“Guests from the Victory cruise ship can bypass the line and be seated immediately!” the swanky dining room hostess announced. Husband Rob and I felt privileged to dine at the world-famous Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island in Michigan. It was a pleasant part of our cruise on the Great Lakes.
Great Lakes Cruise with Victory Cruise Lines
While pondering cruise options to escape the summer heat, we had chosen Victory Cruise Line’s Great Lakes 10-day itinerary which embarked in Toronto and disembarked in Chicago. The Great Lakes area melds rugged wilderness and pristine maritime scenery. Port cities boast superb cultural institutions, while port towns offer strong historic appeal. At every port, the ship was met by clean comfortable buses and seasoned local tour guides who knew the area well.
At the beautiful Niagara Falls region, Ontario tour guides and drivers warmly greeted us. We enjoyed a tour, wine tasting and lunch at Chateau de Charmes Winery where we learned how ice wines are produced. In pretty Niagara-on-the-Lakes, we had time to explore the shops and galleries.
In mid-afternoon motor coaches took us to the Canadian side of Niagara Falls. After photo ops from a cliff above the falls, we walked down to the base area, where we donned red plastic ponchos before boarding a Hornblower boat for a thrilling ride up close to the misty falls.
The next port was Cleveland. Well-versed trolley drivers provided comprehensive tours covering history, industrial and medical development, education, parks and philanthropists. A highlight was a docent talk in the historic Wade Chapel in Lake View Park Cemetery. Designed by Louis Tiffany, the chapel was donated by Jeptha Wade, founder of Western Union Telegraph. Victory guests who visited Cleveland’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in the afternoon gave it high reviews.
While docked in Windsor, Ontario some guests visited historic Fort Maldin, while others crossed the river to tour the Detroit Art Institute. The afternoon excursion to the amazing Henry Ford Museum of Innovation was a popular choice. The extensive array of exhibits included presidential vehicles, railroads, farm and industry machinery, American furniture and much more.
During a full day crossing Lake Huron, we enjoyed the first of three themed High Teas and a fascinating bridge tour. An onboard lecturer discussed Great Lakes ship wrecks and ended with Gordon Lightfoot’s haunting “Edmund Fitzgerald” recording.
On a sunny June day, Victory 1 twice transited the famous Soo Locks and did a graceful turnaround in Lake Superior. Guests visited the museum ship Valley Camp as well as an aviation site on the Canadian side. It was thrilling to watch gigantic cargo freighters passing in the channels.
A Visit to Mackinac Island
The grand finale of our cruise was an all-day visit to historic Mackinac Island where automobiles are shunned in favor of horse-drawn carriages, wagons, bicycles and walking. Victory guests enjoyed an island tour in larger carriages pulled by two- or three-horse teams. Carriage drivers told us in summer the island employs six veterinarians for 500 horses. In contrast, one doctor serves 500 permanent island residents.
A highlight was watching a cannon and rifle shooting demonstration by historic interpreters at Fort Mackinac. Located at the island’s highest point, the restored fort proved to be an ideal photo op. Because we had previously visited the island, we skipped the dozens of fudge and gift shops.
A much anticipated treat was Sunday Buffet brunch at the Grand Hotel which boasts the world’s longest porch. The long and lavish buffet exceeded expectations for both quality and quantity of food and service. Built in 1890, the massive structure was completed in a record 93 days.
Numerous movies including “Somewhere in Time” starring Christopher Reeve and Jane Seymour were set in the Grand. The hotel itself is a tourist attraction, surrounded by massive beds of fragrant colorful spring flowers. We enjoyed climbing the stairs to the cupola, the hotel’s highest vantage point, as well as the art gallery and extensive grounds with fountains, swimming pool and a golf course.
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