12-day Great Lakes Cruise:
I've been very fortunate to develop a good relationship with the folks at American Cruise Lines. The whole thing started when I sent them some aerial video I shot with my drone of one of their ships sailing up the Columbia River, not far from my house. They liked the video, and that got us talking. I explained to them that I make cruise ship videos for YouTube, and I suggested that if they had an empty cabin on one of their Columbia River cruises sometime... they should put me aboard and they would get some great publicity from the resulting YouTube videos. So, they did... and they loved the publicity from the videos I made about that cruise... so, they flew me out to St Louis (at their expense) to do a Mississippi River cruise... and then they flew me over to Seattle to do a Puget Sound cruise... and then they flew me over to Baltimore to do a Chesapeake Bay cruise... and now they've flown me up to Toronto for a Great Lakes cruise on their sister cruise line, Pearl Seas Cruises. So, this was the 5th cruise that my friends at American Cruise Lines have put me on at their expense, and it was my 61st cruise overall.
Here's a map of the Great Lakes that shows all the places the ship visited during this cruise:
The cruise began in Toronto, and ended in Milwaukee. My wife decided not to go with me this time. She was definitely invited, but she looked at the itinerary and it just didn't look that exciting to her. So, Kellyn and our Cocker Spaniel stayed home... and I went off and spent almost two weeks exploring the Great Lakes. I understood how she might think that visiting places like Cleveland, Detroit, Muskegon, and Midland didn't sound all that exciting. But wow, was she wrong! This turned out to be a fantastic cruise, and every one of the places we visited had something unique and interesting about it.
The best way to get the full story about all the places I visited and the things I did during this cruise is to watch some videos I made about it. The first video is 23 minutes long, and covers the first half of the cruise:
To start the video playing, click the triangle in the middle of the video screen
To make the video fill the screen (recommended) click the little symbol in the lower right corner of the video player
This next video tells the story of the second half of the cruise:
The main reason that my friends at the cruise line wanted me to get aboard Pearl Mist and make some videos about her was that the ship had just recently completed a complete renovation. After the completion of her 2022 cruise season, Pearl Mist was taken out of service and she spent months being refurbished. The majority of the work involved a total renovation of her interior. Every bit of carpet was ripped out and replaced. Just about every piece of furniture was hauled off and replaced. All the beds in all the cabins were replaced. All the outdoor patio furniture on her outer decks was replaced. The cruise line was eager for me to shoot photos and videos of her new look.
Here's a video I made that gives you a pretty good tour of the ship, and shows off her new carpets and furniture:
I flew in to Toronto, Ontario,
Canada, to meet the cruise ship there.
The views of Toronto as the plane approached the airport were spectacular!
I got a kick out of seeing a gigantic Airbus A380 airliner on a taxiway as our plane was landing.
Not only did the cruise line pay for my flights to get to and from this cruise,
but they also put me up in the very elegant Four Seasons hotel in Toronto the night before the cruise.
Here's a look at the room I was in:
Even the bathroom in my hotel room was
Note the TV built in to the mirror, and the bath tub in the lower left.
There was a rain fall shower off to the right, out of view, as well as a toilet.
Unfortunately, I didn't have a whole lot of time
I definitely would have liked to have had another day to explore the city more.
A tour bus took us to a few tourist hot spots in the hours before it was time to board our ship.
The cruise got off to a really interesting start. After departing from Toronto, we crossed Lake Ontario and entered the Welland Canal. Our destination was Lake Erie, which sits over 300 feet higher than Lake Ontario. The eight locks within the Welland Canal allow a ship to gain the elevation needed to transit from Lake Ontario to Lake Erie. It's a lot like travelling through the Panama Canal, only a lot closer to home, and nowhere near as hot and humid! It made for a pretty good YouTube video:
A video of Pearl Mist going through the Welland Canal
It actually took all night to get through the Welland Canal, and Pearl Mist's passengers slept through all but the first couple of locks. When we woke up the next morning, we were docked on the shore of Lake Erie, and what happened next was one of the best days of the cruise. Several tour busses were waiting to take us to one of the most beautiful places in North America: Niagara Falls.
We had so much fun on one of those excursion
boats that takes you right up to the base of the falls! They supply
everyone with a plastic poncho that does a pretty good job of keeping you dry.
Plus, it was a nice warm summer day... so, the mist from the falls really
wasn't a problem. I used a GoPro (because they're waterproof) to shoot
some video, which you'll see eventually on my YouTube channel. I just
haven't finished editing that video yet.
Our day trip to Niagara Falls was truly a highlight of this Great Lakes cruise. I especially liked that they took us to several different locations (all on the Canadian side of the border) that gave us different views of the falls. Here's a shot from above the falls:
The next day, we were in Cleveland, Ohio... one of those places that my wife thought did not sound interesting on the itinerary. I was a DJ in the 1970s and 1980s and I was all about music in those days. So, I had a great time in Cleveland visiting the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame...
I spent hours walking through the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame and really enjoyed listening to and viewing lots of memorabilia and exhibits. I got a kick out of seeing this old mixer board, which reminded me a lot of the days when I worked in radio.
The Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame uses a lot of audio and video to really bring their exhibits to life. Everything was really nicely done. I only wish we had been there at a time when there was a live band playing. Other than that, my visit was perfect.
The next day, our ship was docked in Detroit, Michigan... at a spectacular location right in front of the world headquarters of the General Motors Corporation:
The view was pretty spectacular as we arrived in Detroit, right at sunrise...
I recorded a pretty interesting time-lapse video of our trip up the Detroit River on the way in to Detroit that morning. You can watch it here:
Before the cruise, when she read the itinerary, Detroit was another city that I'm sure didn't sound too exciting to my wife... but it ended being one of the best days for me! As I mentioned earlier, I was a DJ in my younger days. Some of my favorite music from the 1960s and 1970s was the music of Motown. So, one of my favorite parts of this cruise was getting to visit the original home of Motown records. In the basement of this building, somewhere around 100 top-ten records were recorded!
These two buildings were where it all happend for Motown Records in the 1960s and early 1970s. The building on the right were the offices. The top floor of the building on the left was the home of Berry Gordy, the founder of Motown Records. The lower floor, with all the blue paint, was the reception area where all those legendary musicians (Stevie Wonder, Diana Ross & The Supremes, The Temptations, The Jackson Five, and more) would arrive and socialize. In the basement of that building on the left was the recording studio where all the magic happened...
It was amazing for me to stand in that studio and think about all the incredible hit records that were recorded there. I also got to see the control room, the tape library, and much more. Tour guides told us some amazing stories, and there were lots of photos and other memorabilia to look over. The icing on the cake was that, at the very end of the tour, they handed each of us a hard cover copy of Berry Gordy's autobiography, in which he told the full story of his life and a thousand great stories about Motown and the artists he worked with.
At every spare moment during the rest of the cruise, I read that book and totally enjoyed it from cover to cover. As a fan of Motown music for the last 50+ years, it was an incredible treat to hear the founder of the company tell his version of the Motown story. And for the rest of the cruise, the plane ride home, and the weeks that followed... I listened to a mix of Motown hits on my MP3 player, and enjoyed them more than I ever have.
After that wonderful day in the big city of Detroit, our ship made her way on to Lake Huron and over to the little town of Parry Sound in the province of Ontario, Canada. Any town with a railroad trestle running smack through the downtown is fine for me!
I spent the afternoon on an excursion boat, touring the waters of Parry Sound. Still photos don't do it justice... so, you'll have to wait to see it in my upcoming video.
The next day we were in the city of Midland at the south end of Georgian Bay. The thing I'll remember most about Midland is all the murals that they have on the side of the buildings in the downtown. I especially liked this mural of a steam train...
Another thing I won't soon forget about Midland is a local delicacy known as a butter tart. This is something I've never eaten in my entire life, up until this point... but they actually hand them out for free to everyone coming off of cruise ships in Midland. Sweet and tasty!
I also went on an excursion to an old navy base from the 1800s, where fast wooden sailing ships were based. It was a beautiful place in a protected cove off South Georgian Bay, and I think I captured the beauty of it in this picture:
After our day in Midland, we had a LONG way to go to reach our next destination of Sault Ste Marie. In fact, it took an entire day of nonstop sailing with no stops to get all the way up to Sault Ste Marie. On ocean cruises, a day spent at sea with no stops is known as a "sea day". Since we were on a lake, not an ocean, I called this a "lake day". I had been extremely busy shooting photos and videos of everywhere we visited up until this point. It was nice to have a lake day to relax a little bit and read my Motown book.
Our next stop was Sault Ste Marie, which is where Lake Superior connects to Lake Huron through a series of locks. There's a large set of locks, capable of handling big ships, on the American side of the border in Sault Ste Marie. Our ship didn't have time to visit Lake Superior... so, our ship never went through the locks there. However, I wanted to see the locks, since they're such an important part of Sault Ste Marie... so, I took a boat excursion through the historic, smaller locks on the Canadian side. Here's a photo I snapped there:
After our day in Sault Ste Marie, our ship headed to world-famous Mackinac Island... a favorite vacation destination for people who live in the upper Midwest part of the United States. My siblings and I were all born in Chicago, Illinois, and I remember hearing a lot of talk in those days about Mackinac Island being the ultimate vacation destination. Well, it only took me 60+ years to finally get there!
Here's a short video I put together to show some things I loved about Mackinac Island:
The day we were on Mackinac Island, there was a world-class cruise ship there, too... the Viking Polaris. Here's a photo I shot of her from my drone, as she lay at anchor just off the island...
I got a kick out of seeing Viking Polaris because about a year ago, I had the priviledge of sailing on her sister ship, Viking Octantis. Those two ships are absolutely amazing. I think they are two of the best cruise ships in the world. They are designed to sail in Antarctica, and that's where they spend about half of the year. But during the Antarctic winter, they come up here to the Great Lakes for cruises during our summer. Incredibly, those Viking ships each carry two submarines that can take passengers down under the water for a look around. I got to ride in one during my cruise on Viking Octantis, and I'll never forget it.
With our cruise rapidly winding down, one of our final stops was Muskegon, Wisconsin... another one of those places that didn't sound too exciting when I first saw the itinerary... but that turned out to be a really interesting place to visit. Muskegon was a town full of industry back in the old days. Lots and lots of things were manufactured in Muskegon... from Brunswick bowling equipment to automobile parts. There's a museum in town that really tells the story well.
A Brunswick pin setting machine on display at a museum in Muskegon
A Midwest town whose economy depends on manufacturing inevitably experiences a cycle of boom and bust... and that's exactly what happened in Muskegon. What was interesting was how well they turned themselves around and turned the downtown in to a tourist-friendly place. I had a good time walking around and checking it out. They had done a good job of modernizing the downtown... converting old factories in to modern apartments and condominiums. Yet at the same time, they preserved some of their beautiful historic neighborhoods.
After a morning of exploring the historic downtown, I headed out on an afternoon excursion to visit a World War II era Gato-class submarine that had been nicely preserved and turned in to a museum. I was free to roam through it and shoot video... and I made this 5-minute YouTube video about it:
Our final destination on this 12-day cruise was Milwaukee, Wisconsin... yet another place that didn't sound all that interesting, but that turned out to be a very enjoyable place to visit. Here's a shot from my drone of our ship docked next to the Discovery Science Museum & Aquarium:
The science museum and aquarium were quite interesting to me! The reason I decided to visit (besides the fact that it was right next to where we were docked) was that they had a HO-scale model train layout in the museum. Here's a short video I shot of it:
The aquarium was quite interesting, too...
Check out the teeth on this Piranha...
Milwaukee was the end of the line for this wonderful 12-day cruise, and I flew home from there. This had been one very memorable cruise, and even the places that sounded like they might be boring all turned out to be interesting in their own ways! The big highlights were Niagara Falls, my visit to the Motown recording studio in Detroit, and my day spent on Mackinac Island... but all the other places we visited were interesting, too. I really enjoyed this opportunity to explore the Great Lakes region. Huge thanks to my friends at American Cruise Lines and Pearl Seas Cruises for making it happen!
An important part of any cruise is the food that you get to eat! But I'm absolutely the wrong guy to listen to when it comes to cruise ship food, because my tastes in food are not at all normal. I'm a super-picky eater that is much happier eating a burger or a pizza than a gourmet meal.
I did really enjoy the breakfasts on Pearl Mist. For probably the last 50 years, I have almost always started my day off with a big breakfast... and the restaurant on Pearl Mist did not disappoint. Here was my typical breakfast for this 12-day cruise...
I heard a lot of good comments about the food that was served on Pearl Mist. Many of my fellow passengers enjoyed it tremendously. Here are a couple of photos I took of dinners I ate on Pearl Mist...
These were nicely prepared meals, and definitely very tasty... but it just wasn't my style at all. Again, I know I'm weird in this respect. I'm sure most people would really enjoy this type of food. It's just not really what I crave. So, on quite a few days, while our ship was docked in port somewhere... I would go in search of my kind of food for lunch. Here are a couple of things I had for lunch, off the ship, that I really enjoyed...
I had pizza in several different
cities we visited, but this was my favorite.
Guy's Pizza Company in Cleveland... about a 10 minute walk from the ship.
Montana's BBQ in Sault Ste Marie... about a 2 minute walk from the ship.
Summary: I Loved This Cruise
The fact that I've now been on 61 cruises should definitely tell you that I'm completely at home on a cruise ship and that a cruise is my favorite type of vacation. I've liked every cruise I've ever been on, but some more than others. This one I loved a lot! Sure, a small ship like this doesn't hold a candle to the comforts of a big ocean-going cruise ship... but a cruise like this is not about the ship, it's about the places you visit and things you get to do there.
Also, on a small ship like this, you interact with the other passengers in a completely different way than you do on a mega cruise ship. You feel anonymous on a mega ship. The folks you share an elevator with on a mega ship... you're unlikely to ever see them again during the rest of the cruise. But on a 200-passenger ship like Pearl Mist, it's completely different. You have a chance to really get friendly with your fellow passengers, and to get to know some of them.
A mother-daughter duo I enjoyed meeting on Pearl Mist
The other big difference about a river or lake cruise versus an ocean cruise is that there's a lot more to see when the ship is in motion. On an ocean ship, once it's at sea there's not much to see but water and sky. But on a river or lake cruise, you're within sight of land most of the time. I really enjoyed sitting on my balcony, or up on one of the outdoor decks on top of the ship, and watching the scenery go by. The Great Lakes region is incredibly scenic. I'm really glad that I got to see it. I tremendously enjoyed this cruise.
Need A Travel Agent?
Booking a cruise can be confusing, especially if you haven't been on many cruises before. There are lots of first-time cruiser mistakes that a travel agent can keep you from making. Also, the call centers of some of the big cruise lines are severely understaffed these days... creating extremely long wait times to talk to a customer service representative. When you book a cruise through a travel agent, you'll never have to get stuck on hold with the cruise line... your travel agent does all that kind of stuff for you.
If you're interested in booking a cruise with any cruise line...
please feel free to use the services of my travel agent, Caitlin Gallagher.
She's extremely pleasant to deal with, easy to talk to since she lives in the United States and speaks without any kind of an accent,
and quite experienced and knowledgeable about different types of cruising.
She's also a certified cruise consultant for American Cruise Lines...
which means that she's completed extensive training specific to the ships of
American Cruise Lines and knows how to properly advise you when booking a cruise
Caitlin is the owner of Ambren Travel. Visit her web site, check out the Ambren Travel Facebook page, or contact her using the information below.
Other Cruise Ships I've Been On
If you've enjoyed this page, you would probably also enjoy reading my web pages about:
My first river cruise: American Harmony
My second river cruise: American Melody
The Cherry Blossom cruise: American Constitution
Puget Sound cruise: American Constellation
Viking's new Expedition Ship: Viking Octantis
July 2021 Iceland Cruise on Viking Sky
January 2020 Carnival Panorama
December 2019 cruise in The Haven on Norwegian Joy
May 2019 Carnival Horizon cruise
April 2019 Norwegian Breakaway cruise
January 2019 Caribbean cruise on the Viking Sea
December 2018 country music cruise on the Norwegian Getaway
May 2018 Panama Canal cruise on the Norwegian Bliss
January 2018 cruise on MSC Seaside in a suite with a private Jacuzzi
September 2017 Carnival Vista cruise in a Havana Suite
October 2017 Norwegian Sky cruise in the owner's suite
The $1600 per night owners suite: January 2017 Norwegian Pearl
An Un-crowded Small Ship Experience: Viking Star
One Of The Best Waterslides At Sea: Liberty Of The Seas
Quite Possibly The Best Cruise Ship In The World: Anthem Of The Seas
January 2017 Allure Of The Seas
One of the best cruise ships we've ever experienced: The Norwegian Escape
2015 Carnival Breeze back-to-back cruises
Back-to-back cruises on Independence Of The Seas
World's largest cruise ship: Allure Of The Seas
2015 Carnival Freedom repositioning cruise
Our first VIP cruise in The Haven: The Norwegian Getaway
Our June 2014 Alaska cruisetour with Princess
Our first cruise with Princess! January 2014 Sapphire Princess
2014 back-to-back eastern/western Caribbean cruises on the Carnival Glory
The completely refurbished Carnival Sunshine
One of Carnival's best ships, the Carnival Breeze
A sister ship to the Breeze, the Carnival Magic
Our 2013 cruise on the Carnival Conquest
One of the oldest ships in the fleet, the Carnival Inspiration
Our first Caribbean cruise: the Carnival Glory
Our many cruises on the Carnival Spirit
Our February 2010 cruise on the Carnival Splendor
Our January 2008 cruise on the Carnival Elation
Our April 2008 cruise on the Norwegian Star
Our first cruise! 1996 on Carnival Cruise Line's MS Holiday
Click here to see the complete chronology of all the cruises we've ever taken.
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