Looking for a different cruise itinerary close to home this fall?
How about a colorful “leaf-peeping” cruise on the Great Lakes,
America’s own inland oceans, about one fifth of the world’s fresh
In 1997, the German cruise line Hapag-Lloyd built the 410-passenger
MS Columbus specifically to navigate the Great Lakes. It is the
only ocean liner offering fully bilingual (German/English) fall
itineraries that visit four different states, two Canadian
provinces and all five Great Lakes.
On a voyage from Chicago to Toronto last fall, I looked forward to
practicing my rusty German while taking in the breathtaking
scenery: from the rolling dunes and grand vistas of Traverse City
to Mackinac Island’s narrow cobblestone streets and Victorian
houses to Canadian wilderness areas and thick-forested shorelines.
Though small by cruise-ship standards, the “3-Star plus” Columbus
features a smart, contemporary design. Facilities include a
swimming pool and a room with exercise machines facing the water,
as well as hair stylists, massage therapists and a doctor. A large
lounge features exceptionally good cabaret shows and the Happy
Band’s bouncy dance music. The public sitting areas and cozy wine
bar were particular favorites with passengers, who gathered there
at every opportunity.
Each deck on the Columbus features a different bold color scheme,
so it’s easy to find your way around. The 134 outside cabins, 63
inside cabins, and eight suites (with balconies) have plenty of
storage space and fully tiled bathrooms with large shower stalls.
Other amenities include a mini bar, telephone and TV.
On the down side, smoking is permitted in all the cabins. And, on
our trip, a gentleman in a wheelchair was not very pleased with the
handicapped facilities. Agents whose clients have limited mobility
should definitely check on this.
Before boarding the Columbus at Chicago’s Navy Pier, most
passengers arrived several days early to take in the Windy City’s
majestic architecture and visit its superb Art Institute and Field
Museum of Natural History. Shore excursions at Traverse City,
Mich., our first port of call, included a beautiful drive through
cherry orchards to the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Park and a tour
of award-winning wineries along the peninsula’s rolling low hills,
ablaze with color.
Next, we were off to Mackinac (pronounced Mak-uh-naw) Island,
where horse-drawn carriages and bicycles were the only mode of
transportation. The town is most famous for its elegant Grand
Hotel. The rambling property is one of the world’s largest summer
resorts, also famous for providing the setting for the 1980 movie
“Somewhere in Time.”
In Detroit, passengers liked the Henry Ford Museum which
celebrates the automobile and the genius of ordinary people by
preserving the objects they used in their everyday lives. A few of
us also visited Ford’s adjacent Greenfield Village, a typical early
American town composed of historic buildings brought in and
relocated on a village green. Another big highlight of the voyage
was a transit through the eight narrow locks of the 28-mile long
Welland Canal which links Lake Erie with Lake Ontario.
Each evening our group of 23 congenial Americans sat together at
three tables. The waitstaff, fluent in English, served savory
dishes with a European flair: braised wild boar leg in herb sauce,
pheasant broth with cranberry dumplings and madeira, grilled
ostrich steak or roasted suckling pig with radish salad, to name a
Of course, there were shortcomings to our Great Lakes journey, but
many of them were due to factors the cruise line had no control
over. For example, the winds were bitterly cold at times, and the
seas became stormy. At one point, we even encountered some
unexpected snow flurries. Our trip was the last one of the season,
so many of the tourist facilities had closed. And, due to the
lakes’ low water levels, some last-minute changes in the itinerary
had to be made.
Still, it was worth the inconveniences to experience these great
waterways in such a unique manner. And, the cruise went a long way
toward helping me accomplish a personal goal to see as many states
as possible, by water.
Hapag-Lloyd’s MS Columbus will sail three itineraries on the Great
Lakes this fall:
Sept. 17 - 27, Toronto to Chicago, with calls at Windsor,
Tobermory, Hilton Beach and Thunder Bay, Ontario, as well as
Milwaukee, Wis. Prices start at $3,560;
Sept. 27-Oct. 8, Chicago to Chicago, with calls at Mackinac
Island, Marquette and Port Huron, Mich., as well as Thunder Bay,
Hilton Beach, Little Current and Windsor, Ontario. Prices start at
Oct. 8 18, Chicago to Toronto, calling at Traverse City,
Mackinac Island and Marquette, Mich., as well as Hilton Beach,
Little Current, Midland and Windsor, Ontario. Prices start at
Commission: 10 percent