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Cruise Views

More Chances to Test the Waters Close to Home


Between the 1930s and '50s, cruising the Great Lakes was a popular summer holiday. A close-to-home vacation coupled with cool lake breezes appealed to Americans, but as cruising expanded into the Caribbean and Alaska and air travel became easier, the demand for a Great Lakes cruise declined.

Now Great Lakes cruising is coming back, not so much as a result of Sept. 11 but because American and European cruise companies have recognized its appeal. American Canadian Caribbean Line, based in Warren, R.I., has been sailing the Great Lakes for a decade or more, and European ships represented by Great Lakes Cruise Co., a Michigan-based cruise operator chartering Canadian-flag and European-owned small cruise vessels, have been sailing the lakes since 1999. Both are offering summer sailings in Lakes Superior, Michigan, Huron, Erie and Ontario.

Great Lakes Cruise will operate three vessels this summer and early fall: the 95-passenger Le Levant, sailing from Chicago to Toronto for eight nights beginning June 18; the 18-passenger Georgian Clipper, which will cruise Canada's 30,000 Islands in Georgian Bay off Lake Huron for six-night sailings from June 16 to Aug. 28; and the 420-passenger Columbus, sailing four itineraries that include parts of all five lakes plus Georgian Bay in September.

American Canadian's 100-passenger Grande Mariner sails on Lake Michigan round trip from Chicago on six-night itineraries departing July 9 and Aug. 18, plus some Erie Canal and foliage cruises in late August, September and early October. This small, simple American-flagged vessel has an American captain and crew and a bring-your-own-bar policy. (Ice and setups are provided.) No liquor is sold on board, but soft drinks are included in the fare. Smoking is not permitted in the cabins or public rooms, only on outside decks.

Dress is casual, and passengers may sit where they wish at single-seating meals. Gratuities, port charges and shore excursions are not included. The six-night cruises round trip from Chicago are priced from $1,315 per person, double occupancy. The lowest-priced cabins are inside, windowless or with a small porthole. Cabins with windows begin at $1,455 per person, double. Passengers younger than 14 are not permitted.

Le Levant, the most luxurious of the vessels, travels on all Great Lakes on its eight-night sailing from Chicago to Toronto. Fares begin at $3,850 per person, double occupancy, for an outside stateroom with marble bath and shower. All shore excursions, shipboard gratuities, transfers, lunch and dinner wines, port charges and lectures are included.

The French-built vessel, which debuted in 1998, has sleek yacht-like lines, with generous deck space, a small swimming pool and a spa pool, a hair salon, library, elevator, infirmary and hospital, steam room, sports center, two restaurants and indoor and outdoor bars. The crew and cuisine are French.

The itinerary includes an overnight at the Chicago Inter-Continental with half a day sightseeing. Passengers board June 19 and begin daily ports of call the next day.

Stops include Sturgeon Bay in Wisconsin's Door County on Lake Michigan; Michigan's Mackinac Island; Whitefish Point in Lake Superior; Little Current, Ontario, near the mouth of Georgian Bay; Port Huron on Lake Huron; Windsor and Detroit on Lake Erie; and Welland Canal for Niagara Falls, arriving June 26 in Toronto. The cruise will feature reports from a Great Lakes shipwreck excursion. Divers will transmit audio and video to the ship from an underwater vehicle operated by remote control.

The 420-passenger Columbus, built in Germany in 1997, is the largest vessel offering such trips this summer. Officers and crew are European and international. All passengers dine at a single seating in the restaurant, and buffet breakfasts and lunches are also available in the Palm Garden on the top deck. Smoking is permitted only in cabins and on deck; public rooms are smoke-free.

Fares begin at $1,595 per person, double occupancy, for an inside cabin on a seven-night cruise. Those on a tight budget can book a cabin that sleeps four for $995 per person on the seven-night packages, $760 each on the five-night packages. Suites range from $2,550 to $4,415 per person, double occupancy. Single passengers pay $2,995 for the seven-night program, $2,065 for the five-night tour when booking one of the two designated single cabins. Or the line will assign a roommate. If none has been found by June 7, the single will pay 150% of the per-person, double occupancy, rate.

The fare includes an overnight hotel stay in the city of embarkation, transfer from hotel to ship, lectures and, for passengers who book inside cabins, one free shore excursion.

Airport transfers, shore excursions and alcoholic beverages--except for welcome aboard and farewell cocktail parties--are extra.

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