By Charlene & Richard Mixa
A Fun Shortcut Across Lake Michigan
Feel the breeze! Relax on a deck! Take a nap! Read a book! Watch a movie! Play BINGO! Hit the jackpot! Be a winner in saving gas, saving time and saving money by taking the carferry. Board the safe, fun, reliable S.S. Badger for an authentic steamship experience across Lake Michigan.
Saving over a full day of driving to go around Lake Michigan to eastern Wisconsin, it’s an easy choice. We hop aboard the S.S Badger for a cruise from Ludington, Michigan to Manitowoc, Wisconsin. Standing on the upper rear deck, we watch crew members quickly, yet carefully, “back” cars, semis, RV’s, and tour buses into the hold of the S. S. Badger, the largest carferry ever to sail Lake Michigan. With our car safely tucked away, it’s time for a hearty homemade buffet breakfast in the Upper Deck Café.
Toot! Toot! Toot! Three loud horn blasts signal the Badger is underway to cross this huge inland sea. On the bow’s outer deck we have panoramic views of Ludington, its lighthouse, and gentle rolling hillsides along the shores of Lake Michigan. A strong lake wind makes it chilly. Now to explore this carferry that has provided a cross-lake shortcut for over 50 years. This huge vessel combines maritime tradition with a modern wide range of amenities – offering something for everyone. On the numerous spacious outside decks there is room to roam and relax in the breeze. Passengers are playing cards, games, visiting, or working in the enclosed Upper Deck Lounge and Aft End Lounge. Two large TV areas have comfy, adjustable airplane seats. A video arcade and Kid’s Port playroom keeps the kids and teens entertained. Two feature movies are showing during the cruise and the Quiet Room is perfect for reading or napping. The Badger crew makes everything fresh from the home-style buffet meals in the Upper Deck Café to deli style sandwiches, salads, snacks and healthy menu options in the Badger Galley.
B I N G O! It’s time for BINGO! What would a cruise be without BINGO? The lounge is packed with BINGO lovers. Lots of fun, laughter and prizes! After our early morning drive, we opt for napping and reading in the Quiet Room then head off to watch a movie.
The S.S. Badger is on the National Register of Historic Places and I browse the memorabiliain the Quiet Room on its dramatic history. Originally built to transport railroad freight cars, but with superior passenger accommodations, today the Badger is the only coal-fired steamship in operation in the United States. It reigned as Queen of the Lakes during the car ferries’ Golden Era in the late 1950’s. In the 1990’s economic changes brought about the demise of car ferries and the S. S. Badger was tied up. It was reborn when Charles Conrad, an entrepreneur, using his own financial resources reinvented the Badger to carry up to 600 leisure passengers and 180 vehicles. Today, this legend of the Great Lakes allows passengers to experience a bit of history while cruising to fun destinations on both sides of Lake Michigan.
On deck under blue skies and a mild breeze, the skyline of Manitowoc comes into view. As soon as the Captain smoothly docks the Badger, a team begins efficiently unloading the vehicles. We’re impressed with the friendly staff and find ourselves quickly in our car. Taking the S. S. Badger is a great decision. Save Time and Save Money plus enjoy an authentic steamship experience. Blending tradition with innovation, the Badger affords a rare opportunity to take a step back into the past and take a journey that’s as important as the destination.
If you go: The Badger sails daily between Ludington, MI to Manitowoc, WI from May t October.
S.S. Badger. 701 Maritime Drive, Ludington, MI 49431 (231) 845-5555; www.ssbadger.com