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


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!


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


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.



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!