Best Boat Cruises in Michigan

Boat cruises are great for family fun here in the Great Lakes State!

Flanked by Lake Michigan to the west, Lake Huron to the east, Lake Superior to the north and a spot of Lake Erie to the southeast, our Great Lakes State is full of boating opportunities – not to mention the many rivers and lakes in between!

So why not add something different to your family vacation this year with a boat ride or two?

Michigan offers a variety of cruising experiences, from a gentle sail to a narrated historical voyage to a chance to play scientist onboard. Whatever your kids’ interest, there’s a family cruise to match.

Here are 15 to get you started. After speaking to several sea captains, we can tell you that all are friendly and primed for questions (the staff, too). They want to share their joy of sailing with you and your family.

Call or check websites for current season dates, times and rates.

Don’t forget to let us know if we missed one of your favorite boat cruises in Michigan – and bon voyage!

The Tall Ship Manitou

  • The hook: Classic sailing ship
  • Where: Traverse City
  • Call: 231-941-2000
  • Duration: Two hours (Manitou), ranges from two hours to a full day (Scout)
  • Max passengers: 59 (Manitou), 6 (Scout)

Channeling an 1800s cargo schooner, the tall ship replica Manitou boasts a length of 114 feet with a 21-foot-wide beam. The size of the ship ensures smooth sailing for those without true sea legs. Or take a more intimate, private tour on Scout, a classic sailing yacht.

While there are special event cruises on these ships, the real draw of this vessel is its picturesque sails that make passengers feel like they’re stepping back in time.

S.S. Badger, Ludington

  • The hook: Last coal-powered passenger steamship operating in the United States
  • Where: Ludington
  • Call: 800-841-4243
  • Duration: Two hours (Shoreline cruise), Eight hours (Roundtrip)
  • Max passengers: 600

Venturing across Lake Michigan from Ludington to Manitowoc, Wisconsin, the S.S. Badger is the largest car ferry to venture into the lake’s waters.

Your kids can play in the playroom, arcade, catch a movie, grab dinner and more. If you’re looking to take a loop around the lake and through Chicago, consider making this cruise part of your adventure.

The Detroit Princess

  • The hook: A little music and sailing, close to home
  • Where: Detroit
  • Call: 877-338-2628
  • Duration: Varies
  • Max passengers: 1,500

The Detroit Princess is up and sailing after a hiatus due to COVID-19. With the heart of a dinner ferry boat but all the amenities of a modern ship (yes, there’s air-conditioning!), the ship packs an afternoon of fun with live music and a buffet served in large, stately dining rooms.

Plan on dressing up a bit for this cruise along the Detroit River, which takes off within shouting distance of the Cobo Center.

The boat includes eight convection ovens, which turn out an array of dishes like prime rib and crab-stuffed salmon served on one of four main decks (there’s also viewing areas on the fourth and fifth decks).

Glass Bottom Shipwreck Tours

  • The hook: Explore a natural underwater museum without ever leaving the surface
  • Where: Munising
  • Call: 906-387-4477
  • Duration: Two hours
  • Max passengers: 60 (smaller boat), 150 (larger boat); Fewer tickets available due to COVID-19

These tours boast as the America’s first and today’s best glass bottom boat shipwreck tours and gives passengers the chance to view of eight shipwrecks from the comfort of the surface. Plus, rock cliffs, caves and a lighthouse.

Enjoy a narration about the shipwreck’s histories as you and your family glide across the water.

Inland Seas Education Association (ISEA) Great Lakes Discovery Sail

  • The hook: A floating classroom
  • Where: Varies between Suttons Bay, Hessel and Traverse City
  • Call: 231-271-3077
  • Duration: Three hours
  • Max passengers: 26

Kids not only become sailors-in-training during this voyage; they also try out being a scientist for the day.

With multiple ports and school groups as frequent onboard visitors, ISEA knows how to cater to kids. From the moment children set foot on board, they’re put to work manning the sails and they’ll get to help trawl for fish, collect plankton, sample the lake bottom and more.

Make sure to dress for weather predictions plus an extra layer since it’s cooler on the water. The service recommends not wearing flip-flops.

The Holland Princess

  • The hook: Perfect for winding along the lake
  • Where: Holland
  • Call: 616-393-7799
  • Duration: Two hours
  • Max passengers: 150

Designed to look like a Victorian-era paddle-wheel riverboat, this cruise meanders through Lake Macatawa and Lake Michigan (lake conditions permitting). Kick back for a scenic route dotted with lake homes and historic sites or enjoy fun with the family with the karaoke machine. Make sure to have your kids discover treasure from the captain’s treasure chest and toot the ship’s whistle.

Nauti-Cat Noon Cruise

  • The hook: Soak up the sun!
  • Where: Traverse City
  • Call: 231-947-1730
  • Duration: Two hours
  • Max passengers: 49

For something truly unique, cruise through West Grand Traverse Bay aboard a catamaran as you work on your summer tan.

The 47-foot ship offers smooth sailing as well as sightseeing from the nets hanging just above the water’s waves. Bonus: There are two restrooms onboard.

There are also cruises for adults-only, such as the popular Champagne Sunset cruise.

Nautical North Family Adventures 

  • The hook: Glass-bottom shipwreck tours
  • Where: Cheboygan
  • Call: 231-444-3400
  • Duration: One and a half hours
  • Max Passengers:28

The shipwreck tour passes three lighthouses, travels over three shipwrecks and even offers opportunities to snorkel. River tours take you through the Cheboygan Lock and Dam system, on a leisurely river ride to learn the area’s history. Tours offered May-October.

Lake Express Ferry

  • The hook: Avoid road traffic as you cruise to Milwaukee
  • Where: Muskegon
  • Call: 866-914-1010
  • Duration: Two and a half hours
  • Max passengers: 250

Looking to include a little sightseeing along with your trip? Take off on a high-speed ferry from Muskegon to Milwaukee, Wisconsin. You can bring your car or leave it in Michigan.

Star of Saugatuck

  • The hook: Experience Saugatuck from a new view
  • Where: Saugatuck
  • Call: 269-857-4261
  • Duration: One and a half hours
  • Max passengers: 150

For a journey through Kalamazoo River, Lake Kalamazoo and even into Lake Michigan (lake conditions permitting), enjoy the sights along this leisurely cruise.

Online reservations are currently suspended; tickets can be purchased over the phone or in-person at 716 Water St., Saugatuck, Michigan.

Pictured Rock Cruises

  • The hook: Breathtaking scenery in the Upper Peninsula
  • Where: Munising
  • Call: 906-387-2379
  • Duration: Between two to two and a half hours
  • Max passengers: About 150, but varies by boat

To enjoy the sights and sounds of Michigan’s Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, hop aboard one of five ships — one being a catamaran — that sail through Lake Superior. Have your camera ready for natural landmarks!

Heads up: cruises frequently sell out, so purchasing tickets in advance is highly recommended.

Diamond Jack’s River Tours

  • The hook: Great for local sightseeing
  • Where: Detroit
  • Call: 313-843-9376
  • Duration: One hour
  • Max passengers: 125

Hop aboard the Diamond Jack and take a cruise down the Detroit River! These close-to-home, narrated sightseeing tours give passengers a great look at our local waterway and its notable features.

 Note: Tickets are purchased as you board the boat, so organizers suggest arriving about 30 minutes early to get a good spot in line. No food is allowed on the boat, but snacks are available for purchase. Cash is recommended. Masks are optional.

Original Soo Locks Boat Tours

  • The hook: Experience the famous Soo Locks firsthand
  • Where: Sault Ste Marie
  • Call: 800-432-6301
  • Duration: One hour and 45 minutes
  • Max passengers: 150

Heading way up north? Taking a sightseeing tour here is a must! These boat tours that take you through the Soo Locks have been running since the 1930s.

The sightseeing opportunity allows families to experience “locking through” Lake Huron to Lake Superior. Tickets can be purchased online or at the dock.

Huron Lady Cruises

  • The hook: Discover Lake Huron past the shoreline
  • Where: Port Huron
  • Call: 810-984-1500
  • Duration: One and a half hours
  • Max passengers: 100

Choose from an array of options including sightseeing, fireworks and music cruises. Follow the narration as you travel through the St. Clair River into lower Lake Huron and under the Bluewater Bridge that connects Michigan to Ontario, Canada. You’ll even see a lighthouse along the way!

Expect to learn a little history, too, and learn about the work of the big freighters that pass right up close.

The bottom deck is climate controlled and the top deck has an awning. Outside food is not allowed on board, but the Huron Lady II has a full bar and concession stand.

Bavarian Belle Riverboat

  • The hook: An authentic Stern Driven Paddlewheel riverboat
  • Where: Frankenmuth
  • Call: 866-808-2628
  • Duration: One hour
  • Max passengers: 150

This relaxing, historically-narrated tour docks near the waterfall and gives you a unique look at Frankenmuth and the history there.

The Belle is open-air canopied and features a fully enclosed lower salon with restrooms, a snack bar and a handicap accessible dock. Schedule changes with the weather or at the captain’s discretion.

Ugly Ann Boat Tours

  • The hook: “Fall in love” with this northern paradise
  • Where: Mackinaw City
  • Call: 231-436-5094
  • Duration: One hour
  • Max passengers: 30

Choose from Mackinac Bridge historical cruises, which will teach you all about local shipwrecks and Native American lore, or the sunset cruise for a beautiful view of the bridge at dusk.

Nautical North Family Adventures

  • The hook: Discover the past up-close
  • Where: Cheboygan
  • Call: 231-444-3400
  • Duration: Varies
  • Max passengers: 6 (Lighthouse tour), 28 (Shipwreck)

Explore multiple lighthouses or shallow water shipwrecks with the Nautical North Family Adventures. Organizers also offer kayak rentals, snorkeling and scuba diving.

This post was originally published in 2011 and is updated regularly.


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1 COMMENT

  1. Hi there!
    Please include Nautical North Family Adventures on your next boating publication!
    Hook: Glass bottom shipwreck tours
    Where: Cheboygan
    Call: 231-444-3400
    Duration: 1.5 hrs.
    Max Passengers:28
    Our tours offer several opportunities for family fun! The shipwreck tour passes three lighthouses, travels over three shipwrecks, and even offers opportunities to snorkel! River tours take you through the Cheboygan Lock and Dam system and up the river for a leisurly history of the area.
    Tours offered May-October

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