Taking the Ferry Across Lake Michigan

Join Mike Link and Kate Crowley, authors of Grandparents Michigan Style, as they take us on a ferry ride across Lake Michigan.

Lake Michigan forms one border of the state, but it is also something of a roadblock. Traveling to Wisconsin means traveling around the lake, and that takes a lot of time (especially if you have to go through Chicago). But there is another option. Besides sunbathing, swimming, tossing pebbles in the surf, watching storms, and fishing—you could just hop on a ferry and go across the lake.

We do not have a culture of cruise boats in the Great Lakes, but we have a wonderful history of working boats. Your grandchildren have heard about pirates, explorers, and sailors. They know the romance of the sea from film and story, so how about giving them a little sea time yourself?

The Lake Express Carferry from Muskegon to Milwaukee is only two and a half hours long each way. It is a modern high-speed ferry with seats inside and out.

Lake Michigan

A longer option (four hours) is the historic SS Badger, which connects Ludington, Michigan, and Manitowoc, Wisconsin. To enjoy your cruise, think about how this adventure feels for your grandchild. They will be excited by the boat and the water. They will want to explore the boat when you first get on and watch as it pulls away from the dock. Point out the gulls and the shoreline. Help them find things to focus on. Then, as the ship moves out of port, be ready for relaxation—isn’t that what a cruise is for?

SS Badger on Lake Michigan

Bring some food or buy some from the on-board cafeteria. Have a book to read, and maybe bring a puzzle, a board game, and binoculars. The SS Badger has a movie theater, and this is not a bad option for part of the trip because the round trip will be eight hours of boat time. They also have a kids’ port play area for younger children. Enjoy both the voyage and the contrast between the port cities.

Bring your car if you want a longer stay or want to make a round trip that includes both ferries, but it is not necessary if you are just looking for a boat ride. Bring bikes for a cheaper and healthier option to cars.

Bonding & Bridging on Lake Michigan

Time spent on the ferry is good for reading, resting, and playing, but it is also time for personal sharing. Enjoy the moments to get your memory refreshed. Ask your grandchildren what makes them feel good. What makes them happy? If they are old enough, talk about what makes them feel relaxed. Americans sometimes lose track of the value of relaxation. We are so driven in our work, studies, and even our play that we lose this important need. Hinduism and Buddhism have significant rituals and beliefs that center on the ability to relax and meditate. For others, relaxation accompanies laughter. Ask your grandchildren what makes them laugh, what makes them smile.

Word to the Wise

Seasickness can destroy a wonderful experience. Here are ways to avoid a bad voyage. First, ask your doctor before taking any medicines and make sure you eat before your ride, but stay away from acidic and greasy foods. A candy bar is OK, but don’t overdo the sweets; saltine crackers work well for motion because they absorb acidity. Water, milk, cranberry juice, and apple juice are better than orange juice and most carbonated drinks; however, the phosphoric acid in Coke and Pepsi is said to help if you’re feeling queasy. If you’re worried about seasickness, stay on deck and watch the horizon, as this can help prevent dizziness.

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Photo credits:
Lake Express at her slip in Muskegon, by Riick (Own work) [GFDL], via Wikimedia Commons
Early morning in Ludington, by James Phelps from USA [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
SS Badger (closeup), by the original uploader Madmaxmarchhare at English Wikipedia [CC BY-SA 2.5], via Wikimedia Commons

Liliane Opsomer
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