By Kathleen Somers
Those “in the know” know: “The second best day in a man’s life is the day he buys his boat. The best day is the day he sells his boat!” This old joke speaks to the universal fact that we all love time on the water. It’s even better when there is no work, maintenance or hassle involved. There’s a certain je ne sais quoi about all things water, be it in, on, or about. We can’t really describe it. We only know that everybody seems to love, dare I say, flock to the water. So while you’re planning your group trips for 2017, maybe consider time on the water. It’s relaxing. Sights from a boat offer a different perspective than from land. More importantly, it just feels so good to be lazily floating on any sort of watercraft. The water portion of your tour will always stand out as the most memorable, most enjoyable, and often the most talked about. So come aboard, and let’s figure out some of the many ways you can include boats in your tours.
With water having such universal appeal, it’s a good thing there are so many diverse ways to include your group in a water/boat themed tour. There are short tours like the popular 30-minute speedboat tours out of Chicago’s Navy Pier, and overnight outings like the 2-day cruise offered by Riverboat Twilight in Iowa. Most often planners look for a 1- to 3-hour long adventure that can be easily supplemented into your group’s itinerary. Good thing there are plenty of those to consider as well, such as Duluth’s sightseeing tour in Minnesota, or the Mark Twain Riverboat dinner cruise in Missouri. And speaking of dinner cruises, you gotta eat, right? So what about eating on the water?
It’s not a given that your group will be fed while cruising, but it is an option quite often. From snacks to box lunches to sit-down candlelight dinners, eating on the water just notches up the fun factor. Consider a box lunch on the luxurious Riverboat Twilight in Iowa when you take your group on the 1.5-hour sightseeing excursion. There is also a cash bar and gift shop located onboard. Sometimes the meal is the focal point, like with a dinner or lunch cruise on the Breezy Belle in Minnesota. Or just offer some great unwind-time as your group enjoys dinner while cruising the Missouri River on Omaha, Nebraska’s River City Star.
Sometimes that nautical meal is best served from a restaurant near the water before or after the boat experience. Maxson Riverboat & Restaurant is a perfect example as they offer an on-shore meal in their glass-enclosed riverside dining room. Kansas’ Tuttle Puddle Tours offers a stop at Little Grill, a Jamaican restaurant, as part of a daylong excursion. If your group is into gaming, North Dakota’s 4 Bears Casino is a great stop for fun and food before touring Lake Sakakawea on The Island Girl.
Many on-the-water experiences combine more than one “thing.” I mean, is it dinner, is it sightseeing, is it entertainment, or history? Hard to tell sometimes because it’s really all that rolled into one great experience. We call that “more bang for your buck.” But if history is what you’re looking for, there’s plenty to be had on the water. In Illinois, the Spirit of Peoria combines a buffet-style meal with live entertainment and history of the Mississippi from Mark Twain himself! Or maybe Michigan’s Alpena Shipwreck Tours is more of what you’re looking for. You can explore the shipwrecks of the Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary from glass-bottom viewing wells while learning the exciting tales of famous ships and their history. In Duluth, Minnesota your group can learn about the area’s history with Vista Fleet Cruises. South Dakota has the Capital City Queen riverboat tour, which offers a 2-hour cruise on the Missouri River including historic landmarks and some great stuff about the Lewis & Clark expedition. Or travel back in time in Wisconsin with Escapade Lake Cruises where your group will learn the rich history of Green Lake, the state’s deepest inland lake.
Of course, if history is your thing, you will want to check out the Sergeant Floyd River Museum located on Sioux City, Iowa’s riverfront. The dry-docked motor vessel, M.V. Sergeant Floyd is now a historical museum named after the only man to have perished on the Lewis & Clark expedition. Devil’s Lake, North Dakota has a maritime museum and also exhibits models of three paddlewheel steamboats from the USS North Dakota. Wisconsin’s Door County Maritime Museum showcases the area’s rich maritime roots. In Michigan you can explore the new maritime museum as part of the Copper Harbor Lighthouse tour. A ferry takes your group to one of Michigan’s oldest lighthouses restored to its original 1866 splendor. Missouri has the world’s only permanent Titanic Museum Attraction in a ship shaped structure. New to the museum is the Titanic Murder Mystery experience where your group can solve a whodunit!
Which reminds me: showboat theatre is another great way to add water. That’s right! From June to mid-August your group can enjoy great musicals and comedies performed aboard the Clinton Area Showboat Theatre, moored at Riverfront Park in Iowa. Or how about solving a hilarious murder case while enjoying a 3-course dinner amid stunning views of the Milwaukee River and Lake Michigan aboard the Harbor Lady in Wisconsin?
Theatre, of course, isn’t the only form of entertainment to be enjoyed on the water. Many cruises and boats offer live entertainment in the form of music or storytelling, such as the Spirit of Peoria in Illinois. Some of the area’s greatest musicians, storytellers, actors, and entertainers can be found making regular appearances on Illinois’ authentic paddle wheeler. There’s dancing onboard the Spirit of Brownville for an unforgettable river experience in Nebraska. If you make your way to Hannibal, Missouri be sure to book your group on the Mark Twain Riverboat for more dancing and live music. There you can also enjoy the “prettiest pirate on the Mississippi,” Princess Jenny Cash, as she sings some of her (and likely your) favorites. Continue the tradition of music on the river with modern jazz, big band, and blues from Ben Bumbry and the Messengers.
If your group is still yearning for more, try some Kansas-style adventures by arranging a custom excursion from Prairie Outfitters & Excursions. Groups as large as 25 can partake in a paddling adventure. Just a willingness to learn and experience something unique is the only requirement. Or perhaps a high-speed airboat adventure on the Platte River in Nebraska would suit your group’s needs? Bismarck, North Dakota is ready with the Lewis & Clark Riverboat to travel the mighty Missouri River in an adventure on one of America’s most beautiful and historic rivers.
Another reason to bring your groups to the water is just plain ol’ sightseeing, such as what you’ll enjoy on the 75-minute River & Lake Chicago Architecture Tour. Get a close-up view of the famous bridges of the Chicago River and learn entertaining tidbits of the area’s history. One of the three distinct tours offered in Michigan by Pictured Rocks Cruises affords views of brilliantly colored cliffs, sea caves, and pristine beaches. For the best eagle watching in southern Minnesota, take a sightseeing tour on the Winona Tour Boat. Entertaining as well as educational, your group will spot wildlife and get up close with Winona’s famous boathouse community.
No matter your groups’ interests, it’s usually done better when done with water. So before the season gets heated up, start planning what, where, and how you can add water for a more memorable experience for your group! Some would say if you’re not on water, you’re not on vacation.