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11 AMAZING Michigan Great Lakes Cruises (2023)

great lakes cruises

Best Michigan Great Lakes Cruises

Dreaming of the new and amazing Great Lakes cruises to discover the stunning natural beauty of Michigan?

You’re not alone. One of the best ways to take in the stunning scenic beauty of Michigan and the Great Lakes is from the deck of one of the luxurious Great Lakes cruise ships.

All along the shorelines of Lake Huron, Michigan, Superior, Erie and Ontario are vibrant cities, historical sites and natural wonders that make the Great Lakes one of the hottest under-the-radar travel destinations.

These luxury cruises offer an all-encompassing opportunity to absorb nature from your stateroom, and explore the five Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence River.

Great Lake Cruise Ships Growing in Popularity

Interest in Great Lakes cruising has grown dramatically as the word spreads on these special expedition cruises that visit top travel destinations like Sault Saint Marie, Mackinac Island, Manitoulin Island, as well as cities like Detroit Michigan, Milwaukee WI, Duluth, MN and many more.

While the Great Lakes aren’t as well known for luxury cruises, world-class tourist destinations like Chicago, Mackinac Island and Niagara Falls can all be experienced in a Great Lakes Cruise as well.

great lakes cruise

Why Take Michigan Great Lakes Cruises and Expeditions?

Michigan Great Lakes cruises are not your typical cruise, and that’s one reason why they have become so popular in recent years. Part expedition, part scenic luxury cruise, Great Lakes cruises offer a unique opportunity for curious travelers to explore secret bays, charming small towns and ports of call.

Since there are only eleven cruises offered on the Great Lakes, you won’t experience crowded ports or mega-ships jockeying for position in the harbors.

This brings a relaxing and serene quality to your Michigan vacation getaway.

Mini expeditions to an amazing national park or provincial park for hiking and kayaking are just part of the cruising experience in the Great Lakes. You’ll have memorable on-shore excursions to top museums, lighthouses and perhaps a horsedrawn carriage ride around Mackinac Island, too.

With eight Great Lakes cruise lines (Viking, American Queen, Hapag-Lloyd, Pearl Seas, Ponant Explorers, Vantage, Plantours and St. Lawrence Cruise Lines) and 11 vessels to choose from, there is something for everyone willing to indulge in the wonders of the Great Lakes.

Use our Great Lakes Cruise Guide to explore basic cruise itineraries, discover ports of call and more.

deck of one of the great lakes cruises
When is Great Lakes Cruise Season?

Cruise the Great Lakes in spring, summer or fall as the cruise season is planned around the climate. While spring and summer cruises offer amazing scenic views, you should seriously consider a fall foliage tour. The towering forests are ablaze with color in the autumn months. Backlit by a bright blue sky and the reflective waters, the colors mimic the famed New England fall foliage.

Discover These Top Michigan Great Lake Cruises

Viking Cruises: Viking Octantis
From $5,995 to $12,995

As the world’s leading river and ocean cruise line and voted number one by both Condé Nast Traveler and Travel + Leisure, Viking Cruises guarantees quality in sleek Scandinavian style for the most curious travelers on a Great Lakes Cruise.

You can choose from a variety of Viking Great Lakes cruises and expeditions that highlight the stunning natural beauty of Michigan and North American wilderness, from towering old growth forests to the islands dotting the blue waters. You’ll also find historic cities and unique ports to explore.

Viking Octantis’s Great Lakes Cruise stretches from Canada to the northern United States, ranging from eight to 15 days on the water. The famous “Niagara & the Great Lakes Cruise” begins in Toronto, Ontario and ends in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, with stops in Detroit, Alpena and Mackinac Island, Michigan.

Travelers can discover North America’s wilderness at spots like Point Pelee, Ontario, Canada alongside renowned cultural attractions while cruising the waterways of the Great Lakes.

For a more exploration-themed Great Lakes Cruise, the “Undiscovered Great Lakes Cruise” starts in Thunder Bay, Ontario ending in Milwaukee. Those on this line will cross Lake Superior between Duluth and the Soo Locks, exploring the Apostle Islands and Keweenaw Peninsula.

cruise the great lakes

More Viking Great Lakes Cruises

Finally, the new “Great Lakes Collection cruise” is a unique expedition across the historic waterways of all five of the majestic Great Lakes. This cruise ports in Toronto and ends in Duluth, Minnesota — a whopping 15 days on the water to get your feel of scenery in this Great Lakes Cruise.

Guided shore excursions to top Michigan travel destinations like Detroit, Alpena and Mackinac Island provide an opportunity to enjoy the pure Michigan natural beauty and vibrant cities rich in culture.

The Viking Octantis offers more indoor and outdoor than other expedition vessels, putting guests as close as possible to the most beautiful scenery during their Great Lakes Cruise.

The Scandinavian, Viking-inspired decor includes The Nordic Spa, the Explorers’ Lounge, where travelers can lounge and take in the scenery through floor-to-ceiling windows, and The Pools, a “heated sanctuary” featuring an “inside-out” pass-through swimming experience.

best great lakes cruise

Pearl Seas Cruises: Pearl Mist
From $5,350 to $10,070

Boasting four different Great Lakes cruises, the Pearl Mist guarantees “perfect comfort” while cruising to the most fascinating destinations in the Great Lakes region.

The seven-night voyage touches shore at Holland, home to North America’s only authentic Dutch windmill.

Then, the cruise sails to Mackinac Island for travelers to experience the slow-paced lifestyle of this iconic Victorian-era island.

Finally, the cruise makes its way to Parry Sound along Ontario’s Georgian Bay , where travelers can marvel at the geologic wonders and untouched wilderness at the finish of this Great Lakes cruise.

The 11-night “Great Lakes Voyage” extends on its shorter cruise, including stops in Cleveland, Ohio, for The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Detroit (aka The Motor City), and Sault Saint Marie, Ontario’s first European community.

The comprehensive 15-night St. Lawrence Seaway and Great Lakes cruise allows travelers to explore breathtaking landscapes, historic harbors and cities.

Beginning in Quebec City, this Great Lakes cruise takes travelers through the cobblestone streets of Montreal, cultural treasures in Toronto, the historical city of Detroit, natural wonders of Georgian Bay and the legendary spots in Milwaukee.

More Pearl Seas Cruises

Finally, the Great Lakes Explorer, Pearl Seas’ “most immersive exploration” Great Lakes cruise, stretches 15 days. Most notable is the exhilarating boat ride in Niagara Falls that takes travelers within feet of its spray. In addition, this Great Lakes cruise includes a 300-year-old history lesson of the Soo Locks and an exploration of Michigan’s pristine wilderness in Marquette through Lake Superior.

The Pearl Mist is an elegant, comfortable vessel with various spacious lounges, libraries and social atmospheres like it’s Atlantic Lounge. The ship has recently upgraded with fresh color palettes, sumptuous textiles and linens, new furniture and carpets, and inspired artwork.

If you are looking for a modern, sleek Great Lakes cruise, the Pearl Mist is your best bet.

northern coast of lake superior from a great lakes cruise

American Queen Voyages: Ocean Voyager and Ocean Navigator
from $5,489 to $8,889

Formerly Victory Cruise Lines, American Queen Voyages has the most extensive Great Lakes cruise options, with nine different itineraries.

Its 11-day “Toronto to Chicago” voyage’s first stop is near Niagara Falls at Port Colborne, Ontario. Then, Detroit, Cleveland, Sault Ste. Marie and Mackinac Island are just a few thrilling stops on this Great Lakes cruise.

Are you looking for more time at sea? The Roundtrop Chicago (Milwaukee) Great Lakes cruise features 16 days on the water.

Urban allure launches this voyage with its port in Chicago. Then the vessel moves through mystic Michigan hideaways such as the beautiful Mackinac Island, the magnificent Marquette — known for its 323-acre park, Presque Isle Park, on Lake Superior — and Houghton, the jewel of the Upper Peninsula with rolling hills and indigo water.

This Great Lakes cruise also hits Green Bay, Wisconsin — yes, like the football team — for tourists to indulge in craft breweries, boutiques, fresh sea fare and Green Bay’s contagious spirit and personality.

More American Queen Voyages

Upon the Voyager and the Navigator, the Great Lakes cruise line boasts “intimate and agile.” With a max capacity of 202 guests, the crew ensures travelers feel at home the moment they step aboard, with cocktails served on deck, hot coffee served room side in the mornings, and delicious chocolate waiting on their pillows at night.

While offering fewer amenities on-board than some of the other Great Lakes cruises on this list, American Queen Voyages provides ultimate relaxation and pampering for the adventurous Great Lakes cruise traveler.

cruise ship on the great lakes

Ponant: Le Champlain, Le Bellot and Le Dumont-D’Urville
From $5,480 to $9,710

With a multilingual French crew, attentive service, fine dining and more, this five-star Great Lakes cruise guarantees exceptional destinations and authentic, high-end travel experiences.

Perhaps their most popular option, Ponant’s “A Voyage Along the Great Lakes — with Smithsonian Journeys” is an eight-day Great Lakes cruise from Toronto.

The vessel will sail the canal connecting Lake Ontario and Lake Erie, putting travelers under the mighty Niagara Falls. From there, travelers will hit Lake Huron with its sapphire waters, Sault Ste. Marie for the Soo Locks and Mackinac Island for exploration before ending on Lake Michigan in Milwaukee.

Travelers can book a similar-length Great Lakes cruise called “The Great Lakes of North America.” This option sails by the heart of a flamboyant nature full of colors in late summer. However, this option doesn’t stop at all the ports listed above.

Another Great Lakes cruise option is the newest 11-day Expedition between Lake Michigan and Lake Superior. Starting in Milwaukee, travelers sail along Lake Michigan, where the first settlers and Indigenous communities were located.

The next stop on this Great Lakes cruise is Sturgeon Bay, with its jagged coastline and historic lighthouses, vineyards and fruit trees. Stops in Mackinac Island, Sault Ste. Marie and Lake Superior comprise most of this cruise until its end at Thunder Bay.

things to do in mackinac island

More Ponant Great Lakes Cruises

Finally, Ponant’s other 11-day expedition Great Lakes cruise starts in the largest freshwater lake, Lake Michigan, before sailing to Lake Huron. Pine trees and magnificent deciduous and resinous forests decorate Lake Huron’s shoreline.

Next, Georgian Bay hosts unspoiled islands and nature reserves, following in the footsteps of Indigenous communities. The vessel then heads down the St. Clair River and through the Detroit River to Lake Erie at Point Pelee National Park before stopping at its most famous destination: Niagara Falls.

Ponant’s cruise ships have a modern, intimate feel, accommodating limited passengers to maintain maximum privacy and a five-star experience. With amenities such as Le Diamant, a panoramic restaurant serving delicate cuisine, various lounges to relax with a drink or take a class, and excursions to make each trip unique, choose Ponant if luxury is essential to your Great Lakes cruise.

drinks on deck of  a great lakes cruise

Hapag-Lloyd Hanseatic Inspiration
From $9,000

This state-of-the-art expedition ship is small in size but big in comfort.

With space for no more than 230 guests, you’ll find a lot of open deck space for relaxing and taking in the serenity of the Great Lakes landscape.

Choose from four Great Lakes cruises offered by this upscale cruise line, including a 14-day Milwaukee-to-Toronto journey through Lake Erie, Lake Huron, Lake Superior and Lake Michigan.

Stopping in Windsor, Ontario, you’ll enjoy an excursion to the Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation near Detroit before heading north to Lake Huron’s Sweetwater Sea; the Georgian Bay. After visiting the charming coastal towns, you’ll head north through the straits of Mackinac and the historic Soo Locks, before entering Lake Superior and the Thunder Bay area.

You can also opt for shorter cruises from Milwaukee to Windsor, Ontario, CA. There’s also a Toronto to Boston cruise that features just one of the Great Lakes but is still quite beautiful. You’ll start in Lake Ontario, pass the Thousand Island area before heading up the St. Lawrence River, and around the Canadian Maritimes before heading to Boston.

the wake of a great lakes cruise boat

Vantage Ocean Explorer and Ocean Odyssey
From $8700

This 14-day cruise aboard a small ship built for global expedition travel includes a more in-depth exploration of vibrant cities like Chicago and Toronto as well as naturally beautiful wilderness spots like Manitoulin Island in Lake Huron.

Smaller excursions aboard Zodiacs are available and allow you to take in the flora and fauna up close. You’ll find just 77 cabins, curated lectures, programs, musical performances, and cultural events as well as hot tubs, a sauna, lounges and gourmet dining. Other amenities include a library, gift shop and top deck observation deck.

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About the Author-

SaMya Overall is a Content Writer at She is a fourth-year graduating senior at Michigan State University. She currently works as Editor-in-Chief of The State News, Michigan State’s award-winning student media company. Prior to becoming EIC, she worked as a campus reporter and copy chief at The State News. She’s passionate about Detroit and its surrounding area, and is a low-key collegiate sports lover on her free time.