Cruise the Great Lakes
Come ashore for boundless adventures.
These are the unforgettable Great Lakes experiences.
Welcome to a world of exploration as you’ve never known before. Welcome to the Great Lakes.
Expedition cruising in the Great Lakes places the emphasis on experiences ashore, many of which are well off the beaten path. You’ll discover remote regions and get up close and personal with the breathtaking natural environment. Enjoy the unique flora and fauna of each port of call, learning of the untouched territories with a team of experts to guide you. You can engage in an ambitious hike, view extraordinary endemic wildlife, learn of the history of Indigenous peoples, indulge in local cultures and attend lectures from naturalists and scientists.
The Great Lakes region offers some of the finest hiking, cycling and paddling adventures anywhere. It also provides a glimpse into the storied past of early settlers, the important strategic locations of historical forts and villages and an indelible impression of the original inhabitants of this pristine land. Fine wines, craft breweries and artisanal farm to table gastronomy are abundant. From mountain boots to crisp white linen, your unique adventure is yours to create.
The saltwater estuary at the mouth of the St. Lawrence Seaway yields to the world’s largest volume of freshwater, supplied by the magnificent “inland seas.” This expansive region, from Montréal to Thunder Bay, saw intense conflict during the War of 1812. The Great Lakes constituted a middle ground; the place of interaction with the powers seeking to control this strategic heartland. At issue was the very survival of Upper and Lower Canada. The supply of naval units – notably on Lakes Ontario, Erie and Huron – and armaments coming via the St. Lawrence to Georgian Bay and beyond were important factors in the prospect of a future federation of British North America. The British built naval capacity in Kingston and secured a supply route from Fort Erie. Largely outnumbered, the British needed Indigenous allies to compensate for their inferior manpower. Shawnee Chief Tecumseh led the First Nations confederacy. The war raged for more than two years with an outcome that changed nothing politically nor geographically. By the end of 1814, both Britain and the United States had grown weary of the costly stalemate. Many fortifications along the seaway still stand and offer grim reminders of the conflict.
Upon entering the seaway, our first port of call is the cosmopolitan city of Montréal. The narrow, cobbled streets of historic Old Montréal welcome guests from across the pond with the familiar joie de vivre of Europe. Recreation, commerce, arts and entertainment are the lifeblood of the city. Cycling enthusiasts can explore the city via a 1000-kilometre network of safe bike paths. History and culture; art and science; it’s all within reach at Montréal’s many museums and galleries. The city is “festival central” with almost 90 major annual events, including the largest international jazz festival in the world. Montréal is replete with dining options from swanky bistros to casual pubs, all providing unforgettable culinary experiences.
Departing the metropolis to the west, guests soon discover the vast wilderness of the mighty St. Lawrence River; the so-called “main character” of Canadian history. In 1534, French explorer Jacques Cartier happened upon the river and recounts in his journal, “Comme la vie était dure” how hard was the life of these first explorers. Fast forward five centuries and the river experience now sits in the lap of luxury aboard intimately sized, elegantly appointed expedition ships.
The technology has changed, but the history remains. As is evidenced in the Mohawk First Nations territory of the Akwesasne peoples. Guests will share the land’s rich heritage of arts and crafts and witness the long-standing tradition of storytelling. The unique geography of the region plays an essential role in navigating a complex landscape. Nestled amidst the provinces of Québec and Ontario and the state of New York, culture and tourism converge to provide an enriching experience.
Within this region is the seaway city of Cornwall, an historical gem offering a blend of big-city amenities and small-town hospitality. Cornwall is home to a portion of the 2100-kilometre Waterfront Trail that stretches from the Québec border to the Great Lakes. The Cornwall segment is a dedicated off-road, multi-use trail that spans the entire waterfront, revealing stunning vistas to cyclists and runners. In the neighbouring community of South Glengarry, set within a pastoral ecclesiastical landscape, stands the ruin of St. Raphael. The evocative stone ruin is one of the earliest Roman Catholic monuments in Canada. As ships pass through this portion of the seaway, it is not abundantly clear what lies beneath. Submerged in several metres of water are the Lost Villages. In order to facilitate the construction of a power dam, villagers of ten communities were relocated and their homes were sacrificed to the flood waters. A museum in Ault Park near Long Sault marks their legacy.
Traveling west, ships encounter the gateway to the 1000 Islands and the charming port city of Brockville. From historic buildings to the Tall Ships Festival and the famous railway tunnel, Brockville has contributed much to the founding of Canada. A favourite attraction for guests is the city’s world-class marine discovery and wildlife centre.
The 1000 Islands region is a labyrinth of deep-water passages dotted with delightfully quaint communities, including Gananoque with its unique waterside playhouse.
The St. Lawrence River meets Lake Ontario at Kingston, Canada’s first capital city. Kingston is rich in maritime heritage and home to a vibrant arts, food and maker community. A prominent landmark on the Kingston waterfront since 1844, City Hall exemplifies the stately nineteenth-century architecture of this “Limestone City.” Kingston’s signature attraction is Fort Henry, a national historic site. Close to the city are Wolfe, Garden, Amherst and Howe Islands all easily accessible to explore via free ferry services.
A short transit through Adolphus Reach and you arrive at the peninsular wine-growing region of Prince Edward County. The micro-climate of the island municipality contributes to its natural value, facilitating agri-tourism attractions. Facing Lake Ontario, Sandbanks Provincial Park is the world’s largest bay mouth barrier dune formation. Nearby Picton is the mercantile and administrative centre for the county. Rural roads throughout the region encourage cycling excursions to browse the antiques in the village of Bloomfield. Guests may taste the critically acclaimed wines of this important region and enjoy informative chats with the winemakers.
As the journey opens to the big waters of Lake Ontario, the skyline of Canada’s largest city begins to sprout on the horizon. Home to more than 90 ethnic communities, the metropolis of Toronto is the multi-cultural hub of North America. Friendly, exciting, diverse and enchanting, Toronto is the number one tourism destination in Canada and an ideal port of call for expedition cruise ships. A city of fine dining, museums, culture, history, sports and shopping, Toronto also hosts a surprising number of green zones among its soaring skyscrapers. Guests have an excellent opportunity to indulge in a lavish variety of entertainment and recreation just moments from the dockside. One of the greatest cities in the world, Toronto has something for everyone.
The Niagara Region boasts sprawling vineyards, award-winning wineries, fruit orchards and plentiful dining and entertainment. The charming town of Niagara-on-the-Lake is home to the Shaw Festival; world-class theatre in blissful wine country.
The great water staircase of the Welland Canal raises ships to the top of Niagara Falls and the vibrant, picture-perfect lakefront city of Port Colborne. Abuzz with activity, sailors, powerboaters and fishing enthusiasts gather to appreciate the charming scenery and trophy catch. Add to this a selection of delightful shops and restaurants, cycling trails, well-groomed golf courses and an active local arts scene, and Port Colborne easily becomes the total package for day-trippers.
Upon leaving the Welland Canal, you enter Lake Erie with one more major metropolitan city en route. Windsor is the southernmost major city in Canada. Guests may enjoy a hands-on distillery tour in Walkerville while strolling and discovering the historic architecture and folklore. The region is home to eighteen wineries that make up the Essex Pelee Island Coast offering customized tasting and tapas tours. The tiny Middle Island is the southernmost bit of land in Canada and is a haven for birders. Visits to the celebrated Point Pelee National Park can be arranged.
In the years leading up to the War of 1812, Fort Amherstburg was erected at the mouth of the Detroit River. The fort was destroyed during the war and was replaced by the current Fort Malden by 1840. Since that time the national historic site has expanded to its current size and serves as a landmark to the major events that shaped early Canada.
The route to the northern reaches is traversed via the Detroit River into the St. Clair River and onward to Lake Huron. The first stop on the southeastern shore is Canada’s “prettiest” town: Goderich. The uniquely designed town centre makes for a comfortable atmosphere to take in the many shops, restaurants and galleries. The River Avon meanders through the nearby community of Stratford, one of the most highly regarded professional theatre destinations in the world. The Huron County village of Blyth exudes Victorian charm and is also home to a renowned professional theatre company. Aside the sandy beaches of Lake Huron you’ll find a destination like no other. The heritage Village of Bayfield is known for boutique accommodations, award-winning dining and artists’ studios.
Continuing north, a turn starboard brings ships into Georgian Bay. Here you’ll discover the iconic landscape, diverse habitat and cultural history of Midland dating back 11,000 years. Simcoe County is in the heart of Huronia, the largest freshwater archipelago in the world. Built upon the ancestral land of the Wendat First Nation, Sainte-Marie among the Hurons was the first European community here, established in 1639. Within ten years, the Jesuit missionaries who occupied the area spreading their doctrine to the Indigenous population had vacated the site and it was burned to the ground. After extensive archaeological and historical research, a replica of Sainte-Marie among the Hurons stands on its original site. The adjacent Martyrs’ Shrine was consecrated to the memory of the missionaries.
The Wye Marsh Wildlife Centre is spread over 1200 hectares of wetlands and woodland and is home to painted turtles, otter and the rare trumpeter swan. Guests may participate in a relaxing kayak paddle or join a guided eco-tour to venture deeper into the secluded marsh channels. The neighbouring town of Penetanguishene recounts the history of Ontario’s oldest community.
Hugging the shoreline to the north, ships head toward Parry Sound, the heart of the 30,000 Islands. This is where the landscape changes. The iconic wind-swept white pines and unique glacier-polished rocks are like a living Tom Thompson painting. Parry Sound hosts the deepest freshwater port in the world and is part of a UNESCO-designated biosphere reserve. The town is rich in arts and culture and is the birthplace of hockey hall-of-famer, Bobby Orr. A popular activity here is a flightseeing tour along the South Channel in an iconic floatplane. Naturalists take guests on boat tours to Killbear Provincial Park to learn about the flora and fauna that inhabit the rugged coastline. Eco-tours to the inner islands past the Big Sound bring guests to impressive ancient hiking terrain. The region figures prominently in Anishinaabe Ojibway First Nation life and lore.
Venturing farther north, you encounter Manitoulin Island, the largest freshwater island in the world. The Island’s majestic Lake Manitou is the largest freshwater lake within a freshwater island in the world. The beautiful crystal-clear waters of the North Channel await the arrival of ships to the newly refurbished waterfront of the Port of Little Current. The town is fully equipped to host guests. Moments away from the downtown, ambitious adventure trails bring you to breathtaking views atop the dramatic 70-metre cliffs of the Cup and Saucer. The Sheguiandah archaeological site reveals ancient quarry pits and stone tools dating back more than 10,000 years. Just west of Little Current is the ancestral land of the Aundeck Omni Kaning First Nation. Here, talented artists practice the traditional woodland style of art, antler carving, leather and beadwork, wood burning and furniture making. The nearby Unceded Territory of Wikwemikong is the largest Anishnaabek community on the island. These are the homelands of the Peoples of the Three Fires Confederacy: the Odawa, Ojibway and Potawatomi.
Adjacent to Manitoulin, the Town of Killarney is perhaps the North’s best kept secret. With the white quartzite ridges of the La Cloche Mountains, the pink granite coastline of Georgian Bay and the sapphire blue waters, the unmatched beauty of Killarney enchants all visitors to explore the uniqueness of this rugged section of Canada. A vast network of hiking trails, unlimited paddling options in the protected North Channel and fish fry shore lunches make Killarney the perfect place for seasoned explorers to enjoy all of nature’s gifts.
It’s time to head west to where Lake Huron meets the grandest of all, Lake Superior. A vibrant and friendly community, Sault Ste. Marie balances urban and natural amenities to provide an adventurous lifestyle in the heart of the Great Lakes. There’s an energy in the Soo. You can feel it across its incredible land and waterscapes. You hear it bubbling in the rapids, echoing throughout campuses and in the new developments and ideas that come alive in the city every day. From the sacred Ojibwe pictographs of Agawa Rock to the resplendent wilderness along the Agawa Canyon rail tour to the picturesque Crystal Falls of the Hiawatha Highlands Conservation Area, take the time and live in the moment.
A lock system brings ships up to Lake Superior and into the magnificent North Shore Inside Passage, 700 uninterrupted kilometres of pristine wilderness. Several deep-water inside passages in and around islands and archipelagos provide access to the remote communities of Marathon, Terrace Bay, Schreiber, Rossport and Redrock. With the emergence and growth of expedition cruising in the Great Lakes, the decision was made to develop a new destination tailored to the burgeoning industry. The small communities along the North Shore are linked by the Casque Isle network that presents some of the most scenic hiking trails on the Great Lakes. Fleets of kayaks offer guests the opportunity to visit the many uninhabited islands here, several teeming with wildlife. The rugged Slate Islands are home to woodland caribou, beaver, snowshoe hare, red fox, bald eagle, great blue heron and many other species of birds. Remnants of two native settlements and a former timber operation are evident. Contrary to their nomenclature, the islands are not made of slate, but rather almost three billion-year-old metamorphosed volcanic rock. Rare geological features called shattercones suggest that the central islands are the remains of a meteorite impact. One shattercone measures nine metres, among the largest in the world.
We have arrived at the northwestern terminus of Lake Superior. Thunder Bay is the largest community on the lake and, as one of Canada’s great outdoor cities, it’s a world class tourism destination. The city is rich in wide-open green spaces, parks and wilderness – yet a major centre for visual and performing arts, culture and entertainment. Sleeping Giant (Nanabijou) Provincial Park is one of Canada’s great natural wonders. Outdoor enthusiasts can explore the biological diversity of this great park that protects the harbour. At the southern tip of the park sits Silver Islet, the location of the richest submarine silver mine in the world. Thunder Bay is a gateway to some of the world’s most spectacular wilderness and is close to the Lake Superior National Marine Conservation Area, the world’s largest freshwater conservation reserve.
During the last ice age, the 1.5-kilometre thick Laurentide glacier covered most of Canada. The gargantuan weight and motion of the ice sheet carved out the earth to form giant basins. When the climate warmed about 14,000 years ago, the ice retreated. Water from the massive melt filled the basins forming the Great Lakes. The present sizes and shapes of the lakes have only been around for about 3000 years. Today, this enormous eco-region hosts a variety of aquatic, wetland, forest and dune habitats. We invite you to explore the stunning, biodiverse Great Lakes region during your unforgettable journey aboard your expedition cruise ship.
Watch our video overview and start planning your adventure.