A voyage through America's five Great Lakes awaits you! On this 14-day journey, follow urban allure to innovative cities while taking plenty of time to admire nature’s beauty enveloping the gorgeous islands and bodies of water straddling the U.S. and Canada.
Great Lakes & Waterfronts: Chicago to Toronto offers a balance of past and present, beginning with a tour in the Windy City to get your fill of deep-dish pizza, architectural wonders, and fine art. Continue your journey with days cruising Lake Huron, Lake Michigan, and more, exploring islands and indigenous culture. Plus, discover rock-and-roll Cleveland and see how Detroit is a phoenix rising above the ashes into a brand-new, bustling city. Your journey concludes with some time in diverse Toronto. Thanks to the small size of your ship, in many ports we’ll be able to dock right onshore, giving you easy access to your destination. This is almost exclusively how you will embark and disembark throughout most of your journey. However, please note that other ports may require anchoring offshore and tendering inland, which will require a certain level of agility.
You'll have the chance to enjoy all of these incredible highlights while spending 9 nights aboard the 5-star Ocean Explorer, outfitted with all the latest amenities and plenty of small-ship charm. Attend fascinating onboard lectures by our Resident Lecturer, and dine on fine cuisine while taking in panoramic views of your surroundings.
With 20 included features and Cultural Discoveries, embrace the opportunity to experience some of North America’s best lakeside cities, regional cuisine, and indigenous history all in one journey.
Fly to Chicago
Arrive in Illinois for the first leg of your Great Lakes adventure! If you purchased your airfare from Vantage, a Vantage representative will meet you and arrange transfer to your hotel. Spend the afternoon at leisure, with time to explore your new surroundings. Later, join in on a Welcome Dinner with your fellow travelers.
Tour the highlights of Chicago
We’ll take a longer route from our hotel through the city on a half-day panoramic tour of this cultural capital. Then, enjoy the remainder of the day at your leisure. You’ll have the afternoon free to catch some more of the Windy City’s highlights on your own.
Take an architectural boat tour of Chicago and embark the Ocean Explorer
Today will bring a new nautical adventure, as you see Chicago from the water on an architectural tour. More than 50 buildings line the Chicago River, a testament to how this metropolis has thrived over the past century to become one of the world’s largest cities.
You’ll enjoy a tasty and authentic deep-dish pizza lunch before boarding your private motorcoach to Milwaukee. Sit back, relax, and enjoy the scenery as you head to the port of Milwaukee, where the Ocean Explorer awaits your arrival.
Following embarkation, you’ll have time to explore your beautiful 5-star vessel before joining your fellow travelers for a Welcome Briefing. Dinner this evening will be served on board.
Scenic Sailing on Lake Michigan
The only Great Lake located entirely within the United States, Lake Michigan has a surface area of more than 22,000 square miles, making it the fifth largest lake in the world. The name Michigan is believed to come from the native Ojibwe word mishigami, which translates to “great water.” After a scenic day of cruising, we’ll gather for a festive Welcome Reception, followed by dinner in the ship’s main dining room.
Step back in time on car-free Mackinac Island
Explore the popular retreat of Mackinac Island today. With its Revolutionary-era heritage and car-free streets, arriving on the island feels like a true step back in time! Revel in the feel of simpler times with a horse-drawn carriage ride through town. We’ll anchor just offshore and tender into Mackinac Island. Your city tour includes a stop at Fort Mackinac, which was constructed by the British in 1780, taken by the Americans in 1796, and reclaimed by the British at the start of the War of 1812. Then, you'll lunch at the historic Grand Hotel, which features the longest porch in the world and has hosted a roster of illustrious guests, including several U.S. presidents, Thomas Edison, and even Mark Twain. Next, embark on a Fort Mackinac tour that features a cannon and rifle firing event!
Spend the rest of the afternoon exploring the village on your own. Before dinner this evening, enjoy an onboard lecture by the Grand Hotel Historian.
Choose your own adventure in Sault Ste. Marie
Today, we’ll transit the Soo Locks from Lake Huron toward Lake Superior at Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan. Located at the mouth of the St. Mary's River, these four parallel locks — MacArthur (constructed in 1943), Poe (1895), Davis (1914), and Sabin (1919) — pass an impressive 10,000 ships each year.
After docking, you’ll have your choice of adventures and attractions on the U.S. side of the locks, including the Valley Camp Museum Ship and Soo Locks Visitors platform or the Canadian Bushplane Heritage Centre and Ermatinger-Clergue National Historic Site.
Please note: The locks can be congested and it is not guaranteed the ship's passage thru Soo Locks to Lake Superior, in the rare even this happens, we will do our best for those interested to take a ferry to go across.
Encounter Ojibwe tradition and a powwow on Manitoulin Island
Keep your cameras ready as we cruise through the rugged beauty of UNESCO-listed Georgian Bay, sometimes called the sixth Great Lake. We’ll anchor just offshore and tender into our destination of Manitoulin Island, the world’s largest freshwater island and home of the Ojibwe tribe. With native and non-native communities coexisting like nowhere else on the continent, Manitoulin has a history as colorful and diverse as any in Canada. Docking at Little Current, you’ll explore the area’s rich native and nautical history, and discover how the beliefs and customs of the Ojibwe intertwine with Catholicism during a visit to the Immaculate Conception Church.
Spend a day on Lake Huron
Spend the day marveling at incredible views of Lake Huron. The second largest of the Great Lakes, Lake Huron features more 30,000 islands and boasts more shoreline than any of the other Great Lakes. Head to the sun deck with a cocktail and a good book, or with a good camera for some excellent photo opportunities.
Discover Detroit: From the Henry Ford Museum to the Institute of the Arts
Sailing from Lake Erie to Lake Huron, we’ll find ourselves in Detroit, Michigan. Peruse artifacts from American history during a self-guided tour of the Henry Ford Museum, home to the limousine that carried President John F. Kennedy on that fateful day in Texas, the bus in which Rosa Parks stood her ground and sparked the Civil Rights Movement, and the chair Abraham Lincoln was sitting in when he was assassinated. After lunch included at the museum, visit the Detroit Institute of Arts, featuring one of the most renowned art collections in the country. Some of the museum’s notable holdings include Diego Rivera's Detroit Industry Murals and Vincent van Gogh’s Self-Portrait — the first Van Gogh painting to enter a U.S. museum collection. This evening, enjoy dinner and a Motown performance back on the ship as we set sail for Lake Huron.
Tour Cleveland’s iconic sites, including the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame
Embark on a city tour of Cleveland, nestled along the banks of Lake Erie. Depending on the day of the week, our stops may include the stately Museum of Art, the Tiffany-designed Wade Chapel at Lakeview Cemetery, and the bustling West Side Market, where hundreds of vendors hawk everything from fresh seafood to flowers. You're welcome to spend additional time at the Museum of Contemporary Art Cleveland. You'll also have the opportunity to visit the iconic Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, spanning generations of incredible music history displayed in interactive, audibly pleasing exhibits.
Sail into the mists of Niagara Falls and visit a local winery
Excitement prevails today as we disembark in Port Colborne on the southern end of the Welland Canal and drive along the Niagara River for dramatic views of Horseshoe Falls. Then, you’ll board the iconic Hornblower “Voyage to the Falls” for a cruise past the American and Bridal Veil Falls before heading into the misty spray of Niagara’s thunderous Horseshoe.
Back on shore, we’ll drive along picturesque Niagara Parkway, spotting famed Niagara sights including the Floral Clock and the Whirlpool Rapids.
Panoramic Toronto tour and disembark the ship
After breakfast, disembark the Ocean Explorer and set off on a half-day panoramic tour of Toronto. Drive by Toronto City Hall, the Eaton Center, Hockey Hall of Fame, and more, before visiting the pedestrian-only Distillery Historic District. We'll also enjoy the stunning city views from the CN Tower, the tallest free-standing structure in the western hemisphere and one of the Seven Modern Wonders of the World. You'll have lunch before checking into your hotel. Enjoy the rest of the day at leisure, with dinner on your own.
Explore Toronto's gems on your own
Maximize your Toronto time with a day at leisure to explore this city however you wish. Browse the exhibits at the Art Gallery of Ontario or the Royal Ontario Museum, taste your way through the famous St. Lawrence Market, or enjoy waterfront views from the Harbourfront Centre. Lunch and dinner are on your own — and this diverse city offers a gamut of memorable dining experiences.
Return home from Toronto, or stay longer
After breakfast at the hotel this morning, check out of the hotel and transfer to the airport for your flight home. Or, stay a few days longer on an optional extension to discover more of Toronto's gems.
Please Note: Ocean cruising is not the same experience as river cruising; as such, you may experience fluctuating tides and weather patterns that may involve some rocking of your vessel. Itineraries will include all activities as planned except in extreme cases that can’t be controlled by your shipboard crew. Day-by-day itineraries are preliminary and therefore subject to change. If changes occur while on tour, you will be notified by your Cruise Director or regional expert.