerald, made famous in a song by Grammy Award-winning singer-songwriter Gordon Lightfoot.
In Detroit, on our drive to the Henry Ford Museum — an excursion that was a top highlight for my husband — a knowledgeable guide gave us a great insight into the city’s recent history, economic woes and current efforts to revitalize downtown. After the tour, we experienced a complete contrast of scenery. We sailed on through the afternoon and overnight through Lake Huron and Georgian Bay to reach Little Current, a tiny town on Canada’s Manitoulin Island that is home to the Ojibwe people and the circular Immaculate Conception Church in M’Chigeeng, a fusion of Catholic and indigenous tribal religious beliefs.
At the northern end of the Welland Canal, we boarded motorcoaches for Niagara Falls, while the ship traversed six locks. From the falls, we drove through Ontario’s beautiful wine country to Pellar Estates Winery, where we broke into small groups for wine tastings in the garden area, and then enjoyed a delicious dinner in the barrel room of the winery. It was a long and lovely day onshore.
Everyone was on deck for our passage through the Eisenhower Lock en route to Lake Ontario, the Thousand Islands and the St. Lawrence Seaway — one of my favorite days. Popping from side to side on the observation deck to see all the homes (and a couple of castles) built on individual islands and along the shore was like a Disney ride — but the real thing. I spotted ospreys nested on top of floating buoys feeding their young, an added highlight.
Upon arrival in Montreal, we opted for a half-day city tour, part of the post-cruise extension, which I would highly recommend. It ended at an amazing market, where we had lunch.
The landscape, history and culture of the Great Lakes and the region’s colorful towns and cities make for a very attractive cruise, one that allows guests to discover the varied world surrounding these huge bodies of water.