A Fall Getaway on the Great Lakes with Viking
The allure of the Great Lakes in autumn is undeniable. As the leaves begin to shift from green to shades of gold and red, the lakes stand as vast, tranquil mirrors reflecting the changing season. This year, I decided to immerse myself in this spectacle, choosing Viking’s Expedition ship, the Polaris, as my vessel of discovery. With the promise of exploring three iconic lakes on the itinerary, I was eager to delve into the unique character and offerings of each.
Lake Michigan: The adventure began on Lake Michigan, the only Great Lake entirely within the U.S. Covering four states—Michigan, Wisconsin, Illinois, and Indiana—it’s the second largest by volume among the Great Lakes. The lake’s coastline boasts dunes, cliffs, and numerous lighthouses, highlighting its maritime history. It’s been a crucial route for trade and transportation for ages.
Lake Huron: We then navigated to Lake Huron, distinguished by its impressive collection of 30,000 islands. The Georgian Bay stood out with its clear waters and rich maritime legacy. This lake has seen countless ships pass through its waters, each with its own story. The bay, with its intertwining tales of sailors, trade, and exploration, offered a deeper understanding of the region’s past.
Lake Superior: Our final stop was Lake Superior, recognized as the largest and deepest of the Great Lakes. Beyond its size, the lake holds tales of ancient shipwrecks and maritime adventures. One notable location was Silver Islet, known for its once-prosperous silver mine that drew hopeful miners in the late 1800s. Additionally, the breathtaking views from Sleeping Giant Provincial Park provided a visual treat, further deepening our appreciation for this expansive body of water.
Every sunrise heralded a fresh chapter in my adventure. Let’s delve into my day-by-day exploration of three of the Great Lakes!
Day 1: Milwaukee, Wisconsin
Our journey began in Milwaukee, a city known for its rich history and contemporary culture. The RiverWalk along the Milwaukee River features art installations and historical markers. Additionally, Milwaukee’s brewing heritage is evident in its architecture and local pubs, a nod to its past as the world’s beer capital.
Day 2: Mackinac Island
Mackinac Island is a unique blend of history and natural beauty. With cars being notably absent, the island’s mode of transportation is dominated by bicycles and horse-drawn carriages, preserving its old-world charm. During my visit, I rented a bike and took a leisurely ride around the island, soaking in its scenic beauty and the serene atmosphere. The Mackinac Island State Park, which covers a significant portion of the island, offers trails that highlight its natural splendor. The Grand Hotel, with its iconic long porch, stands as a beacon of the island’s rich past. And no visit is complete without indulging in the island’s famous fudge, a treat that has delighted visitors for generations.
Day 3: Parry Sound, Ontario
Parry Sound, with its deep freshwater port, has roots tracing back to its establishment near the Ojibwe village. The maritime history here is evident, especially when you delve into stories of the past. The “Lighthouses of Georgian Bay” excursion was a highlight. We cruised the waters, got insights into the lighthouses, and listened to tales of sailors from long ago. Additionally, the UNESCO-designated Georgian Bay Biosphere Reserve Walk provided a deeper understanding of the region’s ecological significance.
Day 4: Killarney, Ontario
Killarney offered a distinct landscape with its pink granite cliffs. I took the opportunity to kayak through Killarney Provincial Park, navigating close to the shores and getting a firsthand view of the area. The bay was calm, and as we paddled, the surroundings emphasized the raw beauty of the region. This excursion, offered by Viking, was a memorable way to experience Killarney’s natural setting.
Day 5: Frazer Bay, Ontario
Frazer Bay, distinguished by its notable Frazer Hill, sits adjacent to Killarney Provincial Park. The bay’s natural beauty is accentuated by the effects of time, with cliffs bearing the marks of years of erosion. Using Viking’s special operations boats, I was able to get an up-close view of these landscapes, accessing areas that are often overlooked. This unique mode of exploration underscored the bay’s hidden gems and deep-rooted history..
Day 6: Soo Locks – Scenic Transit
Onboard the Polaris, guests gathered as we neared the Soo Locks. Observing the ship navigate the 21-foot elevation difference between Lake Superior and Lake Huron was captivating. Positioned between the twin cities of Sault Ste. Marie in Ontario and Michigan, these locks have facilitated trade and transportation for over a century. As we passed through, the importance of this waterway, bridging the U.S. and Canada, was evident. This experience highlighted the combination of nature and engineering that characterizes the Great Lakes region.
Day 7: Silver Islet, Ontario
At Silver Islet, the Zodiac provided by Viking offered a unique perspective of the coastline. From this vantage point, the rugged cliffs, hidden coves, and the shimmering waters came into full view. The silhouette of the “Sleeping Giant” on the Sibley Peninsula was a dominant presence, its indigenous legends adding layers to the landscape. The area is known for its diverse wildlife, hinting at the rich ecosystem of the region. Venturing further into Sleeping Giant Provincial Park, the trails and panoramic views were a testament to the natural beauty of the area, rounding off a week of unforgettable experiences.
Onboard the Polaris
The Viking Polaris is designed for exploration, seamlessly blending comfort with the thrill of discovery. Every aspect of the ship reflects Viking’s commitment to elegant, understated design. The panoramic Explorers’ Lounge offers guests a serene space to relax, enjoy a cocktail, and gaze out at the ever-changing landscapes. With a capacity of 378 guests, the ship maintains a close-knit atmosphere, ensuring personalized attention and service. The interiors, inspired by Scandinavian design, emphasize clean lines, natural materials, and functionality, creating a calming and sophisticated environment.
The Polaris boasts a unique Hangar, an enclosed in-ship marina. This is where guests board the special operations boats for their excursions. Notably, the Hangar houses two yellow submarines, whimsically named in a nod to The Beatles. These submarines offer a deeper exploration of the Great Lakes. The design ensures sheltered boarding and also serves as storage for the kayaks and Zodiacs. Additionally, for those keen on understanding the environment and ecosystems, the ship features a dedicated science lab.
For those looking for a unique evening experience, the ship boasts “The Hide,” a speakeasy-style lounge. Hidden away from the main areas, it offers an intimate setting for guests to enjoy curated cocktails and engage in conversations, reminiscent of the Prohibition era.
Viking offers a wide variety of excursions tailored to every kind of traveler. With their special operations boats, guests can navigate closer to areas that larger vessels can’t reach, ensuring an unparalleled proximity to the region’s hidden gems. Whether it’s kayaking in pristine waters or exploring quaint towns, the opportunities are vast. Additionally, the Zodiac cruises give guests another option to approach the shoreline, ensuring a more intimate experience with the natural wonders of the Great Lakes.
One of the most unforgettable experiences was descending to the floor of Lake Huron in one of Polaris’s two submarines. This unique excursion offered a perspective of the underwater world that few get to see. The vibrant aquatic life, the undisturbed underwater landscapes, and the sheer thrill of being in a submarine made it a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
My stateroom provided all the comforts I needed. With a private balcony, I enjoyed an uninterrupted view of the Great Lakes, setting the tone for peaceful mornings and evenings. The room itself was well-designed, offering ample space and modern amenities The bathroom was notably spacious, complete with heated floors and plenty of storage for personal items, all reflecting Viking’s Nordic heritage.
The dining options on Polaris cater to every palate. The Restaurant provides a classic dining experience with a menu that changes daily, reflecting both regional specialties and continental classics. Meanwhile, the World Café is a more laid-back setting, offering a vast array of global dishes. A highlight for me was its impressive sushi bar, which became a regular stop during my time onboard. For those craving authentic Italian, Manfredi’s doesn’t disappoint with its high-end offerings. And for a touch of Norwegian comfort, Mamsens serves up traditional treats.
In conclusion, the Great Lakes are a treasure trove of experiences waiting to be discovered. Their vastness, history, and natural beauty offer something unique for every traveler. Exploring them aboard the Viking Polaris elevates the experience, combining luxury with adventure. If you’re considering a trip that’s both enriching and memorable, the Great Lakes should be at the top of your list. Don’t just take my word for it; set sail and see for yourself.