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 guided tour on the water?

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 boat cruises to get you started.

The Tall Ship Manitou

  • The hook: Classic sailing ship
  • Where: Traverse City
  • Duration: Ranges from 2 hours to a full day

Channeling an 1800’s 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.

Detroit Sails

  • The hook: A private boating experience for up to 6 sailors
  • Where: Detroit
  • Duration: Book a 2 hour or 4 hour cruise

Gather your family (and a couple of friends, if your family is less than 6 people) and hit the river. This private cruise is about experiencing Detroit with your loved ones; what better way to love a city than by seeing it from the water?

All boat trips are BYOB, so bring your favorite beverages and snacks. There is a cooler on board, but you’ll need to provide the ice.

S.S. Badger, Ludington

  • The hook: Last coal-powered passenger steamship operating in the United States
  • Where: Ludington
  • Duration: 2 hours (Shoreline cruise), 8 hours (Roundtrip)

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 or 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
  • Duration: Varies

With the heart of a dinner ferry boat but all the amenities of a modern ship (yes, there’s air-conditioning!), a cruise on The Detroit Princess is 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-level decks.

Glass Bottom Shipwreck Tours

  • The hook: Explore a natural underwater museum without ever leaving the surface
  • Where: Munising
  • Duration: 2 hours

These tours are America’s first — and today’s best — glass bottom boat shipwreck tours. Passengers will have the chance to view 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
  • Duration: 3 hours

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, including closed tow shoes and an extra layer since it’s cooler on the water.

The Holland Princess

  • The hook: Perfect for winding along the lake
  • Where: Holland
  • Duration: 2 hours

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
  • Duration: 2 hours

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.

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
  • Duration: 90 minutes

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
  • Duration: 2.5 hours

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
  • Duration: 90 minutes

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 by calling (269-857-4261), or in-person at 716 Water St., Saugatuck, Michigan.

Pictured Rock Cruises

  • The hook: Breathtaking scenery in the Upper Peninsula
  • Where: Munising
  • Duration: 2-2.5 hours

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
  • Duration: 1 hour

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.

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.

Original Soo Locks Boat Tours

  • The hook: Experience the famous Soo Locks firsthand
  • Where: Sault Ste Marie
  • Duration: 1.5-2 hours

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
  • Duration: 1.5 hours

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
  • Duration: 1 hour

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
  • Duration: 1 hour

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
  • Duration: Varies

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

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Metro Parent Editorial Team
Metro Parent Editorial Team
Since 1986, the Metro Parent editorial team is trained to be the go-to source for metro Detroit families, offering a rich blend of expert advice, compelling stories, and the top local activities for kids. Renowned for their award-winning content, the team of editors and writers are dedicated to enriching family life by connecting parents with the finest resources and experiences our community has to offer.


  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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