Crossing Lake Michigan by Ferry – from Michigan to Milwaukee -

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Did you know there is ferry service across Lake Michigan between Milwaukee, Wisconsin and Muskegon, Michigan?

I did not.

My husband and I heard about it, and rode the ferry last summer for a round trip.  I meant to write about it sooner, during winter, and then it’s spring already.  The ferry company sent me an e-mail announcing the schedule for this year which will start in May.  OK, now I really have to force myself to write…

This trans-Lake Michigan ferry has been in service for 9 years.

I never knew it until last year.

(source:Google Map)

It takes 2 hours and a half to cross the big Lake Michigan.

Lake Michigan is big, but it’s big lengthwise. So, it takes only 2 hours and a half to cross it horizontally, I mean, east-west.

The ferry goes very fast.  You feel like you are riding a hovercraft.  The company’s website boasts the boat is equipped with state-of-the-art computerized control system and radar, 4 MTU Detroit Diesel 4000 engines, etc.  I am not a tech person, but it sounds pretty impressive.

I always liked ferry travel.

As I wrote before, I am from Japan.  There were (still are) lots of ferry service there both for domestic and international, as the country is surrounded by sea. When I was young, I rode a ferry with my friend to Siberia (we then crossed Siberia by train and airplane to Moscow and to Western Europe by train).

For Midwesterners, ferry travel must be a pretty novel experience.

One day last August, we took the ferry from Muskegon, Michigan.

We live in southeast Michigan, so it’s 3-hour drive from home to Muskegon. This is not a trivial drive.

The name of the ferry company is Lake Express.  The sign is on Lake Shore Drive. It’s not very noticeable. Pay attention not to miss it.

Turn at the sign and drive a little.  Then there is a parking place. It ‘s not very big, so if you arrive late, you may have to park your car somewhere along the dirt road.  Arrive early!

Pay for parking here.

Check in your luggage at the entrance of the building.

You can bring inside the cabin up to 2 bags, one small enough to fit under the seat, and another such as a purse, a backpack, briefcase, etc.  If you have any big luggage, you have to check it in here at the entrance. They have a big wagon (you can’t see in the photo) to carry checked-in luggage into the ferry, just like airplanes, except they don’t charge any fees!  If you are going to bring your car onboard, however, you can stuff your car with as many as bags as you want, of course.

No security check like airports.  They don’t have a need  to worry about terrorism, I guess (good!).

Inside the building. There is the check-in desk near the entrance.

Lobby

In the lobby there are two clocks: one with Michigan time, the other with Wisconsin time. Michigan is in the EST zone; Wisconsin is in CST.  One hour time difference. This is a good reminder for people like me who can’t remember what place is in what time zone.

Sit on one of the benches outside the lobby for a while.  Then a white ferry appears in the distance – it’s back from Milwaukee.

Some people run out there to see it closer.

Many people take pictures of it.

It must be a new and exciting experience for many Midwesterners to ride a ferry.

People wait patiently until all the passengers get off the ferry.

Then cars get on board first.  There are a lot of motorcycles, too.

Then it’s people’s turn.

People form double waiting lines, quietly and calmly.  Nobody tries to cut in anybody.  I am always impressed how well many Americans behave in public, like in amusement parks, airports, train stations. People are very civilized.

In the cabin

In the center are the tables for big groups of families and friends.

There is a concession which sells sandwiches, pizza, hot dogs, salad, etc.

And three seats in each row next to the windows on both sides. We took one of these rows. We put two of our bags under the seats.

As in many places, it is freezing cold in the cabin!  The A/C is set too low.  I recommend you bring a jacket with you.  Why do they set A/C so low in so many places?  (I think I know why, but I am not going to discuss it here…)

Take off!

View from the window. It looks like a bay, but it’s a lake.  The name is Muskegon Lake.  I will call it a bay, anyway.  You can see there are parks and beaches along the bay.

The ferry goes through the very long waterway that leads to the exit to Lake Michigan.  I could see the ferry terminal is protected deep inside from Lake Michigan.

You can see the bay (Lake Muskegon) in the far distance.

There was a small boat behind following us.  The people on the boat were enjoying beer (looks like a lot of fun ^^).

We are almost at the exit (or entrance to Lake Michigan).

We will soon be out in the open sea – I mean, in Lake Michigan.

We feel as if we were on voyage into a big ocean.

Now we are out in Lake Michigan. It was a pretty long voyage to get to this point.

Good bye, Muskegon.  We will be back in a few days  ^^/~

There are chairs in the rear deck.

As the ferry sped up, it became very windy.  Too windy for me to stay out in the deck, but the people in the chairs stayed out there all the way to Milwaukee!

There are chairs in the front deck as well.

Most of the people out here went inside as it became too windy.

Is this the state-of-the-art radar mentioned in the website?

Nibbling the peanuts I bought from the concession, I stayed in the seat for about one hour and a half. Through the window, I could see nothing but water, water, and water.  Then, suddenly, there are skyscrapers in the far distance – Milwaukee !!

I rushed out to the front deck.  Many passengers were out there already, seeming excited.

We are going through a narrow gate – again – so narrow, just like the one in Muskegon.

What if they take a slightly wrong direction and hit the breakwater ?!

But we went through it with no problem.  They are good at navigating ^^

Yacht harbors everywhere.

Americans love to own boats – one of the things I noticed about America after living here for 26 years.

U.S. Coast Guard!    Cool.

Arrived at the dock.

A big parking place for ferry passengers. Looks like the ferry company is doing a pretty good business.

People are waiting to get onboard.  The ferry will cross Lake Michigan one more time today. It should get to Michigan before dark.  Days are long in summer.

Docking is almost complete.

Cars and motorcycles first.

A car carrying a kayak and a bicycle – somebody returning from an outdoor sports trip in Michigan?

Noticeably many motorcyclists. I wonder if they going to Milwaukee because there is the world’s only Harley Davidson museum in Milwaukee?

The ferry version of Baggage Claim area.

We stayed in Milwaukee for two nights.  Time flew by, and it’s time to return to Michigan.

We went through the same process at Milwaukee terminal.

We went through the narrow gate again to be in the outer sea, I mean, in the big Lake Michigan.

Again, there’s nothing above the horizon in every direction – just water, water, and water. Is this really a lake?  Hard to believe. And it’s all freshwater – the more I think about, it’s incredible.

Then, in the middle of nowhere, something interesting appeared.

A big ship!

In the middle of the big ocean, I mean, in the big lake, what were they doing?  Measuring and/or collecting something from under the surface?

If you know an answer, please feel free to write a comment on this post.  Thanks!

We passed the ship pretty close.

Equipped with the state-of-the-art radar, etc., I guess there is no chance that the ferry would collide into another ship. In the old days when foggy, imagine it…I would not want my ferry to collide into something like this and be thrown into the water.

We are back in Michigan.

For most of the voyage, my spouse was sleeping in his seat. It was such a smooth and comfortable ride that he went into deep sleep.  At some point, he started snoring, so I had to wake him up to stop his snoring. The passengers in front of us and behind us were laughing…how embarrassing.

Went back through the same canal-like waterway. The state park extends along the long waterway. People walking on the trail waved at us.

And there are many beaches.

People in the boat with the skeleton flag waved at us, too.

Great Lakes Naval Memorial & Museum – looks like a good place to take your kids. There are a lot of museums like this everywhere in this country.

Protected by the breakwater and the long waterway, Muskegon Lake offers a good safe harbour for boats. Lake Michigan can become very rough when hit by storms (if you see the old movie, Ordinary People, you will know what I mean).  This lake must stay pretty calm when the outer Michigan Lake is rough. Muskegon is geographically blessed. That’s probably why the ferry company chose Muskegon for the terminal?

Well, that was a good ferry trip!   We want to do it again.

How about you, too?

The fares are – not so cheap…

I am on the mailing list of the ferry company. Last spring they sent me the special fare promotion e-mail (below).

This promotional e-mail made us decide to try the ferry. Special rates were, for some reason, available only on the phone, and with the special rate, it was still $100 per person for a round trip – not cheap.  Fuel surcharge of $10 and something else were added to it.

If you want to have your car on board, you will have to pay even more.

For more details, here is the ferry company’s website:

http://www.lake-express.com/

The ferry operates from May through October.

3 round trips during summer. 2 round trips in spring and autumn.

There are just 2 ferry companies that serve in Lake Michigan area: the other one is between Beaver Island and Ludington.  Ludington is farther north of Muskegon and is famous for the sand dunes and camping sites.

As I wrote in Nostalgic Carousel, Revived Resort, St. Joseph, there use to be ferry service between St. Joseph and Chicago from the 19th century to the early 20th century.

I wonder if they can reopen the route?

I would love to ride a ferry to Chicago.

If you live in the Chicago area, you may wish to do the opposite.

Anyhow, I hope Americans realize that they are blessed with really valuable assets – the Great Lakes. Think about how many countries on earth have chronic water shortage.  How many big lakes are there on earth with clean freshwater like Lake Michigan?!

About tukusigal

I moved to Michigan, U.S. from Fukuoka, Kyushu, Japan, a long long time ago. I was born in Kumamoto, moved to Fukuoka when I was little, and grew up in Fukuoka. A lot of Fukuoka people yearn for Tokyo. Many of my school classmates moved to Tokyo. Somehow Tokyo never appealed to me much. Rather, I always wanted to get out of Japan - don't know why. At the same time, I loved Japan (and Kyushu) and wanted to live there forever. Strangely I met my American husband and we moved to the U.S. Of course, the U.S. is not a dreamland. Still now, sometimes I want to move back to Japan. Other times, I feel I never want to go back to Japan. My solution - I go back to Fukuoka a lot (to visit my father), wander around and write about Kyushu. How spoiled and fortunate I am. I feel a little bad that I am flying (like everybody else) to probably contribute to the global climate change. It's a nice escape for me, however, to think about and write about mild-climate Kyushu in a freezing and gloomy winter in Michigan.
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20 Responses to Crossing Lake Michigan by Ferry – from Michigan to Milwaukee -

  1. It’s funtastic. The big boat you encountered would be a cargo boat sailing between Chicago and somewhere like Detroit, Cleveland or so, I think.

    • tukusigal says:

      I see. But the boat was not moving at all. What would a cargo boat be doing staying in one place for a long time? I don’t know much about boats and ships but I am curious. If you or anybody else know, please let me know!

  2. Scott says:

    From the photo the ship looks to be moving just large cargo ships move slow Notice the bow wave in front of the ship and the wave behind it

  3. tukusigal says:

    Thank you for pointing it out, Scott! Now the ship looks like moving really slowly. Since we were moving fast, I guess that made it look like it was staying still there. Never noticed the waves – I was not perceptive.

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  5. Calvin Barnum II says:

    It’s an iron ore ship, very common on the great lakes, the popular song Edmond Fitzgerald is about one that sank in lake superior.

    • tukusigal says:

      I see. Thank you! Edmond Fitzgerald – I google-searched Edmond Fitzgerald (I never knew about it). And I found the song, Wreck of the Edmond Fetzgerald, in YouTube. I had heard the song before, but i never knew that the song is about the ship. I learned something new about America thanks to you.

    • Diana Bennett says:

      Thank you for you play by play account of the ferry express. I know the Muskegon area well and I live in Ludington and have traveled on the Badger. My trip on the express ferry to visit a new friend will be done solo so I found reading your page exceptionally informative and helpful. THANK YOU! I am now less apprehensive and looking forward to a Milwaukee excursion. Just hope the weather is good and the tiny ship doesnt get tossed around. Your new cyber friend. Diana. Today lake Michigan, tomorrow the Ocean

      • tukusigal says:

        You are welcome, Diana. Crossing the lake in October can be a little rough, I guess. I hope your trip will be enjoyable. Ferry ride across the lake is a great thing. We now can appreciate the Great Lakes even more!

  6. No thank you. says:

    You can read more about lake freighters at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lake_freighter

    • tukusigal says:

      Thank you very much!. I did not know they are called lake freighters. By the way, you have a very unusual name ‘No thank you’ !

      • No thank you. says:

        The ship you saw (Edwin H Gott) is referenced in the wiki article as the “most powerful” of the thousand-footers, but still has a top speed of less than 17 miles per hour. The “No thank you” is my actual response to the “request” to give a name. :)

      • tukusigal says:

        I see! You know a lot about ships. I did not know the system works so you are asked for your name and you can choose ‘no thank you’. Thanks for visiting my blog and leaving comments!

  7. When I originally commented I clicked the “Notify me when new comments are added” checkbox and now each time a comment is added I
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    • tukusigal says:

      Hi, did you originally comment under a different name? Anyway, I can’t find a way to remove you. Actually I have been having the same problem myself. After I visit somebody else’s blog and leave a comment on his/her blog, I keep getting e-mail notification every time somebody else comments after me on the same blog page. If/when I find a solution, I will let you know!

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