Unveiling the Truth: Why are Great Lakes Cruises expensive? (Tips for Bagging Them Cheaper!)

How Much Are Great Lakes Cruises? An Overview of Great Lakes Cruise Prices in 2023

why are great lakes cruises so expensive

A standard 7-night Great Lakes cruise typically costs between $5,000-$10,000 per person, according to 2023 brochures from major cruise lines like Pearl Seas Cruises and Victory Cruise Lines. Compared to an equivalent 7-night Caribbean cruise averaging $3,000-$4,000 or a Mediterranean cruise averaging $4,000-$5,000 per person, the price difference for Great Lakes becomes stark. What factors lead to the higher costs for Great Lakes cruises? Let’s explore.

This article discusses the unique characteristics of Great Lakes cruises. and explained why are great lakes cruises so expensive

1. A Short Cruise Season

The Great Lakes are only navigable from mid-May to early October due to harsh winter conditions. This short window forces cruise lines to maximize revenue during this period.

2. Limited Competition

With just 2-3 major cruise operators like Pearl Seas and Victory Cruise Lines, there is less competition in the Great Lakes, allowing companies to charge higher fares.

3. Quality Over Quantity

cater to fewer passengers than mainstream cruise ships, emphasizing quality with higher staff levels, fine dining, and inclusive amenities. However, they offer fewer overall amenities.

4. No Low-Cost Options

Unlike ocean cruise ships, most Great Lakes ships have a limited number of interior staterooms or none at all, which reduces the availability of budget-friendly options.

5. Extras Included

Some cruises include extras like shore excursions and drinks packages, though these are different from standard inclusions. The value of the inclusions only sometimes justifies the high base fares.

The Environmental Angle: Sustainability on Great Lakes Cruises


Operators are taking increasing steps toward sustainability, like installing low-emission engines, responsible waste disposal systems, and ballast water regulation. These initiatives enhance the appeal of cruising ecologically sensitive areas and raise costs due to expensive new equipment and systems. The effectiveness of sustainability measures varies widely across cruise lines.

Strategies for saving money on Great Lakes cruises are discussed in detail.

  • Prioritize the tips – put “Book early” first, as it often saves the most.
  • Add more details for each tip – how early is best to book, typical discount for loyalty programs, etc.
  • Add a tip on checking last-minute cancellations for potential deals.
  • Mention using credit card rewards can offset costs.

Prioritized and elaborated tips:

  • Book as early as 12-18 months in advance for best pricing.
  • Check last-minute cruise cancellations for potential deals.
  • Look for 10-20% discounts through loyalty programs.
  • Use credit card rewards to offset some costs.
  • Monitor price drops 90-120 days before sailing.
  • Consider late May or early October for 5-10% seasonal savings.

Pros and Cons: A Balanced Perspective on Great Lakes Cruises

While offering unique exploration opportunities, intimate experiences, and the chance to engage with North America’s breathtaking natural landscapes, Great Lakes cruises might only be for some. The higher cost, limited season, and fewer onboard amenities compared to more extensive ocean cruise lines might be drawbacks for some travelers.

Unpacking the Experience: What Makes Great Lakes Cruises Stand Out


Unique Destinations and Cultural Experiences

Great Lakes cruises offer an unparalleled chance to explore North America’s iconic cities and hidden gems. From the bustling city center of Toronto to the quiet beauty of Mackinac Island, these cruises offer something unique. Visits to historical sites like Valley Camp or culturally rich places like a Dutch windmill provide enriching experiences. Still, travelers must assess whether these excursions justify the cost.

A Closer Look at Onboard Amenities

While Great Lakes ships are designed with quality in mind, it’s essential to recognize it.


Heir limitations. Compared to ocean ships, the facilities seem limited. Dining meals and entertainment options are carefully curated. Still, they may not match the variety and scale found on mega-ships in the ocean cruise industry. The absence of features like extensive fitness centers or expansive entertainment venues might deter some travelers from seeking a broader range of onboard experiences.

Ecological Considerations: Beyond the Surface

The shift towards sustainable travel is notable in the Great Lakes cruise industry. Some companies, like the eco-cruise ship operators, have taken significant steps to reduce environmental impact through waste management, energy efficiency, and more. The Expedition Cruise Initiative’s compliance with various green practices is an example. Yet, this approach is unique across all cruise lines, and travelers must be discerning in choosing a truly eco-friendly option.

Strategic Savings: Digging Deeper into Cost-Effective Options


It’s no secret that Great Lakes cruises can be expensive, but understanding the nuances of pricing can help travelers find affordable options. Beyond the tips mentioned earlier, here are additional strategies:

  • Understanding the Inclusions: Knowing precisely what’s included in the package deals, like drinks packages or shore excursions, can help travelers assess the value.
  • Exploring Last-Minute Deals: While booking early offers savings, sometimes, last-minute deals can provide significant discounts.
  • Leveraging Broader Travel Credits: Options like annual airline fee statement credits from credit cards like American Express Travel can be leveraged for savings.
  • Considering Different Cruise Lines: Exploring various cruise operators beyond Pearl Seas Cruises, such as Royal Caribbean’s river cruise ships, might reveal different price points and amenities.

Accessibility and Special Considerations on Great Lakes Cruises

Catering to Different Age Groups and Needs

While Great Lakes cruises might appeal to a more mature audience, like Cruises Age 60s and Cruises Age 70s, considerations must be made for all passengers. For the disabled person, for instance, the limited size and specialized equipment on these cruise vessels might affect accessibility and overall experience.

Economies of Scale and Impact on Pricing

The Great Lakes cruise industry operates on a different economic scale compared to large ocean cruise companies. These smaller vessels, often holding hundreds rather than thousands of people, might not benefit from economies of scale. Consequently, specific onboard experiences like the Coastal Dining Room experience or 24-hour room service might be extra expensive. Understanding these dynamics helps potential travelers align expectations with reality.

Delving into the Destinations: An Insider’s View of Great Lakes Ports

Exploring Industrial Ports and Quaint Towns

Great Lakes cruises offer an eclectic mix of destinations. From industrial ports like Port Colborne to picturesque towns like Parry Sound, passengers can experience diverse landscapes. However, this variety also means some stops might need more traditional cruise port facilities, which could affect the convenience and quality of port visits.

Venturing into Foreign Land: Canadian Ports

Great Lakes cruises often include visits to Canadian ports, offering the thrill of international waters without the lengthy ocean voyage. However, passengers must consider potential additional costs like foreign transaction fees and be prepared for Canadian province regulations and compliance measures.

Sustainability Revisited: The True Cost of an Eco-Cruise

Transparent Practices and Real Impact

Given the importance of the largest freshwater ecosystem in North America, sustainability is a vital aspect of Great Lakes cruises. While some cruise lines tout eco-friendly practices, potential travelers should demand transparency in these claims. Investigating what accurate measures are in place and how they contribute to conservation can help travelers make informed and ethical choices.

Navigating the Challenges: Understanding the Great Lakes Cruise Landscape


With all the allure and intimacy of cruising through the world’s largest freshwater lakes, Great Lakes cruises provide a unique and captivating experience. However, it’s an adventure fraught with considerations and potential challenges.

Understanding the whole picture, from the financial implications to the onboard amenities, the balance between luxury and sustainability, and the accessibility for various passenger needs, is essential for anyone considering this distinctive cruise option.

The call of the Great Lakes, with their majestic bodies of water, famous falls, and fascinating cultural experiences, will undoubtedly continue to draw travelers. Yet, the actual value and the ability to craft the perfect voyage lie in the details, the careful planning, and a willingness to embrace the unique characteristics that set these cruises apart from any other cruising experience. The journey continues, and the lakes remain a mesmerizing invitation to explore, understand, and enjoy.

The Ships and Vessels: A Closer Look at What’s on Board


Great Lakes Cruise Vessels: A Mixed Fleet

From the modern elegance of the Pearl Mist to the historical charm of some river cruise ships, Great Lakes cruise vessels offer a varied experience. The features, design, and onboard ambiance can significantly differ from one ship to another, providing a tailored but sometimes inconsistent experience.

Comparing Amenities with Luxury Ocean Cruise Lines

Though often positioned as luxury experiences, it’s essential to recognize that Great Lakes ships generally have fewer amenities than luxury ocean cruise liners. However, they still provide excellent dining options, entertainment, and personalized service, often with a favorable crew-to-passenger ratio. However, expectations must be aligned with the reality of a smaller-scale operation.

The Great Lakes Itineraries: Mapping Your Journey


The Magnificence of Lake Superior to Lake Erie

From the mighty Lake Superior to the vibrant waters of Lake Erie, the journey across the Great Lakes can be spellbinding. Stops at iconic destinations like Thunder Bay, Green Bay, or even Niagara Falls offer an array of experiences ranging from natural beauty to historical insights. It’s a rich tapestry that demands careful selection based on interests and desired exploration depth.

Navigating Through Seasons and Cruise Length Options

The cruise season in the Great Lakes is condensed due to weather conditions. Various cruise lengths, such as the average 10-11 day or shorter 7-night cruises, allow different insights into these enticing destinations. Understanding the current prices, the best travel dates, and how the season impacts available options is vital for optimal planning.

Safety Considerations and Government Regulations

Navigating Regulations and Inspections by Government Agencies

The cruise industry must adhere to stringent regulations, including inspections by government agencies. Compliance with these regulations contributes to the overall cost, from managing ballast water to ensuring safety measures. Furthermore, the shallow waters of the lakes require specialized navigation skills and technology, impacting both price and available cruise lines.

Health and Safety Protocols

In a post-pandemic world, health and safety have become paramount. Great Lakes cruise operators have adapted with enhanced sanitization measures and onboard protocols. Travelers must know these measures and how they might affect the cruise experience.

Bucket List or a Passing Fancy: Assessing the True Appeal

Great Lakes cruises are not merely a vacation choice; they represent an adventurous exploration of one of North America’s most stunning natural landscapes. They may feature on many a traveler’s bucket list, and the reasons are plentiful, from lush forests to the bustling city stops.

However, it’s a voyage that requires careful thought and consideration. From assessing the true appeal of the cruise itinerary to understanding the price difference between these and typical ocean cruise rates, and from diving deep into the onboard experiences to grasping the nuances of eco-practices and regulations, there are layers to uncover.

As with any travel endeavor, the magic lies in aligning expectations, desires, and practicalities. Whether for a seasoned cruise enthusiast or a curious traveler, the journey through the Great Lakes offers an evolving narrative, a story waiting to be discovered, lived, and retold. It’s a voyage where it becomes a destination, rich in lessons, experiences, and breathtaking moments long after the ship has docked. The invitation stands, but the response requires careful thought, thorough research, and an open heart ready to embrace the unique allure of a Great Lakes cruise.

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