CRUISING THE GREAT LAKES #10: MEMORABLE MUSKEGON, MICHIGAN

Our last port of what turned out to be a fabulous cruise was Muskegon, Michigan, located on the state’s west coast.  The city’s population is only about 38,000; however, it is the most populous city along Michigan’s western shore.

What makes this city a popular vacation destination is its beautiful beaches, excellent fishing, sailing regattas, and scenic forests, along with interesting historic architecture, museums, theater, public art, and farmer’s market.  There is a lot to offer in this small city!

Historically, Muskegon was a fur trading post and had a thriving lumber industry.  At one point the city boasted more millionaires than any other town in America.

One of those millionaires was Charles H. Hackley, who came to Muskegon with only $7 to his name and died worth $12 million, in 1905.  His fortune was made in lumber, and when the industry declined, he administered the Chamber of Commerce program that rebuilt Muskegon into a center of industry.  The city ultimately became known for manufacturing all sorts of well-known name brand products.

Hackley was a great philanthropist, leaving behind gifts and endowments to the community totaling over $6 million, supporting parks, statuary, schools, churches, a hospital, and a beautiful public library.

Public Library with beautiful stained glass windows (below)

The philanthropist’s fortune also paid for a fabulous three-story wood frame Victorian house, which is now administered by the Muskegon County Museum.  Built in the late 1880s, it features 15 stained glass windows, hand-stenciled walls and ceilings, hand-carved woodwork, and seven tiled fireplaces.

Next door is Thomas Hume’s house, which is also part of the museum.  Hume was first Hackley’s bookkeeper, and then business partner, from 1881 until Hackley’s death.  After Hackley died, Hume was instrumental in transforming Muskegon into a major manufacturing center. 

Between the two homes, was “City Barn,” which was shared by the two families and reflects the features of each house.  All three structures were designed by David S. Hopkins.

Charles H. Hackley House (left), Thomas Hume House (right), and their shared “City Barn” (middle) with architectural elements from both houses (Click on photo to see full size.)

Our included hop-on-hop-off tour of Muskegon included tours of both homes.  Bruce and I have toured many historic and grand homes throughout our years of traveling, but I can definitely say this tour was one of our favorites.  Glass and wood are my two favorite mediums, and the Hackley house was loaded with both.  It took fifteen men two years to complete the hand-carved woodwork alone!

This bedroom was upstairs in the Hume House. The acoustics under the curved ceiling were amazing!
Hume House fireplace
Hume House kitchen

Although these two homes are the gems of Muskegon, the entire neighborhood was beautiful.  One street over, we toured the Scolnik House that was built during the 1930’s depression era, and the Fire Barn Museum.

Check out those 1936 grocery prices!
Fire Barn Museum

Muskegon Heritage Museum was our final museum visit for the day.  Inventions and products of over 80 local companies were represented, including one by a late friend of ours, Sherman Poppen, who died in 2019.  Sherm and Louise lived in our Sun City community, and we first met them in 2009 when Bruce and I moved in. 

In 1965, Sherm, known as the “Grandfather of Snowboarding,” invented the Snurfer, which later became known as the snowboard.  He was inducted into the U.S. Ski-Snowboard Hall of Fame in 2019.

The small doll is the first Raggedy Ann doll

Two other Muskegon products:

Our visit to Muskegon was on a Saturday, so Muskegon Farmers Market was in full swing.  We walked through town to go have a look.  On the way, there was a downtown street music festival in the process of getting set up for the weekend, so we took in the sights and smells of food trucks preparing their cuisine for the expected crowds.

It turned out to be a gorgeous day, so when we returned to the ship after browsing the farmers market, I decided to head out with my camera one last time for a stroll through the park where Ocean Navigator was docked.  Watching the geese feed, a young bird venturing out on his own, and taking in views of the ship was such a relaxing and satisfying way to conclude our last full cruise day.  In the morning, we would be disembarking for a three-night stay in Chicago.

Bottoms up!
Goodbye, Muskegon!

Next up:  Captivating Chicago

CRUISING THE GREAT LAKES #9: SUPER STURGEON BAY, WISCONSIN

Sturgeon Bay wasn’t on Ocean Navigator’s itinerary, but we happily ended up there anyway.  Following our stop in Green Bay, we were supposed to have a full day cruising on the Great Lakes.  The captain had passed through Sturgeon Bay during the previous cruise, though, and he was intrigued.  A cruise ship had never stopped in this Door County, Wisconsin town, and the captain thought it would be an appealing place to spend a day.

In very short order, the captain notified the company we would be stopping in Sturgeon Bay, the authorities were notified; and, Diane, the shore excursion manager, put together an included hop-on-hop-off tour for the passengers. 

Bruce and I were excited to return to Sturgeon Bay, because we had enjoyed our visit there during our 2017 Wisconsin road trip.  We had stayed at the very memorable Holiday Music Motel, and the entire Door County experience was fantastic!

Arriving in Sturgeon Bay

As the ship arrived, Bruce and I watched from the deck.  Boaters honked their horns, and people watched from the just-completed park where we docked.  We were anxious to get an early start on our day, so we were the first ones off the ship as soon as we were cleared to disembark.  Wow, what a fun experience!  Locals came up and welcomed us; and, we were asked all about where we had been, where the ship was going next, and what it was like to cruise aboard the Ocean Navigator.  What a blast! 

This park was just completed.

In addition to being a friendly little city of less than 10,000, Sturgeon Bay, Door County, is a world-renowned shipbuilding hub where thousand-foot lakers (lake cargo ships) and small bass-fishing boats are built.  It also has a vibrant music and arts scene, nice shops, and a variety of good restaurants. 

We began our day by hopping on the bus for a ride out to Door Peninsula Winery.  Neither of us were interested in getting off at the winery; we just wanted to enjoy seeing Door County again.  It brought back great memories!

Door County Maritime Museum was where we hopped off—mainly so we could enjoy the views from the top deck.  Located in the Jim Kress Maritime Lighthouse Tower, we had seen several people at the top watching Ocean Navigator’s arrival, and I wanted to see our ship from that vantage point as well.  What an awesome view!  We even spotted the Holiday Music Motel. 

Door County Maritime Museum
Sturgeon Bay Bridge (Michigan Street Bridge) is on the left, and the new bridge is on the right.
Ocean Navigator is docked behind the new Oregon Street Bridge

On the way down from the viewing deck, we took the stairs rather than the elevator, so we could see the excellent exhibits located on several of the floors.  It’s a work in progress, but they are doing a fantastic job repurposing the lighthouse tower.

Rather than ride the bus back to the ship, we opted to walk over the Michigan Street Bridge, aka Sturgeon Bay Bridge that dates back to 1931 and was dedicated as a Door County Veterans Memorial.

Thanks to musician Pat MacDonald, owner of the Holiday Music Motel, and other locals passionate about the iconic steel bridge, they formed the Citizens for Our Bridge preservation group to save the old bridge.  (It was slated for demolition when it no longer met safety standards.)  MacDonald created and hosted the Steel Bridge Songfest, which took place—and continues annually— at the hotel, to raise money for the bridge’s restoration.  They were also able to get the bridge listed on the National Register of Historic Places as well as the Wisconsin Trust for Historic Preservation, to save it from demolition.

The Holiday Music Motel is over the bridge and on the left with the red tiled roof and red awnings.

Meanwhile a larger four-lane sister bridge was built one block away, on Oregon Street, to meet federal safety standards and accommodate the heavy traffic loads caused by the bridge’s 3,000 openings annually.  In 2011, the newly restored Michigan Street Bridge reopened, and the two bridges operate as one system to relieve traffic congestion.

During our walk across the bridge, we were stopped so the bridge could open and allow boat traffic through.  It was a cool experience crossing that bridge and knowing that when a group of passionate people want something bad enough, they can make it happen.  And, it was fun remembering back to our stay at the Holiday Music Motel, that it was the hotel owners that were most instrumental in saving their iconic bridge.

The Holiday Music Motel sponsored this sculpture of a Sturgeon Bay tart cherry. It is one of several cherry sculptures up for auction in the Cherries Jubilee.
This was the most interesting “cherry” of them all!
What a great way to spruce up a gas station!
We watched a glass blowing demonstration at Popelka Trenchard Glass
This sign was in front of a home across the street from the glass studio. WELL SAID.
After heading back to the ship, Bruce enjoyed the sculpture fountain as I walked back up the Michigan Street Bridge to take more pictures.
Laura, this is for you!
Our cruise out of Sturgeon Bay was through a narrow canal. This is the Sturgeon Bay Ship Canal Light, built in 1899.
The Sturgeon Bay Ship Canal North Pierhead Light was built in 1882 and is located at the U.S. Coast Guard Station on Lake Michigan. Goodbye, Sturgeon Bay!

Next up: Memorable Muskegon, Michigan

CRUISING THE GREAT LAKES #8: GREEN BAY, WISCONSIN—GO PACK GO!

Bruce and I have such fun memories of our previous visit to Green Bay, when we toured Lambeau Field, home of the “Cheeseheads.”  The Ocean Navigator was offering that as a premium tour; however, we opted to take the included narrated hop-on-hop-off for a new experience.  We did convince a few of people from our ship to take that tour, though, and they loved it!

Green Bay, a city of 107,000 residents, gets its name because of the greenish color of the water.  It is Wisconsin’s oldest settlement and was established as a fur-trading post. Paper production manufacturing was also established and it is now Green Bay’s largest employer. (Thankfully, by the early 1900’s, splinter-free toilet paper was invented.  Whewww!)  Ultimately, Green Bay also became a major shipping center. 

For sports trivia enthusiasts, here are some Green Bay sports facts:  It is the smallest city to host a National Football League (NFL) team, the Green Bay Packers, named for the meat packers where its founder, Curly Lambeau workedHe sold shares of stock to raise money for the team, and the Packers, a non-profit organization, are the only NFL team owned by its shareholders and fans today.   Go Pack Go!  

At a capacity of 82,000, Lambeau Field, the Packers stadium, is the 4th largest in the NFL.  It is located in the middle of a residential area, so the homeowners closest to the stadium have become quite entrepreneurial.  To raise money for their snowbird vacations (Green Bay gets 40 inches of snow a year.), they rent out their driveways and front lawn as parking spaces on gameday for $20-$40!

Our first tour stop was the fantastic National Railroad Museum.  Their collection of trains was amazing! The Lake Superior & Ishpeming #24, constructed in 1910, is the oldest locomotive in the museum’s collection:

Here are a few of the other trains:

Milwaukee, aka “Brew City,” has an interesting history of beer-hauling trains.  The earliest beer breweries in Milwaukee date back to the 1830s, with more than 300 operating across Wisconsin by the 1890s.  All of that beer needed to be distributed somehow, so the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul and Pacific Railroad banded together to become The Milwaukee Road.  They brought in grain and other beer-making materials and hauled away the beer.  What a great business collaborative! 

Unfortunately, by the mid-1980s, many of Milwaukee’s industrial and manufacturing businesses had moved their production to Mexico or China.  Today, less than a mile of the rail route remains.

MillerCoors, the one large brewer remaining in Milwaukee, still receives grain by the Milwaukee Road’s successor, Canadian Pacific Railway.

These are some of the U.S.A.’s other rail lines.  One surprised me, “The Phoebe Snow.”  I had only remembered the singer and had no idea there was a train of the same name.  As it turns out, the singer was born Phoebe Ann Laub and changed her name after seeing Phoebe Snow, a fictional advertising character for a railroad, on trains that passed through her hometown in New Jersey.

The museum had a beautiful Pullman train with an excellent display detailing the history of the Pullman Porters and their fight for civil rights.  Following the Civil War, George Pullman, owner of The Pullman Company, reinvented railroad travel with the introduction of his luxury Pullman Palace Car.  He hired thousands of attendants, nearly all of whom were African -Americans.  Porters served their mostly white patrons for years despite discrimination and difficult working conditions.

Philip Randolph established the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters to fight for their labor and civil rights.  The Pullman Company responded with threats, firings, and intimidation.  It took decades for the group to able to become a truly independent labor union, in 1937.

Meet Big Boy, Union Pacific’s #4017:

What a hungry beast!  It took 28 tons of coal to fuel the locomotive while pulling a 3,600-ton train between Ogden and Echo, Utah, a distance of 55 mountainous miles.  Yikes!

Big Boy also runs hot and stinky.  Its huge cab normally reached around 90 degrees Fahrenheit; however, in tunnels, the heat could build up to as much as 180 degrees!  Even in the Wyoming winters, engine crews would run with the roof vent and windows open.  The cab got very smoky as well, sometimes becoming so dark that the crews had to grope for the controls.  I wonder what the lung cancer rate was among Big Boy’s crews…

Next stop on the hop-on-hop-off tour was The Automobile Gallery.  They had a wonderful collection of cool cars, including this Delorean we were invited to hop into for a photo:

We wanted to see what the downtown area was like, since we missed it during our 2017 visit to Green Bay.  A nice surprise greeted us as we walked through the Broadway District: Murals, and lots of ‘em!  I love murals, and I photograph them wherever I go.  The district sponsors the Mural and Busker Festival with prizes going to the mural winners, so it has been a great way to beautify the Broadway District’s businesses and bring in tourists.

All that walking made us thirsty, so we stopped in for a beer at Titletown Brewing Co., one of Green Bay’s brew pubs.

The Nevill Public Museum was another tour stop, but it was so close to the ship that we saved it for the end of what turned out to be a very full and enjoyable day!

Next up:  Super Sturgeon Bay

CRUISING THE GREAT LAKES #7: SPLENDID SAULT STE. MARIE, MICHIGAN

The view of Sault Ste. Marie port from our cabin window
This massive red brick building houses a hydroelectric plant that supplies 20% of the city’s power. I shot this photo from the top deck of the Ocean Navigator before heading out.

Following our visit to Thunder Bay, Ontario, we returned to the American side of the Great Lakes, requiring a mandatory bus ride to the border for processing.  Police officers had a close watch over everybody exiting the ship to ensure we boarded the bus, because we had foreign crew working on our ship. 

I had anticipated long border-crossing lines and a wasted morning; however, when we arrived at the station, our bus load of cruise passengers were the only tourists to be processed.  There were several staffed windows with smiling faces to greet us, so we showed our passports and zipped right on through.  Based on my experience (and what I witnessed at other windows), they were the nicest and friendliest bunch of border patrol officers I had ever seen!

A border station poster. Love that mask!

Before we knew it, we were back at the ship and ready to embark on our included narrated hop-on-hop-off bus tour of Sault Ste. Marie, a small city of 13,000 people.  The name is French, so “Sault” is pronounced like “Sue.”  Just across the bridge over the St. Marys River is another city named Sault Ste. Marie, so it can get a little confusing.  The difference?  The other one is in Ontario, Canada, and it has a population of about 72,000 residents.

The bridge in the background connects the two Sault Ste Marie’s

The American Sault Ste. Marie is the oldest city in Michigan, and among the oldest cities in the United States.  It was first settled by Native Americans for the abundance of fish and fur found in and along the river that linked the Great Lakes of Huron and Superior.  Later, French fur traders settled in the area.

It is very easy to find this city if you are heading there on a road trip from where I live in Georgia.  No GPS is needed!  Just hop on I-75 (our closest freeway), and head north.  If you stay on I-75 until it ends, you will eventually arrive in Sault Ste. Marie. 

Just don’t plan on spending the winter there unless you love snow, because they get an average of 180 inches a year!  Stay healthy, too, because their small hospital is the only one within 200 miles, and they may not have the resources you need.

Besides the hospital, Sault Ste. Marie has another extremely important asset: The Soo Locks.  The locks enable shipping traffic in the Great Lakes to bypass the St. Marys River.  The locals claim it to be the busiest canal in the world in terms of tonnage passing through it. We checked out the viewing platform and stopped in at the Soo Locks Visitor Center  to see the excellent exhibits explaining how the locks work.

According to our tour guide, experts predicted that if the Soo Locks ever broke down, the U.S. would plunge into a recession within five days, due to the importance of the cargo (such as iron and grain) that is transported through the locks.  Those experts make a strong case for the role the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers play in keeping our economy humming!

The small downtown was just across the street from the locks, so we had a look around:

Colorful crosswalks

Following our tour and walk around town, we returned to tour the Valley Camp, which in its previous life was a “Laker,” a cargo ship that worked the Great Lakes.  It now serves as a fabulous museum with exhibits located throughout the huge ship.

This view of the Valley Camp is from the deck railing of the Ocean Navigator. We were that close!

While touring the museum, we learned about the James R. Barker, a 1,000 foot-long Laker with a carrying capacity of 61,650 tons.  Back in 1976, it was the longest vessel on the Great Lakes.  You can see in the picture below how it compares in size to the Valley Camp, which I thought was massive!

Bruce and I concluded our self-guided tour by going up on deck to see the bridge, officer cabins, galley, and dining room, in addition to the cargo area.  Just as we arrived, we saw the James Barker cruise on by!

The James R. Barker
The view from the bridge of the Valley Camp

Our day ended beautifully with this colorful sunset.

Next up: Green Bay, Wisconsin—Go Pack Go!

CRUISING THE GREAT LAKES #6: TOURING THUNDER BAY, ONTARIO

Bruce and I had $300 of onboard credit with American Queen Voyages to use during our cruise aboard the Ocean Navigator, so we chose to use it for a couple of premium tours, including one in Thunder Bay.

Situated on Lake Superior, Thunder Bay is on the Canadian side of the border, in Ontario.  The French were the first Europeans to settle in Thunder Bay as a fur trading post along the Kaministiquia River.  Mining and forestry were the next industries to develop, and now Thunder Bay is best known for medical research and education. 

This city of about 109,000 residents is quite isolated. Forget about taking a flight in or out of Thunder Bay; you’ll have to go to Toronto for that.  I just looked it up on Google Maps, and the quickest route will take you over 14 hours to get there by car.  As a matter of fact, the closest city to Thunder Bay is an 8-hour drive away! 

Thunder Bay has managed to develop a fantastic culture and arts scene, though, so there is plenty to do for the residents.  Declared the “Cultural Capital of Canada” in 2003, Thunder Bay has a variety of cultural and community centers for the Finnish, Scandinavian, Italians, Polish, and many more.

Arts are also well-represented by Thunder Bay Symphony Orchestra (which is the only professional orchestra between Winnipeg and Toronto), a professional theatre, a variety of music and arts festivals, museums, and art galleries.  There is also Thunder Pride, an LGBTQ pride parade that has been held annually since 2010.

Numerous sports and recreation facilities, city parks, and community centers also keep the locals busy and engaged.  It’s impressive how much this isolated city has to offer!

One of the area’s natural highlights is Kakabeka Falls, the second highest waterfall in Canada at 130 feet.  We chose to take the tour that visited these falls, and it was well worth it. 

We walked across the bridge (see previous photo) to see the view from the other side. This is the view from the middle of the bridge.

We also visited Fort William Historical Park, one of the largest living history sites in North America.  Although this is a replica, they do a great job depicting the original inland headquarters for the North West Company, the world’s largest fur trading enterprise.  Our costumed tour guide, a university history student, taught us about what life was like at the fort in the 1800’s.  We were split into small groups, and ours visited the Canoe Shed, Fur Stores, Apothecary, Kitchen & Bakery, and the garden.  I managed to slip away for a few minutes  and pop in to see a few others on my own.

These massive canoes were used to transport furs from Thunder Bay to Montreal.
Seeing these real furs turned my stomach!
We got taste these fresh baked breads right out of the oven.

To conclude our tour, we returned to the city to take in the view of Lake Superior.

Next up: Splendid Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan

CRUISING THE GREAT LAKES #5: DELIGHTFUL DULUTH, MINNESOTA

It’s funny how the mind works.  After choosing “Delightful Duluth” for my title, I remembered a blog I had written about our previous visit to Duluth in 2017.  It was such a beautiful day last time we were there, so I wanted to include a link to those photos.  After including the link (see above in blue font), I noticed on my site I had used the same adjective to describe Duluth—“Delightful!”

Although this was one of our only gloomy days during our entire 16-day trip, this visit to Duluth was delightful. We were fortunate to have just missed the rain that fell before we arrived.

Like a few of the other ports we visited while aboard Ocean Navigator, Duluth is located on Lake Superior in Minnesota’s Arrowhead Region.  Tourism is the main industry, and the population swells from less than 90,000 residents to anywhere from 500,000 to 1 million in the summer.  I would imagine it must feel like a ghost town in the winter when the average temperature is -2 degrees, the snowfall is typically 80” and the snowbirds flee along with the tourists.  The lake rarely freezes over; however, the water temperature averages 39 degrees.  I’ll give a big miss to swimming in those waters!

We heard an interesting statistic about Lake Superior to add to the facts we had learned so far about this Great Lake:  There is enough water in Superior to cover North and South America with one foot of water!  It’s also touted to be the cleanest and purest lake in the world with an average visibility of 27 feet.  What a nice environment for the 78 species of fish that live in it!

It sure can be a wicked lake though.  The largest wave ever recorded on the lake reached 31 feet!  That explains why there have been so many ship wrecks, including the wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald, which sunk on November 10, 1975.  For those of us who have been around awhile, we immediately think of the beautiful song Gordon Lightfoot wrote about the 29 crew members who lost their lives that day. 

Throughout our cruise we learned a lot about the Edmund Fitzgerald in the various maritime museums we visited, including the Lake Superior Maritime Visitor Center.  We also had an “aha” moment after we learned that lake freighters that stay on the lakes are called “Lakers.”  Now I know how my favorite childhood sports team got its name!  Prior to becoming the Los Angeles Lakers, they were the Minneapolis Lakers, and the name was inspired by Minnesota’s nickname, “Land of 10,000 Lakes.” 

Following our visit to the center, we walked all around the area before returning to the bus for the remainder of our included tour.  These shots were captured along the way:

The Aerial Lift Bridge is a Duluth landmark dating back to 1905. It was first constructed as the United States’ first transporter bridge, and then it was converted to a vertical lift bridge in 1929-1930.
This is a pedestrian and bicycle bridge that connects Canal Park to the Duluth Entertainment and Convention Center
What a clever idea for a lakefront takeaway restaurant! It is situated at the end of a parking lot and along Duluth Lakewalk.
This restaurant, located next to the Lake Superior Maritime Visitor Center and Aerial Lift Bridge is also a clever idea. They converted a cargo container into a takeaway restaurant.
Then, there was this. Hmmm. It is located just behind the takeaway and is a dine-in restaurant. At least they have a sense of humor!

Next up:  Touring Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada

CRUISING THE GREAT LAKES #4: HOOFIN’ IT AROUND HOUGHTON, MICHIGAN

Located on the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, Houghton lies along Portage Lake and the Keweenaw Waterway.  Native Americans mined copper here thousands of years before European settlement.  The later discovery of copper lodes between 1855 and 1870 resulted in an economic boom that lasted until after World War I.  Many Cornish and Finnish immigrants arrived in the area to work in the copper mines, and Houghton today has the largest concentration of Finnish/Americans in the country.

The last copper mines closed in the late 1960’s, and Houghton is currently a distribution center for wood materials, and for dairy and poultry farming.

Houghton is small; just 8,000 residents.  They must be hearty souls, because winters in Houghton are frigid.  Some years have seen snow during every month!  In 1978-79, the area logged in 406 inches, and it snowed for over 50 days straight.

American Queen Voyages organizes an included tour for every port, and the highlight of the tour in Houghton was visiting the A.E. Seaman Mineral Museum of Michigan Tech, which features specimens of copper and over 100 other metals and crystals.  Neither of us have ever given more than a passing interest to geology; however, we were in awe of the natural beauty we saw in that museum!  The vibrant rainbow of colors of many of the specimens were dazzling.

Outside the museum was a lovely garden and the most amazing specimen of all; a 19-ton tabular mass of native copper which was recovered from Lake Superior.  It was discovered in 1991 by SCUBA divers at a depth of 30 feet. 

Before the tour returned to the ship, we visited the Carnegie Museum of the Keweenaw.  After a quick look around, Bruce and I opted to leave the tour and stroll the streets of downtown before walking back to the ship.

We got a good laugh out of our reflection in this curved window. How about those toothpick legs?! I just love the styling of that pick-up truck behind us!

We were impressed with the attractive park along the lake— a wonderful place to relax, have a picnic, enjoy the flowers, and take in the views of the Portage Lake Lift Bridge.  Connecting Houghton to Hancock, the bridge is the world’s heaviest and widest double-decked vertical-lift bridge.  In the winter, the lower level is used for snow mobiles as a safer way to cross over the lake rather than on the frozen (or not so frozen, as the case may be) lake.  More than one snowmobile has ended up breaking through the ice, due to its driver’s lack of better judgment!

Viewing the sail-away from the top deck was spectacular.  It was a gorgeous day, and we had a perfect perch from which to enjoy the beautiful scenery as we cruised on to Duluth, Minnesota.

Next up:  Delightful Duluth

CRUISING THE GREAT LAKES #3: MEMORABLE MARQUETTE, MICHIGAN

In between our visits to Mackinac Island and Marquette (and on the day before Mackinac), we had two days cruising.  Normally, ships refer to this as being “at sea,” but since we were on the Great Lakes, Bruce and I joked about being “at lake.”

Our first day “at lake” had us cruising by Michigan’s Sleeping Bear Dunes:

Before arriving in Marquette, we cruised what is reputed to be one of the most turbulent bodies of water in the world—Lake Superior.  As I mentioned in my first post, we were very fortunate to have such calm waters!

This is how calm it was while we were cruising!

The Great Lakes (Lakes Superior, Michigan, Huron, Erie, and Ontario) are the largest group of freshwater lakes by total area and are second largest by total volume, containing 21% of the world’s fresh water by volume.  Bordering both Canada and U.S.A., they connect to the Atlantic Ocean via the Saint Lawrence River, making them a major source for transportation, migration, trade, and fishing.

A note to all my swimmer friends who might be thinking the Great Lakes would be a great vacation spot for open water swimming:  Bring your wetsuit!  Lake Superior averages 40-42 degrees, topping out at 62+/- degrees in the summer!  It’s a very deep lake, too, reaching a depth of 1,332 feet.

Marquette (population 20,629), located on the southern shores of Lake Superior in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, was most memorable for two reasons:  An interesting water feature (for lack of a better word!), and a beautiful lakeside park and beach.

Upon our morning arrival, before heading up to the River Grill for breakfast, I had stepped out on deck to snap a few photos.  This was the first thing I saw:

What the heck is THAT thing?  I hadn’t a clue, but I knew I would find out during our included tour.

Having done no prior research on Marquette before our cruise (very uncharacteristic of me!), I hadn’t realized the port was known primarily for shipping iron ore.  The first mining took place in the mid-1800’s, and by the 1850’s, Marquette was linked by rail to several mines.  Docks were built to transfer the iron ore from rail cars to the freighters below for transport to other cities to be made into steel:

This photo was at the Marquette Regional History Center

Over time, the railroad companies merged and bigger docks were needed.  Those docks were located in the upper harbor, and the Marquette Lower Harbor Ore Dock 3 B W, built in 1931-1932, was dismantled in 1971.  Ever since, the dock has been a source of great interest and inspiration for the community.

A working iron ore dock at the upper harbor

Our included tour took us along Presque Isle State Park, which was a gorgeous 323-acre park featuring sandstone cliffs with outlooks to take in the views as well as beautiful beaches below.  I was impressed by the natural beauty as well as how nicely it was designed for locals and tourists to enjoy for walking, hiking, cycling, picnics, and beach-going.

We also visited the campus of North Michigan University, passing the Superior Dome stadium along the way.  The campus has an excellent art museum, and I found a few pieces that piqued my interest:

This was a painting! The subject matter– collections of a world traveler and letter write– reminded me of me.

Other stops were made at Marquette Regional History Center and Marquette Maritime Museum, as well as the Marquette Harbor Lighthouse.

The Maritime Museum was located in the old City Waterworks building. I loved the color of the local sandstone bricks!
The Maritime Museum had a wonderful collection of lighthouse Fresnel lenses, including this beautifully restored lens from one of the lighthouses that had been destroyed by a fire.
This view was from the lighthouse. North Michigan University’s Superior Dome is off in the distance.

Following our tour, we enjoyed strolling through downtown, which was quite attractive with its hanging baskets of flowers, historic buildings, and gift shops.

Next up:  HOOFIN’ IT AROUND HOUGHTON

CRUISING THE GREAT LAKES #2: MOTORLESS MACKINAC ISLAND, MICHIGAN

Detroit may be the “Motor City,” but Mackinac Island, Michigan is the motorless city.  Banned by the village council in 1808, automobiles are nowhere to be seen on the island that lies at the boundary of Lake Huron and Lake Michigan.  Instead, the less than 11,000 locals get around on horseback, horse drawn carriages, or bicycles. 

Everything on Mackinac (pronounced “Mackinaw”) is done utilizing horse power—literally!  Trash pick-up?  By horse power.  USPS and UPS?  Horse power!  Don’t believe me?  This is how your packages get delivered, even to the Grand Hotel:

A delivery to the Grand Hotel
UPS getting ready for more deliveries

And, this is the garbage “truck”:

Yes, they even haul their own food!

There are 650 horses on the island; however, all but ten horses (including the one pulling the only winter taxi) are transported to the mainland by boat to be kept in heated stables for the winter.  Most are draft horses weighing in around 2,000 pounds and able to haul three times their body weight.  The largest carriages hold 35 people and are pulled by 3 horses.

Only 500 of the residents are full time; the others are seasonal, working in the tourist trade that developed following the civil war, or enjoying their summer homes.

For those hearty full-timers, there is one school for kindergarten thru 12th grade with an annual attendance of 60-80 students.  The senior class has anywhere from 2-10 graduates each year.

There is one word that first comes to mind to describe Mackinac Island: charming.  It’s like stepping back in time while strolling the downtown streets filled with horse-drawn carriages and bicycles, lined with beautiful Victorian-era buildings and colorful lilac-filled gardens; and, a lack of cars or motor noise—just the clip-clop sound of horse hooves.  And, there is not a chain-hotel to be found, just cozy B&B’s, attractive locally owned resorts, and the famous Grand Hotel.

Our home away from home for 14 days!

What you will find a lot of in Mackinac Island are fudge shops!  Bruce and I counted twelve of them on the 4-block Main Street alone!  In 1889, Henry Murdick opened the island’s first “Candy Kitchen,” and by the 1920’s, fudge was THE souvenir to bring home.  By the 1960’s competition among the fudge makers resulted in a “fudge wars,” and now Mackinac is world-famous for its fudge. According to the Mackinac Island tourist bureau, downtown shops make 10,000 pounds of fudge each day during the season!

It’s competitive alright.  Ryba’s has four(!) shops within four blocks, Murdick’s and Joann’s each have two, and then if that’s not enough, there is May’s, Murrays, Sander’s, and Kilwin’s.  Yes, a couple of them—Murdick’s and Joann’s—got my business, as if there wasn’t enough great chocolate on the ship!  As they say, “When in Rome…”  It sure was tasty!

Our day on Mackinac began with an included horse carriage tour of the gorgeous, lush island, our nation’s second national park (after Yellowstone).  A two-horse carriage took us around town and up the hill past the Grand Hotel.  We were then transferred to a larger three-horse carriage to tour the steeper trails of the park and visit Fort Mackinac.

Our tour carriage for the first part of the tour
These troupers hauled 35 of us around steep hills!
The view of downtown and our ship from Fort Mackinac
Fort Mackinac

Rather than ride the carriage back to the Grand Hotel, we opted to walk and enjoy the breathtaking views of the Grand Hotel’s golf course along the nearly vacant path (except for the occasional horse carriage).  Lilac shrubs and trees were growing everywhere, and they were in full bloom.  We felt like we were walking through the pages of Better Homes & Gardens magazine.  It was so lovely and peaceful!

The Grand Hotel is indeed grand, especially its 660-foot front porch, the longest in the world.  Known as the filming location for the movie, Somewhere in Time (Christopher Reeve and Jane Seymour, 1981), the hotel was also visited by five U.S. presidents, Thomas Edison, and Mark Twain.  Built in just 93 days, the hotel opened in 1887 and was named to the National Register of Historic Places in 1972.  In 1989, it became a National Historic Landmark. 

The hotel’s restaurant had the largest dining room I had ever seen!

After taking the self-guided tour of the massive hotel, we shared some delicious Mackinac ice cream from Sadie’s while rocking in two of the 100 rocking chairs that line the front porch.  Sadie’s Ice Cream Parlor was named after the Scottish Terrier that won Best in Show at the 2010 Westminster Kennel Club All Breed Dog Show.  The pooch is owned by the owner of the hotel and her ribbons, trophies, and memorabilia are featured in one of the hotel’s galleries.

The short walk back into town was so pleasant that it was a shock when we returned to Main Street, crowded with the summer tourists that came over on the ferry for the day.  It felt so commercial and touristy that we were relieved when the ferries loaded up to return the tourists back to the mainland. 

Following our dinner aboard ship and the last ferry departure, it was just me, Bruce, a few other passengers from the ship, and a handful of locals strolling the quiet Main Street after dinner aboard ship.  Ocean Navigator didn’t sail until the next morning, so it was nice to be able to go back into town and have it almost to ourselves!

CRUISING THE GREAT LAKES ABOARD AMERICAN QUEEN VOYAGES’ OCEAN NAVIGATOR

Like millions of other avid travelers now clogging the nation’s airports, several trips we had booked over the past two years had been canceled due to COVID.  One of those trips would have been aboard American Queen Steamboat Company’s acquired Victory Cruise Line ships.  Since then, the company was renamed American Queen Voyages (AQV), and the itinerary we had chosen was no longer on the schedule.  We opted for a 14-day Chicago roundtrip cruise on the Great Lakes with three days on our own in Chicago after the cruise.

This post, as well as the next several, will be about our (thankfully!) COVID-free journey, and the wonderful people, places, and experiences we shared along the way.

As was the case with past American Queen cruises, the first night was spent at a hotel before boarding the ship.  We were put up at Chicago’s downtown Hilton, a beautiful hotel located on a beautiful park-lined stretch of South Michigan Avenue. 

Following our mandatory COVID tests, we were cleared for our cruise aboard the Ocean Navigator (previously named Ocean Victory) the following day.  Whewww!  All 131 of the passengers tested negative, so we were free to roam the city until our bus ride to the ship the next day.  We ventured out to walk the parks, see Buckingham Fountain, stroll along the lake, and then head to Lou Malnati’s for the deep-dish pizza I had been craving over the past two years!  It was just as I had remembered it when I visited Chicago with my best friend, ten years before—awesome!

Unfortunately, Chicago authorities decided shortly before the summer cruise season they didn’t want cruise ships coming and going in their waters during the busy summer weekends, so AQV was forced to bus us up to Milwaukee to meet the ship. It was all a bit of chaotic mess, because the left hand didn’t know what the right hand was doing (thanks to a lack of communication from the home office), but once we got on board it was (almost!) all good!

Let’s get the “(almost!)” out of the way first.  If you have poor hearing, wear hearing aids, and remove them at night, I HIGHLY recommend this ship.  If, on the other hand, you have excellent hearing and wear industrial-grade ear plugs at night to prevent inconsistent noises from waking you, think twice before cruising on this ship—at least until they resolve the pipe noise issue.  Even a white noise ap couldn’t mask the loud sound of pipes rattling when water was being pumped throughout the ship for the showers.  The water tanks were located below our cabin, so Alex, the wonderful Hotel Director, moved us in hopes of resolving the issue, since the problem couldn’t be fixed.  Unfortunately, the “upgrade” from the first to third deck didn’t make a difference; the rattling was throughout the ship.  This wasn’t a big deal during the day or evening, but the first shift of officers (housed in the inside cabins; passengers had outside cabins windows or balconies) showered around 5 am!

Our cabin on Deck 1 before we were moved.
Bruce and Alex (Hotel Director) with me

Otherwise, I can’t begin to tell you how much we enjoyed everything else about the ship, its crew, and this cruise!

Unlike American Queen’s U.S.A.-registered paddlewheel river boats, the Ocean Navigator is registered in the Bahamas, allowing the company to hire foreign crew.  Although most were Filipino, many nationalities were represented, including our charming and funny Scottish captain.  Alex and the chief purser were from the Ukraine, and our cabin steward, Jose, was from Honduras.  All were friendly, hard-working, and eager to please.  They made our cruise!

Our Scottish captain

Meet Marisol and Sarah:

Whenever I went to the gym, located across from the Purser’s desk, I would hear, “Hi, Miss Elaine!” They told me that after seeing my passport and comparing my birthdate to the photo, and then to me in person, I was their inspiration, and that I couldn’t possibly be 60!  They decided right then and there to give up unhealthy foods and start exercising, so they could look good at 60, too.  Made my day!

This is Chef Ross, a skinny chef you can trust! 

Of all the 56 cruises I have worked on or been a paying passenger, Ross and his staff prepared the best cuisine.  Like other AQV cruises, lobster tails were available every night; however, these were absolutely the best.  We ordered seafood every night and often asked for a lobster tail to be placed on top; we were in seafood heaven!

Ross didn’t mess around when it came to chocolate either.  He budgeted for a block of expensive, top-rated Valrhona chocolate, from France, for Gladwyn to use for baking his desserts.  His Valrhona Chocolate Tart was just as good as Nancy Silverton’s chocolate tart that I had enjoyed when Nancy was considered one of the best pastry chefs in the U.S.A.  After raving about it to Ross and Gladwyn, they surprised me with more that Gladwyn made special the following night.  Pure chocolate heaven!

Another Gladwyn masterpiece

This ship doesn’t offer the production shows like AQV’s river boats have at night, but we enjoyed listening to the band—especially Tim’s saxophone, flute, and harmonica solos.  We enjoyed sharing a few dinners with Tim, too.

Johnny (Piano & Vocals), Tim (Sax, Flute, Harmonicas), Bruce, and John (Drums)

After a full day at sea—uh, make that “at lake,” we docked at our first Michigan port…

Next up:  Motorless Mackinac Island

Until then, how about a virtual tour of the Ocean Navigator?

Ocean Navigator
Forward deck below the bridge
Bridge Tour
Top deck behind the bridge
Top deck looking aft
Top aft deck looking forward
Port side of The River Grill, located below the top deck. This was a casual dining restaurant where we enjoyed breakfast and lunch, rather than dining more formally in the dining room.
Starboard sie of The River Grill.
Promenade deck
This is how calm the water was on Lake Superior, a notoriously rough lake where the Edmund Fizgerald (and hundreds of other boats) sank.
The tavern was located forward on Deck 2 with the lounge mid-ship.
Our crew (and their adorable towel creations!)
Jose, our cabin steward
Diane, the shore excursion manager was one of my favorite people on board.
The dining room as located on Deck 1. This was the lobby before entering the dining room, and I thought Ross and his staff made great use of it! Every night, they lined up every single item on the menu, beginning with the appetizers. I had never seen this done on a cruise ship, and I thought it was a great idea! Being able to see the item with a description eliminated the need to ask questions of the service staff and to better decide what to order.

Just in case you weren’t tempted enough by the main entree’s I showed you earlier, here are a few of the appetizers I ordered during the cruise: