GREAT LAKES of North America 27-Day RV Caravan
North America’s Great Lakes – Lake Huron, Lake Michigan, Lake Superior, Lake Erie and Lake Ontario –form the largest body of fresh water in the world, at 94,250 square miles. Their sea-like characteristics with rolling waves and strong currents are truly like an inland fresh water sea. These bodies of water provide sustenance, energy and recreational opportunities for millions of Americans (both stateside and along the Canadian shores) who live in the areas surrounding the lakes – because after all, life is always better at the lake!
Fantasy’s 27-day Great Lakes adventures begins at the mother ship – Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada – and we’ve got a few nights exploring the Honeymoon Capital of the World. After our orientation, welcome party and welcome dinner… joy is unleashed as we experience the falls from the Canadian side. Prepare yourself for a moist encounter! We tour the falls from behind …yes, it’s the Journey Behind the Falls Tour – descending 150 feet by elevator to reach the observation decks where we experience one fifth of the world’s fresh water crashing into the basin below. It doesn’t stop there. We continue the adventure – encountering the thundering roar, amazing mist and awesome power of the water tumbling around us aboard the Maid of the Mist. Soon there after, we glide up the Skylon Tower aboard a glass-enclosed ‘Yellow Bug Elevator’ for a delicious lunch while enjoying the spectacular views. While touring the area, one of our stops is the Floral Clock, containing intricate designs created by nearly 16,000 colorful carpet bedding plants. The day’s grand finale is when we ride through the air on the Spanish Aero Car – an antique cable car which travels above the Niagara Whirlpool.
One day in Niagara is spent cruising the Erie Canal to Buffalo, New York. It’s definitely a peek into the past as we round each bend of the canal — cruising past peaceful villages which have changed very little since ground was first broken for the Canal in 1817. Today more than 200 years later, it connects Lake Erie with the Hudson River and in the early days was considered the eighth wonder of the world. When we arrive in Buffalo, we enjoy a city tour with a stop at the Anchor Bar – the original home of those iconic Buffalo Wings – with their closely guarded secret sauce.
It’s a short drive from Niagara to Toronto – Canada’s largest city. We spend the next day on a guided bus tour, visiting St. Lawrence Market, right in the heart of Toronto’s historic Old Town, a favorite among locals for social functions. We stop at the Harbourfront, a rather upscale neighborhood with views of Lake Ontario and the Toronto Islands and then enjoy the views from Toronto’s most famous landmark – the CN Tower. If it’s a clear day, we’ll be able to look back and see Niagara Falls and Rochester, New York on the other side of the lake.
Our next stop is Steam Whistle Brewing – located in a historic railway roundhouse and home to Toronto’s own craft beer, Steam Whistle Pilsner. We board the tall ship Kajama – a traditional three-masted schooner – and view the city’s incredible skyline from the harbor. Final stop of the day is Casa Loma, the only full-sized castle in North America. It’s surrounded by five acres of lush gardens and ornate statues and fountains. Inside, we relive the Edwardian era with elaborate furniture, secret tunnels and breath taking views from its towers.
We head north to the small town of Sudbury, where the Fantasy crew prepares a delicious campground cookout — the perfect time to relax and enjoy the comradery of our fellow travelers. The following day, we cross into the United States and spend the next three nights in magical Sault Ste Marie, Michigan. We enjoy a delicious buffet dinner cruise through the famous Soo Locks, returning to the harbor after cruising the Ontario and Michigan shorelines. We’re up and at ‘em the next day — first visiting the Tower of History, a 21-story structure providing amazing views of the beautiful surrounding countryside. We learn more of the fascinating history of this area when we visit the Ermatinger-Clergue National Historic Site, consisting of an interactive Heritage Discovery Center and the Ermantinger Old Stone House and the Clergue Blockhouse, two old stone buildings inhabited by prominent residents in the 19th century. The history continues when we visit the world’s largest Great Lakes maritime museum, including an actual 1917 coal-fired steam-powered historic freighter ship. We move on to the Canadian Bushplane Heritage Center, which tells the story of Canada’s bushplane and fire protection history with collections of planes and related materials. Our final day in Sault Ste Marie is spent exploring the Gros Cap Conservation Area, where steep cliffs rise from the water to heights of up to 300 feet, overlooking Lake Superior’s shipping lanes. This unusual property is situated on a batholith, a large deep-seated body of intrusive rock that was formed from cooled magma deep below the Earth’s surface which has forced its way upward.
It’s a short drive to St. Ignace, a historic waterfront village located on the shores of Lakes Huron and Michigan. This is our base for the next couple of nights allowing us time to explore the living Victorian village of Mackinac Island. We board a fast track ferry to the island and then step into the past. The only transportation is by horse and buggy, bicycle or foot as this island has completely escaped the changes over time. We enjoy the peaceful clopping of hooves on our carriage tour and visit the natural gems of Mackinac Island State Park – which covers 80% of the island. We enjoy a delicious buffet lunch and exceptional views at the Grand Hotel and then watch soldiers from the 1780s’ reenact rifle fire and a cannon salute at Fort Mackinac. According to the Ojibwe and Odawa [Great Lakes] Indian tribes, this is where life began. And we discover why.
Back in St. Ignace, we can stroll along the Lake Huron boardwalk and view the Mackinaw Bridge, which connects Michigan’s upper and lower peninsulas. With 7,400 feet of roadway suspended over the air, the ‘Mighty Mac’ is five miles long and is the longest suspension bridge in the western hemisphere.
We continue our travels through the Upper Peninsula (or ‘U.P.’ as it’s known to locals, aka, Yooper’s) and stop in Munising. We enjoy yet another campground cookout courtesy of our Fantasy Ambassadors, and then cruise to Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, enjoying breathtaking views of beautiful rock formations, beaches, bays, caves and lighthouses dotting the Lake Superior shoreline.
The UP adventure continues as we travel to Houghton to visit the Mineral Museum of Michigan – featuring the largest exhibit of the various minerals from the Great Lakes Region. Our organic learning isn’t over, for we soon tour the Quincy Mine – an extensive underground tunneling system, a former copper mine which has been preserved as part of Keweenaw National Historic Park – where we’ll ride the Cog Rail Tram down a steep hill which overlooks the Portage Lake Lift Bridge. Our next two nights are spent in Escanaba, a delightful town with an old town shopping area, plus lots of opportunities to explore the area’s hiking trails, fishing spots and other attractions. We tour the Sand Point Lighthouse on the Bays de Noc, a beautifully restored and fully furnished lighthouse which has guided sailors and their ships to Escanaba’s safe harbor. It was home to Mary Terry, one of the first woman lighthouse keepers in the Great Lakes.
We depart Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and head south into Wisconsin, stopping in Green Bay. One of our attractions is in downtown …a performance at the famous Meyer Theater – originally opened in 1930 but closed during the Depression. In 1998, a group of local business leaders rescued the theater, restoring it to its original grandeur and bringing a variety of both professional and local performances to the area.
The first thing that comes to mind when you think Green Bay has got to be the Packers and the hallowed grounds of their home at Lambeau Field. It’s the longest continuously occupied stadium in the NFL and maintains a nostalgic, intimate feeling with totally unobstructed sidelines. It’s not just a football stadium – it’s iconic, full of history, tradition and mystique. We not only tour Lambeau Field but also stop there for lunch. Our final stop in Packertown is at the National Railroad Museum where it’s all aboard a vintage full-size train for a tour of the museum, narrated by our conductor.
Next stop is Wisconsin’s largest city – Milwaukee. It’s known for beer …we won’t waste any time making our way to a beer tasting tour and lunch. We also tour the Pabst Mansion – built in 1890 by the local, famous, beer baron – Captain Frederick Pabst. He and his wife Maria were consummate art collectors, filling their home with priceless treasures. The mansion was nearly torn down in 1975 to make way for a parking lot, but was saved by the community and was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1979.
While we are in the area, we thought some full-throttle fun should be had at the Harley Davidson Museum. Here, we can actually sit in the saddle of some legendary hogs, virtually experiencing a ride on America’s best motorcycle runs. And, in the Engine Room, a displays of the different elements which make up a Harley and its engines await us.
It’s ‘my kind of town’ …and what could be a more fitting, final destination than the windy city of Chicago? We’ll sit in the famous dugout and venture behind the scenes at the home of the Cubs on our Wrigley Field tour. But Chicago is more than just the home to World Series Winning Cubs… it’s also home to the 360 Chicago Observation Deck, located 1000 feet above ‘Magnificent Mile’ in the John Hancock Building, you guessed it… a three-hundred-and-sixty-degree view of the city skyline and Lake Michigan – the only Great Lake entirely within the United States.
No visit to Chicago would be complete without a slice of Chicago deep dish, arguably the best pizza in the world. We splurge at lunch, but please save some room for our farewell dinner, an evening aboard a cruise on Lake Michigan — watching Chicago’s famous skyline drifting past. It’s the perfect setting to celebrate our time together traveling the Great Lakes.