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Voyage to The Great Lakes: A Small Ship Adventure

Program No. 21866RJ
Explore the pristine beauty of the Great Lakes aboard a small ship, delving deep into the region’s heritage, history and natural wonders.

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At a Glance

Nearly 15,000 years ago, the last of the great glaciers retreated, leaving us the Great Lakes — Superior, Michigan, Huron, Erie and Ontario. These vast bodies of water contain more than one-fifth of the planet’s fresh surface water. On a small ship, voyage to the Great Lakes, discovering pristine natural beauty and learning the colorful stories of the people who’ve sailed and worked these waterways.
Activity Level
On Your Feet
I’m comfortable with some walking throughout the day. I expect to get on and off of a coach, and I’m ready to stroll through cities and to stand for a few hours when we’re learning in museums.

Best of all, you’ll…

  • Sail the Great Lakes, the Soo Locks and Welland Canal.
  • Discover Mackinac Island, a Victorian-era haven with horse-drawn carriages and no cars.
  • Experience Niagara Falls up-close aboard the Hornblower.
Visit the Road Scholar Bookshop
You can find many of the books we recommend at the Road Scholar store on bookshop.org, a website that supports local bookstores.
The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald
by Frederick Stonehouse
Stonehouse presents the circumstances and evidence for the loss of the S.S. Edmund Fitzgerald, which disappeared during a heavy snow storm on Lake Superior in the early evening of November 10, 1975. With no evidence and no witnesses, the captain and crew of 28 are still listed as missing.
The Song of Hiawatha
by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
This Everyman’s Library Classic of Longfellow’s epic narrative poem, set along the south shore of Lake Superior and loosely based on the legends of the Ojibwe and other Native Americans, includes an introduction and the latest scholarship on the classic.
Pandora's Locks, The Opening of the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Seaway
by Jeff Alexander
This detailed history of the St. Lawrence Seaway, which opened in 1959, focuses on the engineering feat's often devastating environmental effects.
The Living Great Lakes
by Jerry Dennis
Jerry Dennis, known for his writing on fly-fishing and canoeing, interweaves observation, anecdote and history in this tale of the lakes and his month-long voyage aboard the schooner Malabar.
The Death and Life of the Great Lakes
by Dan Egan
Egan explores the past, present, and future of the Great Lakes and their ecologies using insightful research and political commentary.
Shining Big Sea Water, The Story of Lake Superior
by Norman K. Risjord
A swift, illuminating history of Lake Superior, from its geological birth and native inhabitants to early explorers and industries, developers, cities and future challenges.
Lake Superior Flavors, A Field Guide to Food and Drink Along the Circle Tour
by James Norton
In this review of Lake Superior cuisine, the authors focus on local artisans and important dishes from the four regions they visit: Minnesota’s North Shore, Ontario, Michigan and Wisconsin.
Great Lakes Birds
by James Kavanaugh, Raymond Leung (Illustrator)
This fold-out reference illustrates almost 150 species in the Great Lakes region. Laminated and pocket-sized, it's a handy item to take along in the field.
The Long Ships Passing, The Story of the Great Lakes
by Walter Havighurst
A vivid popular history of the Great Lakes, rich in anecdote, incident and drama. Havighurst recounts the early days of ships and shipping on the Great Lakes from the time of the early French voyageurs through the industrialization of the region at the turn of the century.
Shipwrecks and Lost Treasure Great Lakes, Legends and Lore, Pirates and More!
by Michael J. Varhola
Frederick Stonehouse provides the historical forward to these 21 riveting tales of ships that met their end in the treacherous waters of the Great Lakes, including the sinking of Civil War steamer Island Queen in 1864 and the tanker Edmund Fitzgerald in 1975.
Great Lakes Wildlife
by James Kavanaugh, Raymond Leung (Illustrator),
This laminated fold-out card illustrates almost 150 animals in the Great Lakes region.
Mackinac Island
by Terry Phipps
Phipps captures the splendor of the architecture and gardens of Mackinac in this collection of photographs.
Great Lakes Water Wars
by Peter Annin
Learn about the controversial history of water use in the area.
The Great Lakes
by Wayne Grady
Wayne Grady showcases the nature and ecology of the Great Lakes, hub of industry and agriculture and home to 40 million people, in this illustrated portrait of the region, including its geological formation, conservation challenges, forests and resources. With hundreds of color photographs and illustrations by Emily Damstra.
Niagara, A History of the Falls
by Pierre Berton
Meticulously researched and entertaining, this history of Niagara Falls captures the sideshow atmosphere of the place with its honky-tonk attractions and daredevil feats. An engrossing social history.
Great Lakes for Sale, From Whitecaps to Bottlecaps
by Dave Dempsey
Dempsey calls for action to stop the diversion of water from the Great Lakes watershed.
The Middle Ground, Indians, Empires, and Republics in the Great Lakes Region, 1650- 1815
by Richard White
White takes in the history of Daniel Boone, George Washington, Pontiac and Tecumseh in this scholarly history of relations between Native peoples and Europeans in "pays d'en haut," the region around the Great Lakes.
The Devil in the White City, Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America
by Erik Larson
This fascinating account of Chicago's 1893 World's Fair interweaves the true stories of Daniel H. Burnham, the architect responsible for the fair's construction, and H.H. Holmes, a serial killer masquerading as a charming doctor, who terrorized its visitors.
by Carol Shields
A middle aged mother of three daughters lives a contented life as a writer until her oldest child Norah quits college to panhandle on the streets of Toronto. Norah's only communication with the outside world appears to be a sign she wears around her neck that reads "Goodness."
Selected Stories
by Alice Munro
This collection of 28 short stories represents some of Munro's finest work. A powerful range of emotional, evocative tales set throughout the cities and rural towns of her native country.
Inventing Niagara
by Ginger Strand
A witty, well-researched tale of the transformation of a natural wonder into an engineering feat, spectacle and monument.
North American Indian Tribes of the Great Lakes
by Michael G. Johnson
Heavily illustrated, this handy primer presents the Native American tribes of the upper Midwest, their cultures, religions, leaders and roles in the colonial wars and the fur trade.
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11 days
10 nights
29 meals
10 B 9 L 10 D
Check-In, Registration, Welcome Dinner, Orientation
Chicago, IL
Sheraton Grand Chicago

Activity note: In the final information packet sent from Road Scholar, please be sure to review the details about the airport shuttles organized by Road Scholar. Hotel check-in from 4:00 p.m. If you arrive early, you may leave your luggage with the hotel concierge and go out to explore the surrounding area; maps will be available

Afternoon: Program Registration: After you have your room assignment, come to the Road Scholar table in the lobby to register with the program staff to receive any last-minute changes, other important information, and to learn when and where the Orientation session will take place. If you arrive late, please ask for your packet when you check in. This is a Road Scholar Large Group program. The number of participants in this program may be as high as 170; the whole group will be together for most lectures and meals. For some activities and field trips participants will be separated into groups of no more than 45 participants. If you are traveling with companions who are not your roommate and you would like to be grouped together, please list their names on your “Personal Information & Preferences” in your Road Scholar “My Account” page. Each group will have a dedicated Group Leader.

Dinner: At the hotel.

Evening: Orientation. During orientation with your small group (pre-assigned prior to arrival) your Group Leader will review your group’s itinerary. The Group Leader will greet everyone and lead introductions. We will review the up-to-date program schedule, discuss roles and responsibilities, logistics, safety guidelines, emergency procedures, and answer questions. All passengers on this chartered vessel will be Road Scholar participants. We will subdivide into smaller groups for ease of movement and to enhance interaction. “Free Time” and “At Leisure” indicate when you can choose to do what you like and make your experience as meaningful, rewarding, and memorable as possible according to your personal preferences. The Group Leader will be happy to offer suggestions. Program activities, schedules, personnel, and indicated distances or times may change due to local circumstances/conditions. In the event of changes, we will alert you as quickly as possible. Thank you for your understanding. Aboard ship, enjoy a variety of dining options in the main dining room or one of the smaller dining venues. For each meal, the dining hall offers a plated, 3-course meal featuring locally inspired cuisine. The grille offers a buffet for breakfast and lunch with rotating daily specials. Beverages available at all meals include juices, soft drinks, coffee, tea, water, beer, wine. Continue getting to know your fellow Road Scholars, settle in, and get a good night’s rest for the day ahead.

Explore Chicago, Embark Ocean Voyager
Lake Michigan
American Queen Voyages Ocean Voyager

Activity note: Getting on/off a motorcoach; walking approximately 1 mile. All routes, field trips, and excursions are subject to change as weather and lake conditions may affect the itinerary. Lake conditions could affect the progress of the ship, making it run late and sometimes miss ports because it is not safe to dock. Because of this, the cruise itinerary should always be regarded as provisional. The operators reserve the right to change the content of field trips and excursions without prior notice.

Breakfast: At the hotel, buffet in a private room

Morning: Take in Chicago's amazing skyline during an architectural boat ride along the Chicago River with a local expert.

Lunch: Vouchers provided at the museum.

Afternoon: This afternoon we’ll have an expert-led exploration of The Field Museum. Since 1894, The Field Museum has been providing visitors with an in depth look at natural history and has curated an extensive collection of cultural and anthropological artifacts. The museum is currently home to nearly 40 million specimens and artifacts. After our docent introduces us to some of the museum's highlights, we will have some time for personal independent exploration. Following our field trip, we’ll transfer via motorcoach to the pier for embarkation that takes place from 3:30-5:00 p.m. After completing embarkation procedures and boarding the Ocean Voyager, settle in to your cabin and take some time to freshen up before we participate in the ship’s required safety drill.

Dinner: In the main dining room, enjoy a 3-course plated and served meal featuring local cuisine plus juices, soft drinks, coffee, tea, water, beer, and wine.

Evening: At leisure. Leisure time aboard ship offers an opportunity to create the kind of experience that is most personally meaningful and memorable. You might also enjoy spending time and making new friends with your fellow Road Scholars. Each evening, a copy of the ship’s daily schedule for the following day will be delivered to your cabin.

Cruising Day on Lake Michigan
Lake Michigan
American Queen Voyages Ocean Voyager

Activity note: Full day aboard the ship

Breakfast: Aboard ship, enjoy a 3-course plated and served meal in the main dining room or the grille’s breakfast buffet.

Morning: Locals refer to Lake Michigan as America’s “third coast” for its size—fifth largest lake in the world—and the fact that it is the only one of the Great Lakes lying entirely within the U.S. Without a doubt, it is one of the most scenic places in the country. We’ll learn more during an expert presentation.

Lunch: Aboard ship.

Afternoon: We’ll gather for a presentation on topics related to the program theme.

Dinner: Dinner aboard ship.

Escanaba, Native American Tribal Dance
Escanaba, MI
American Queen Voyages Ocean Voyager

Activity note: Getting on/off a motorcoach. Walking and standing for up to an hour during field trips.

Breakfast: Onboard ship.

Morning: This morning we will arrive in Escanaba, located on the Little Bay de Noc in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. French missionaries originally recorded Native American villages here in 1659 and this area was later home to members of the Ojibwa, Ottawa and Pottawatomi tribes. European settlers made their way to Escanaba by 1830. During an expert-led lecture we will learn more about the history of this area.

Lunch: Aboard ship.

Afternoon: We'll board our motorcoach and travel into Escanaba for a field trip, including a cultural experience with a Native American Tribal dance performance.

Dinner: Aboard ship.

Evening: At leisure.

Mackinac Island, Fort Mackinac, Grand Hotel
Mackinac Island, MI
American Queen Voyages Ocean Voyager

Activity note: Getting on/off horse-drawn carriages. Travel on the island is only by carriage or walking; uneven terrain.

Breakfast: Aboard ship.

Morning: The Straits of Mackinac connect Lake Michigan to Lake Huron. We will dock on Mackinac Island and begin our day with an expert-led carriage ride around the island. Other than walking, the only mode of transportation allowed on the island is horse-drawn carriage. During our ride, we will visit Fort Mackinac. Originally a French outpost, it was subsequently taken by the British and massively reconstructed during the American Revolutionary War, relinquished to the U.S. in 1780, retaken by the British at the beginning of the War of 1812, and eventually re-retaken by American forces. We’ll then visit the Grand Hotel, a National Historic Landmark and one of the most romantic vestiges of the Victorian era. It opened in 1887 as a summer retreat for vacationers and boasts the longest porch in the world. The 1980 movie “Somewhere in Time” is a virtual love letter to the grandest remaining hotel of a bygone era.

Lunch: At the Grand Hotel, we’ll enjoy the famed buffet lunch in the main dining room that features fresh salads, a variety of cheeses, slow-roasted meats, seafood, fruits, and fresh-baked pastries.

Afternoon: Free Time. Take this opportunity for personal independent exploration to see and do what interests you most on Mackinac Island until we return to the ship via ferry. The Group Leader will be happy to offer suggestions.

Dinner: Aboard ship

Evening: At leisure.

Sault Sainte Marie, Ontario Canada
Sault Ste. Marie, ON
American Queen Voyages Ocean Voyager

Activity note: On the field trip, groups will travel by motorcoach 30 minutes to cross back over the bridge that connects Canada to the USA. Passport required for passage between USA and Canada. Walking up to one hour on an uneven, dirt path.

Breakfast: Aboard ship

Morning: Today, we'll transit the Soo Locks from Lake Huron to Lake Superior at Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan. Before the first lock was built, boats and cargo had to be portaged around rapids that fell 21 feet. The first primitive lock, built in 1797, was destroyed during the War of 1812. The four present locks were built in 1855. Control passed to the U.S. government in the late 1800s and the locks are operated by the Army Corps of Engineers. During an expert-led lecture, we’ll learn about their history, their use, and why they are regarded as “a wonder of engineering and human ingenuity” passing an average of 10,000 ships a year.

Lunch: Aboard ship before we depart for the field trip.

Afternoon: We will board our motorcoach and travel to the Canadian Bushplane Heritage Center for a docent-led field trip of the museum. During our visit we will learn about the history of bushplanes and firefighting in Ontario.

Dinner: Aboard ship

Evening: At leisure.

Sailing Lake Huron
Lake Huron
American Queen Voyages Ocean Voyager

Activity note: Full day aboard the ship

Breakfast: Aboard ship.

Morning: We'll gather for a shipboard guest lecture.

Lunch: Aboard ship.

Afternoon: Free Time. Enjoy the ship’s amenities, spend time with your fellow Road Scholars, or just relax as we sail on.

Dinner: Aboard ship.

Evening: At leisure.

Detroit, MI, Henry Ford Museum
Detroit, MI
American Queen Voyages Ocean Voyager

Activity note: Getting on/off a motorcoach. Walking according to personal interest at Museum

Breakfast: Aboard ship

Morning: We will board our motorcoach and travel to the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, just outside Detroit. The vast museum is designed to document not only the achievements of Henry Ford himself but “the genius of the American people.” It also contains historic artifacts such as the upholstered rocking chair in which President Abraham Lincoln was seated at Ford’s Theater when he was shot on April 14, 1865; the bus Rosa Parks was riding on December 1, 1955, when her arrest for violating the segregation laws of Montgomery, Alabama, sparked the Civil Rights movement; and the Presidential limousine that bore President John F. Kennedy in Dallas on November 22, 1963.

Lunch: Lunch aboard the ship.

Afternoon: After lunch we will enjoy a lecture from a local who will provide some insight on the challenges the city has faced along with its triumphs. Then we will board a motor coach for an expert led field trip of Detroit with a special stop at the Fisher Building, considered Detroit’s largest art exhibit.

Dinner: Aboard ship

Evening: At leisure.

Cleveland, OH, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame
Cleveland, OH
American Queen Voyages Ocean Voyager

Activity note: Getting on/off a trolley. Walking according to personal interest at museum

Breakfast: Aboard ship.

Morning: We will board a motorcoach and make our way to the Cleveland Museum of Art where we will join an expert for a short introduction to the museum followed by some time for self-guided exploration.

Lunch: Aboard ship

Afternoon: After lunch, we will board a motorcoach with a local expert providing in-depth historical and colorful commentary in Cleveland. There will be a stop at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame where you can dive into the history and memorabilia of the musicians, producers and notable figures who helped shape the genre.

Dinner: Aboard ship.

Evening: At leisure

Welland Canal / Niagara Falls, Ontario
Niagara Falls, ON
American Queen Voyages Ocean Voyager

Activity note: Getting on/off a motorcoach; walking approximately 1 mile; generally even sidewalks and pathways, but an incline when exiting boat cruise. Boat cruise is approx. 30 minutes. Exact timing of the day depends on ships transit time through the canal.

Breakfast: Aboard ship

Morning: After a leisurely morning onboard, we'll disembark at Port Colborne on the Western end of the Welland Canal. When the original section of the Welland Canal opened in 1829, it was a boon to both navigation and the local water supply. The section at Port Colborne that opened in 1932 extended the canal’s value and benefits with eight additional locks. Ships wait in line to transit the locks, providing an opportunity for us to set out on a field trip driving through the scenic Niagara Wine Region to Niagara Falls. There, we’ll board a state-of-the-art, 700-passenger catamaran for an unparalleled, close-up experience, entering as close as safely possible to world-famous Horseshoe Falls on the Canadian side.

Lunch: At a local restaurant.

Afternoon: We’ll continue our field trip before returning to the ship and reboarding. The ship sails to Toronto which is where you will disembark the ship.

Dinner: Aboard ship

Evening: At leisure.

Disembarkation in Toronto / Program Concludes
Toronto, ON

Activity note: Getting on/off a motorcoach

Breakfast: Aboard ship

Morning: Disembark the ship and transfer to the airport for flights returning to the U.S.

Important registration tip:
If you want to attend the live lecture, please do not wait until the last minute to enroll.
If you enroll after a lecture is complete, we’ll send you a recording of the event.