Cruise Ships on the Great Lakes !!!


Everybody knows about cruises on big seas… Caribbean, Alaska, Mediterranean, northern Europe, etc., etc. But did you know that there are cruise ships on the Great Lakes?… Yes! There are cruise ships that navigate the fresh water seas, too. And there are more and more of them coming… Actually, according to the travel experts, the Great Lakes cruising is growing and it will continue to grow.

Cursing is a great option for people who would like to visit the region, but not deal with driving and accommodations, and all the logistics involved. It might be a good choice for foreigners to get a taste of the region before planning more involved vacations.


cruise ships great lakes
Victory I operated by Victory Cruise Line. (Photo courtesy of Victory Cruise Line)


Great Lakes Ports

One issues with Great Lakes is that there are not many ports large enough, that passenger can got on land by walking a gangplank. Ships can dock at the shore only in Detroit, Chicago, Cleveland and Toronto. However, there is also an option of anchoring close to the destination and getting to the shore by small launch. So, there are cruise boats that also stop at Mackinac Island, Sault Ste. Marie, Traverse City and Milwaukee.


cruise ships great lakes
Pearl Seas Cruises boat – Pearl Mist. (Photo courtesy of Pearl Seas Cruises)


Cruise Lines

In 2018, eight ships, operated on Great Lakes, from Victory, Blount Small Ship Adventures and Pearl Seas Cruises. Two more boats will be added this year (2020). And even more in next few years. The French cruise operator – Ponant is coming back to the Great Lakes region, and also Viking Cruises is coming in 2022.

There are also some European operators that have boats cruising the Great Lakes. And actually, many Great Lakes cruise passengers come from Europe.

Germany’s Haplag Lloyd Cruises is the company building two new cruise ships coming to Great Lakes in 2020. One of them will stop in Traverse City twice during the cruising season.

The biggest cruise ship sailing on the Great Lakes, M/S Hamburg, is operated by Plantours Kreuzfahrten, another German cruise company. It can carry up to 400 passengers. The M/S Hamburg stops at Traverse City, twice a year. There is no dock big enough for the ship, so it has to anchor in the Traverse Bay. The vessel only stays for few hours, to give passengers a chance to discover the city.

Out of all the Great lakes ports, Toronto probably sees the most ships. In 2018, there were 17 ships that docked in the port there. Last year, 35 ships stopped there between May and October.

As the Great Lakes cruises become more popular, the companies expand. For example, the Victory Cruise Lines was purchased by the American Queen Steamboat Company, known for Mississippi River cruises. Their new 200 passenger Victory I and Victory II began cruising Great Lakes in May 2018.

The ships offer two different itineraries:

  • Great Lakes Grand Discovery – sails between Toronto and Chicago over nine days and stops at Niagara Falls, Cleveland, Detroit, Little Current, Ont., Sault Ste. Marie and Mackinac Island.
  • French Canada and the Great Lakes – sails between Montreal and Detroit with stops in Quebec City, Kingston, Ont., Toronto and Cleveland.

Besides two new Victory ships, there are few other ones cruising the Great lakes:

  • The Grand Mariner and Grand Caribe – two 84-passenger ships sail between New York City and Chicago, with many stops along the way.
  • Pearl Mist – 210-passenger vessel that sails the route from Toronto to Milwaukee.
  • Le Champlain – 184-passenger ship, will begin sailing from Quebec to Milwaukee this fall (2020).


As of January 2020, Viking Cruises announced the launch of Viking Expeditions. This new venture of the ever-expanding brand will bring small-ship trips to Antarctica and the Great Lakes region. Viking will begin these voyages in January 2022 with the Viking Octantis, which will be followed by a second ship, Viking Polaris, in August 2022.

On board of these, tourists will be provided with more than just regular cruising experience. Viking Cruises has partnered with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. NOAA scientists will join expeditions in the Great Lakes to conduct research. There is a chance that scientists may also offer lectures to Viking guests during cruises.

Viking Expeditions will offer four different cruise routes in the Great Lakes region:

  • Great Lakes Explorer – Milwaukee to Thunder Bay,
  • Undiscovered Great Lakes – Thunder Bay to Milwaukee,
  • Niagara & the Great Lakes – Toronto to Milwaukee,
  • Canadian Discovery – New York City to Toronto.


cruise ships great lakes
Blount Small Ship Adventures boat – Grand Mariner at the dock. (Photo courtesy of Blount Small Ship Adventures)



The Great Lake cruises are not budget vacations. For example, the 9-day Victory cruise starts around $6,400. Many other ones are even more expensive.


This is how Viking Cruises big cruise boats are getting people to shore in small port towns. (Photo courtesy of Viking Cruises)


Final Thoughts

Great Lakes cruises are not cheap. However, if you are not on a budget, it’s any easy way of experiencing the region. The trips might not be exotic, like Caribbean or far east cruises, but I am sure, that you will be pleasantly surprised, as to how beautiful the Great Lakes region is and how much it has to offer in terms of sightseeing and cultural experience.

So, book your trip, you will not be disappointed.


Photo courtesy of Victory Cruise Line.

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If you interested in reading more about experiencing the Great Lake region from on the lakes, I also wrote a post about sailing ships cruising on the Great Lakes. You can find it here.



Rich S.
Rich S.
Rich S. is a lifetime photographer and traveler based in Metro Detroit area. He has been traveling the Great Lakes area for over 30 years. Follow his blog about his trips, interesting activities and destinations in the Great Lakes region.

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