An Inside Look at Our Cruise of the Great Lakes (Part 2: The Cruise)

(This article turned out to be way too long, so I broke it into three parts. Part 1: Pre-Cruise is the preplanning and the three days we spent in our embarkation city. Part 2: The Cruise is all about the ship and the cruise. Part 3: Post-Cruise is the three days we spent in the disembarkation city and our mishap getting home.)

We will be cruising on the Viking Octantis, which was built in 2020 as an arctic exploration ship, holds 378 passengers and allows no one under the age of 18. 

As we entered the ship we were directed to a safety briefing, seated in a lounge, which included the crewman and four passengers. He modeled the best life jacket I have ever seen on a ship. It had a built-in coat that was akin to a wet suit. The ship is designed to be a polar explorer, so it is equipped for cold weather. It was the nicest safety briefing I have ever attended.  

Since our room was not ready, we went to lunch at a great buffet. While we were eating someone came around to tell us all the staterooms were now ready.

Our room, a lower level in the price range, was an incredible upgrade from anything we had stayed in before. The steward actually took us on a tour of the room to show us each of the features, including all the light switches.

There are no balconies on this ship. We had a floor to ceiling window with a moving top half which could be opened at the touch of a button to give us fresh air. The opening was at the right height to lean on the lower part and look out the window. There was also another button to lower the blackout shades. (We opened the window three times during the trip.)

The outlets had options of both a European round plug and a US flat plug as well as two USB charging ports.

The room was equipped with a coffee maker and instant coffee and cream. There was a small fridge stocked with free drinks (which we never used). The closet had a lot of hangers as well as a special secluded section to hang wet clothes with warm air movement to dry them quickly without making the room humid. This feature is great for returning from kayaking or swimming, or after being caught in a rainstorm.

The bathroom was the largest I have seen on a ship with a full-sized shower and a thermostat controlled heated floor. 

The bed was very comfortable and had four pillows and we each had reading lights.

The television was a 55-inch smart high-definition set mounted on the wall at the end of the bed. Every lecture given on the ship was broadcast live and also recorded and could be watched at any time in our cabin. The television had hundreds of on demand movies to watch in the room as well as on demand music covering all genres anyone might want to hear. (We listened to music and watched lectures but never watched a movie.)

We took a quick tour of the ship and loved what we saw. 

The walkways near the lifeboats were enclosed hallways so we were inside and the lifeboats were outside. There were a few nice lounges, and bars spread throughout the ship. The passenger book library was very large and was used as decorations throughout the ship. If we saw a book we wanted to read, we could just take it and return it by the end of the trip.

The gym was very well equipped with free weights, machine weights and several aerobic machines. There was a group exercise room where at any time you could request a routine to follow. The staff would load the routine onto the big screen in the exercise room, consisting of yoga, palates or dance, and let you follow a recorded exercise instructor at any time. 

The spa had an incredible hot tub surrounded by windows and lounge chairs. The after spa showers had a chamber that snows on you, another with a dozen or so jets, and a third with a bucket shower. There was also a steam room, a sauna and conventional showers. These were all free. There was also the typical high priced spa treatments available but we didn’t take a tour. 

It was very relaxing almost everywhere on the ship. There was not a production showroom, so unlike other ships we have cruised on there wasn’t a show each night. This ship had two duets playing in both piano bars every evening. 

There was free Wi-Fi service that was great for checking email. The Viking App was a great feature. I logged in and could see our daily schedule and all the activities that were happening on the boat. The food was provided in three restaurants, which were included in the price, but two of them required reservations. Those reservations could be made with the app very easily. We could reserve a two-person table or a group table to join other passengers. We chose a table for two that evening at 7 pm. One of the restaurants that required a reservation had a new menu each night, so we were able to look at each restaurant’s menu for the whole week and decide where we wanted to eat before making the reservations.

After touring the ship we came back to the room and unpacked. We then headed to the library where I picked out a novel and we went to a lounge in the back of the ship to read while sipping a strawberry daiquiri. 

We later attened a lecture on the city of Milwaukee as we were doing an excursion there in the morning.

After dressing for dinner we went to the smart casual restaurant. After dinner we went to a lounge and listened to the contemporary music duo. When they took a break, we moved to the lounge with the classical music duo and played backgammon while we listened from around the corner until they finished their set. We then turned in for the evening.

Day 4 (Milwaukee, WI)

The boat did not travel last night so we woke up to our alarm for the first time in a long time because we had an early tour in the city. We haven’t used an alarm much since I retired. We got dressed, had breakfast, and headed for the bus.

We had a short guided tour though Milwaukee that ended at the Art Museum. It is a nice museum that is most famous for its building which has opening and closing wings that provide shade.  The wings make the building look like it is flying. We saw too many paintings that looked like I could have painted them. That is my criteria for painters. If their work looks so good that I know I could not have painted such a masterpiece, then they are talented artists. If I think I could have done as well, then their work was a waste of paint. Yet there were people actually taking pictures of some of those works that reminded me of the work of a kindergartener. 

We returned to the ship for lunch. Then we went to the bow of the ship for the sail away party as we had a narrated tour down the river and out the break water into Lake Michigan. That is a BIG lake. Collectively the great lakes hold 20% of the world’s fresh water and 95% of the US’s fresh water. 

We then watched a lecture on the TV in our room which covered the conservation and science experiments the ship conducts. This ship is a floating laboratory. Then out of habit I flipped channels and watched a documentary on the history of advertising. Old habits are hard to break. 

We changed clothes to our work out attire and headed for the gym for a bit of stationary bike riding while we listened to an audio book. We have learned if we each use one ear bud of a set, we can enjoy a book together while exercising or hiking. After our dinner in their Italian restaurant, we spent another evening enjoying live music.

Day 5 (Mackinac Island, MI)

Today is Father’s Day and fittingly we are about to experience one of my bucket list locations. We awoke anchored off the coast of Mackinac Island. The view from our room was of the famous Grand Hotel and the city below it. It was a beautiful sunny day with a temperature of about 60 degrees this morning and an expected high of 69.  

I have wanted to visit this small island that is devoid of cars since I saw the movie “Somewhere in Time” with Christopher Reeve and Jane Seymour. Horse drawn carriages and bicycles are the only mode of transportation on the island, unless you are a physician or fireman. We enjoyed sleeping in and having a beautiful island view during breakfast. 

We took a tender to the island. This boat had the best tender access of any cruise ship I have ever been on. It probably helps to have few passengers and no ocean waves.

Our tour started with a horse drawn carriage ride and guided tour of the small town. The tour dropped us off at The Grand Hotel where we spent time exploring and sitting on the rocking chairs on the world’s largest front porch. We then enjoyed the buffet lunch in a very large dining room. It was a nice lunch with a pianist serenading us throughout the meal. 

After lunch we went for a walk to view the grounds including the pool area. What a beautiful hotel, especially considering it was built in the 1800s and took less than 4 months to complete. After leaving the hotel ground we walked back through town to Fort Mackinac. The tour and experience there took about three hours to read the displays and watch the live demonstrations. All of the buildings in this fort are still standing, which is unique for old forts, and were built during the revolutionary war. 

We left the fort to get a place on the sidewalk on Main Street to see the Lilac Festival Parade. Our ship happened to land on the last day of lilac festival week which ends with a parade. We boarded the next to last tender back to the ship. As we boarded, I asked how many people were still left on the island. They told me only two. We spent all the time we could on the island. Next time I visit I will try the fudge and ride a bicycle around the island, which is only eight miles. 

Back in our room we rested for a bit before dressing for dinner. 

After dinner we wandered to the lounge with the piano/violin duet playing classical music for one set and then to the other lounge for the contemporary music for two sets before calling it a night.

Day 6 (Alpena, MI)

Today our shore tour didn’t start until 2 pm so we opted for a lazy morning. We slept in and missed breakfast. When we awoe, we were anchored in Thunder Bay with tenders moving people into the town of Alpena, MI. We watched the lecture on the city, which didn’t have much to say about the current city but spoke more of the history behind the city. 

We then headed for the gym for a bike ride while we listened to our audio book after which we enjoyed an early lunch. After lunch we went to the lounge and played a few games of backgammon followed by showers and dressing for our excursion. 

The predicted high for today was 75 degrees. June in Michigan seems to be a nice time of year.

We hopped onto the lifeboat that took nearly 30 minutes to tender us to the dock. During the trip we listened to our audio book. We toured the Great Lakes Maritime Heritage Center and learned all about the shipwreck alley surrounding us and the first fresh water maritime sanctuary in the world. It was a fascinating stop.

Then we hopped on a glass bottom boat to go out and look at some shipwrecks. That was a bit anticlimactic. Our boat could only see shipwrecks in shallow water, but those are the ones that have been beat down flat by the waves. Not much to see but a beam with muscles stuck to its side. I expected more. The great shipwrecks to view are deep in the water where the waves have not damaged them, and they are well preserved in the cold fresh water of Lake Huron. 

We returned to the ship on our tender listening to another 30 minutes of our audio book. After returning to our room to relax, I read my book in front of the window and we got dressed for dinner. We were a bit hungry, so we opted for dessert first and made a trip to the gelato bar. We then played some backgammon while waiting for our dinner reservations. 

After dinner we wandered around the ship and found a nice pair of chairs to watch the sunset. Then we caught the last set of the musicians in the lounge and called it a night.

Day 7 (Detroit, MI)

We awoke this morning to find our ship traversing the St. Clair River on the way to the city of Detroit. Looking out our window toward the Canadian side, there was not a hill in sight, same for the Michigan side. We didn’t arrive in Detroit until noon so we spent a leisurely morning reading, riding the bike in the gym and eating lunch. 

After docking, we got on a tour bus for a quick tour through downtown Detroit which was more beautiful than I expected. The depressed, run down city I’ve heard about is not what we saw. We were then dropped off at the Rouge Ford Motor Company assembly plant where they assemble the Ford F-150. What a great tour! I highly recommend it. I would like to come back to Detroit to see more sites like Motown and the Ford Museum among other things.

We decided to not get dinner reservations for a restaurant tonight, instead opting for the all you can eat sushi bar. Then a bit of backgammon and on to the musicians before calling it a night.

Day 8 (Point Pelee, Ontario)

We woke up to an alarm again this morning for an early excursion. We were anchored just west of the Point Pelee National Park. This is Canada’s southernmost point. Its latitude is south of the northern border of California. I was so surprised to realize we were in Canada and yet South of my home in Southern Oregon.

We ate breakfast and dressed for an excursion in our sunscreen and life jackets. We boarded a zodiac boat and went on a 45-minute guided boat tour of the park. The guide then let us off at the beach and we hiked on the Marsh Boardwalk where we saw birds, fish, turtles and butterflies.

We came back to the beach for a bar-b-cue lunch and live music, then hopped on a bus to take us to the southern tip of the park. At the visitor center we bought an ornament to commemorate the occasion and hopped on the tram to go farther south. After we walked as far south as we could go in Canada, we hiked back to the visitor center along the beach on the West Beach Footpath. It was in the trees and swarming with bugs. 

We were happy to turn off onto the Woodland Nature Trail where the bugs were a little farther apart. After reaching the visitor center we caught the bus back to the beach landing. 

My Pedometer read over 13,000 steps at that point. We took another zodiac ride back to the ship and rested until it was time to shower and get dressed for dinner.

After dinner a few more games of back gammon and on to the musicians for another pleasant evening. 

Day 9 (Niagara Falls)

We awoke to an alarm again today for another early tour. When I opened the blackout curtains, we were docked in Port Colborne, Canada. This town sits at the beginning of the Welland Canal and lock system we must pass through to drop about 300 feet to Lake Ontario. We made our way to breakfast and then to our 8:30 tour of Niagara Falls.

We took the behind the falls tour, which I don’t recommend. Water looks the same from the front and the back and was very anticlimactic. Just look at it from the front, it is far more impressive. 

After seeing the back side of water we walked along the walkway for a stunning view of all three falls. It is hard to imagine the force that is creating so much mist in the area of the falls. We stopped at the gift shop and picked up an ornament. If I visit here in the future I would like to stay at one of the high rise hotels overlooking the falls.

The bus tour back to the boat continued our narration of the area and the step-off that formed the falls. 

Back for lunch and in need of a nap, Carolyn rested while I finished the book I got from the ship’s library. Then I took a nap before showering and dressing for dinner. 

We went through several locks traversing from Lake Erie to Lake Ontario. We watched both from the deck and from our window. When the ship descended 45 feet in a lock, we could reach out our window and touch the wet and smelly wall. 

We saw the contemporary duo for two hours like we did most every night. (James and Dani of GeminiMusicDuo on social media). If you get a chance to hear them you will enjoy their show like we did. 

Before we went for our evening dose of live music, since this was our last night on the boat, we had to have our suitcases packed and in the hall before 10 pm. Since we will be spending three nights in Toronto, we packed one suitcase with everything we will not be needing during the last three days, the other large suitcase was filled with the remaining things that we don’t need in the morning. We put these two large suitcases in the hall. Anything we had left for the morning went in our small carryon case.

(This story will continue next week with Part 3: Post-Cruise)

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2 thoughts on “An Inside Look at Our Cruise of the Great Lakes (Part 2: The Cruise)”

  1. Really fantastic article. One of the best travel articles I’ve ever read. It seems that Viking is really well run. I’ve always wanted to go to Mackinac Island too and this seems an ideal way to do it.


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