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Live from Ocean Voyager, Chicago to Toronto


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LauraS
This post was recognized by LauraS!

"And another from 3rdGenCunarder! Thank you for generously sharing your time at sea with everyone at Cruise Critic! Please consider submitting a review it to the site for publication when you return: Click: Write a Review."

3rdGenCunarder was awarded the badge '"Live from...."'

I am about halfway through my Great Lakes cruise. @uktog did an excellent live from, so I'm not going to repeat that. But I can add a few details and suggestions.

 

I'm enjoying the cruise. Food and service are good, ship is clean. I do feel that I'm being herded like a third grader on a class trip. I guess they think of it as taking care of you so you don't have to think. But I'm an independent traveler and do research on ports so I know what I want to see. They expect everyone to take the HoHo bus, and seem confused when someone wants to deviate from the plan. In Escanaba, I had to explain to three people that I wanted to go for a walk, not ride the bus before a local guide understood and gave me directions and some hints of things to see. 

 

I embarked in Chicago. The pre-cruise hotel was the Sheraton Grand, Check-in is done at the hotel. AQV made a simple process complicated with three separate stations. First, handing in the health questionnaire and showing your passport. When I checked in at the hotel, I was given an envelope that contained the blank health form and a set of instructions. I read the instructions. I may have been the only one who did. People showed up at the table without the form and/or without their passports. So while one person went back to the room for the passports, the agent chatted with the person waiting for the spouse to bring his/her passport. It didn't occur to her to ask the next person waiting if they were prepared (I was).  The next table was to get a ticket for the transfer to the pier. If you bought the pre-tour, you got that ticket. If you're just boarding the ship, you get a timed ticket. The first time was 3:00. Why this simple task had to be done by someone at a separate table mystifies me, but it is what it is. Third table is credit card and having your picture taken. What was really a simple process seemed to take much longer than necessary. 

 

I didn't do the pre-tour, so I was on the 3:00 shuttle. It's a ten minute walk to where the ship docks at Navy Pier. But you have to take the bus. Luggage gets picked up from your room in the hotel and taken to your cabin. Any hand luggage you keep with you can go on the bus with you or in the "hold" under the bus. Because my laptop was in my carryon, I kept that in the hotel until I was ready to go to the ship. The driver put it under the bus. When I got off the bus, my carry-on bag wasn't there, Fortunately, a passenger who had been through this before told me it had been taken to be x-rayed. A security guy decided which pieces of hand luggage had to be x-rayed. Small purses got a pass. My camera bag did not. If I'm protective of my laptop, I'm paranoid about my camera. Anywhere else, I put it on the belt and pick it up again, But he picked it up from the belt, along with someone else's small bag and instead of setting them on the table, he dropped them onto it. Only a few inches, but it's my expensive camera!  Another woman had her camera around her neck. When she saw him handle the bag roughly, she said to me, "that's why I kept mine around my neck." We did not have to go through a metal detector, so she was good to go wearing her camera. So they knew my bag contained nothing dangerous, but who knows what I might have had tucked in a pocket? So here's a tip: hang onto valuable/fragile items if you possibly can. 

 

Since we were docked at Navy Pier and we weren't supposed to sail for 3 hours, I asked a crew member if I could leave the ship. "No, because we're sailing around 6 o'clock."  So don't expect to be able to do a little extra sightseeing. The people on the pre-tour were told they would have time on Navy Pier, but were taken right to the ship with no time at the pier. 

 

The HoHo bus starts running about 8:30 in most places. But the places you go to may not be open that early.  In Escanaba, I got to the lighthouse at 10:00, but it didn't open until 11:00. The shorex person doesn't have a lot of information. For example, at the evening briefing a day or two ago, someone asked what all aboard time would be the next day and she didn't know. Oddly, there's no sign at the gangway reminding passengers what time to be back. I think this is the first cruise where I haven't seen one. It is in the daily program, so be sure to check there.

 

HoHo bus tickets are timed and set out in a rack in the purser's lobby the evening before. If you want to get a particular time, pick up the ticket you want before the evening briefing. 

 

If anyone has questions, I'll try to answer.

 

 

Edited by 3rdGenCunarder
typo
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Lovely to hear your onboard safely. 
We found the shorex lady’s knowledge woefully inadequate, with us the excuse was this is our first time doing the itinerary but it sounds like she hasn’t bothered to learn. 
Yes most of our guests didn’t listen to instructions - getting through US immigration which was very well set up by the ship and the border staff were so pleasant was a nightmare because half didn’t think it applied to them or wanted to go at a different time! But no one could go off touring until everyone cleared (so selfish) 

Do keep the updates coming they will stir up lovely memories 

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MOTOWN! 

 

We were in Detroit today. If you have any interest at all in Motown music do this tour! The guide was great. On the way to "Hitsville USA" he pointed out places related to various Motown artists. At the museum, they show a video about Berry Gordy and how he started the studio. Then there are some exhibits--lots of photos, a few costumes, plenty of gold records, and a wall of album covers. 

 

Then you walk through the second floor apartment where he lived. Then down to the first floor to see the office and studio. Gordy was a smart man with an eye (or perhaps I should say ear) for talent. He signed these young singers and then they had to go through the "system." Vocal coach, choreography, costumes (and also how to dress like a professional), how to walk onto a stage with confidence, etc. He knew how to polish and present new talent. He had worked at a Ford factory, so he approached this as if it were an assembly line. They went in an unfinished chassis and came out a shiny new car. 

 

Then we went back to the pier where a group of 4 musicians (lead vocal, keyboard, bass, drums) performed a bunch of Motown hits. 

Edited by 3rdGenCunarder
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Just heard that AQV sold the two ships doing the Great Lakes, and will end at the end of this season…

Can you ask if they know whether another operator will continue the itineraries in 2024?

The AQV phone center rep did not know…

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On 6/21/2023 at 6:42 AM, RexC said:

How full is the ship this trip?

 

I would say about 90%. There's a Road Scholar group, 38 people. Ordinarily they get their own space, but because there's only one lounge, their lectures are open to everyone. 

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On 6/21/2023 at 3:50 PM, bob brown said:

Just heard that AQV sold the two ships doing the Great Lakes, and will end at the end of this season…

Can you ask if they know whether another operator will continue the itineraries in 2024?

The AQV phone center rep did not know…

 

These poor ships!!! They keep getting sold and go out of business, then sold again,,,

 

I will ask but I doubt I will get an answer.

 

It's a great itinerary. Yesterday was Cleveland and the Rock and Roll Halll of Fame (wonderful!). Today we're in the Welland Canal after spending the day on bus runs to Niagara Falls. We got thorugh 4 of the locks before it got dark.

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The shorex person continues to be useless. She can't answer half of the questions she's asked at the evening briefings. 

 

There were many questions about the Niagara Falls tours and accessibility. That's a big concern for some people and it's something she should know.  So for anyone planning to do this cruise and wondering, the boat ride is accessible. She kept saying there were four flights of stairs. Maybe so, but there are easier ways of getting to the boat. There's a funicular, which is how we went down. Very cool. There also is an elevator from street level down to the boat area. There are ramps to get to the boat itself. They're long, but they aren't steep. She did not know this. This is her fourth cruise of the season and she hasn't done this tour yet. Part of her job should be to check out the tours so she can answer questions. 

 

A food hint. Food has been excellent and the menu for the next meal is posted at the  Purser's desk and outside the dining room as soon as the previous meal is over, so you know what to expect. Times vary a bit from day to day, but the dining room opens for dinner at 7 usually and the grill (casual restaurant, buffet style) opens at 6:30. The menu is mostly the same, but the Grill always has prime rib. So if you don't like the dining room choices, you have that as a fall back. Vegetarian looks doable. Vegan probably not. Menu items are labeled if they contain nuts, gluten, other risk factors. 

 

The dining room has an always available menu with the usual items--chicken, steak, salmon, baked potato.

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That’s so annoying she didn’t know these answers six weeks ago and people gave her detailed notes at every port. We had three people with walkers and there was an elevator from street level to the boat which the guide took them to. We told Riba that 

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On 6/21/2023 at 3:50 PM, bob brown said:

Just heard that AQV sold the two ships doing the Great Lakes, and will end at the end of this season…

Can you ask if they know whether another operator will continue the itineraries in 2024?

The AQV phone center rep did not know…

 

I asked the cruise director if he knew anything about the sale and he just said they know a little, but there are lots of job opportunities. I feel bad for Ian, the "lakelorian." It's clear that he put a lot of work into his presentations, and he went to the Road Scholar lectures and took notes to add to his knowledge about the Great Lakes. Plus, his home is near Cleveland, so his wife and little girl would meet him when the ship was in Cleveland. It was a perfect cruise gig for him.

 

For anyone reading about this itinerary, do it whle you can. Viking is bigger and has more bells and whistles. But they had to tender at Mackinac Island while the Voyager docked. They left Port Colborne 3 hours before we did. So our cruise could offer a full-day tourto Niagara Falls as well as the half-day tours. There was another port where they stayed only a half day. 

 

Plus, if you want to say you've been in all five lakes, this might be the only itinerary that does it. I'm glad I didn't wait until next year.

 

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On 6/23/2023 at 2:06 PM, uktog said:

Ian really made our cruise. A brilliant musician and a very clever guy. He’d clearly researched his brief thoroughly 

 

Yes, it was clear that he put a lot into it. Master's degree in history. He would have been a wonderful teacher.

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Despite the fact that it's kind of "moot," I did a review. I'm copying it here for people who are following this board.

"It's all about the itinerary"

I have wanted to do this cruise for a long time, sailing in all five Great Lakes. I have watched the two ships (currently Ocean Navigator and Ocean Voyager, formerly Victory I and II)) go through various owners. Each time someone bought them and started up, I thought next year I'm going to do this. And then they'd go out of business. I really hoped AQV would make a go of them. But the day before my cruise ended, I learned that AQV is selling these ships and getting out of the lake itineraries. So in a way, this review is pointless, as this is the last year for this cruise. But if you really want to see ALL the lakes, this could be your moment. 

There are other, newer, larger ships on the Lakes, but they're more expensive and AFAIK, only AQV is doing the itinerary with all five. That was a bucket list for several people I spoke to. So was Niagara Falls. This itinerary took us through the "Soo Locks" at Sault Ste Marie, and the locks of the Welland Canal, which I found fascinating. 

The booking process and dealing with AQV's bad website and bad phone reps is off-putting. But stick with it because it all gets better on the ships. 

In addition to the itinerary, plusses included good and varied food, good service, comfortable bed. The ship was spotlessly clean. A big plus was the "lakelorian," who gave lectures about the history, geology, and ecology of the Great Lakes. He knew his subjects well and his presentations were entertaining as well as informative. 

Another plus was the selection of tours. Each port had something included, usually a hop-on-hop-off bus that went to at least three and, in one port, six stops. Admission was paid for by AQV. The tours were well organized, the guides knowledgeable, and the drivers excellent. There were "premium" tours for an extra price and those were good, too. I did the Motown Tour (bucket list for me!), which was fabulous. I don't know if the other cruises that stop in Detroit do this one. Thinking back, everyone I talked to about tours was happy with them, both included and premium. Hornblower, a different branch of the parent company organizes the tours, and they got us into places that weren't open on the day we were in port. A minus was that the shorex person on Voyager was useless. She couldn't answer the most basic of questions. So if you want to be independent in port, do some research in advance. Or just get on the bus--the driver and guide will make sure you have a good tour.

A plus/minus was the entertainment. A trio played in the lounge during cocktail hour and also in the evening at 9:00. They all are excellent musicians, and they play well together. Jazz during cocktail time and a variety of sets including country, Motown, Beatles, swing. Like every band, they have a "sound," and while I loved their jazz sound, it did make all the other genres sound the same. I enjoyed them, but I would have liked a change to some other entertainment a few nights. 

Internet was good--the new Starlink--except when we were in a 'dead spot' between satellites. So it was either great or nonexistent. Mostly great. 

The only minus was that the cabins were small and the only chair was the desk chair, so comfortable seating was only in the lounge or adjacent bar. With various programs in the lounge and the piped in music in the bar, the only quiet spaces were my cabin or on deck. The large upper deck area wasn't used much because it had no shade.  Fortunately, on this cruise, port days were long and I was out and about all day so I didn't have a lot of time to sit around. I wanted to make the most of this itinerary!

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Thanks for this review, and for sticking with it despite the demise of the AQV Great Lakes venture.

 

As a point of reference, there are at least two other companies that offer itineraries to all five Great Lakes – but as you noted they are much more expensive:

•  Viking's new Great Lakes Collection itinerary goes from Toronto to Duluth in 15 days

•  Hapag Lloyd's Hanseatic Inspiration ship goes from Toronto to Duluth and back to Milwaukee in 14 days

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On 6/21/2023 at 3:50 PM, bob brown said:

Just heard that AQV sold the two ships doing the Great Lakes, and will end at the end of this season…

Can you ask if they know whether another operator will continue the itineraries in 2024?

The AQV phone center rep did not know…

Viking Expedition ships operate  the great lakes  also

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22 hours ago, Host Jazzbeau said:

 

•  Hapag Lloyd's Hanseatic Inspiration ship goes from Toronto to Duluth and back to Milwaukee in 14 days

Unless things have changed, I believe most of the passengers and crew on their voyages are German-speaking…I suppose they make bi-lingual or tri-lingual announcements on these voyages…

Edited by bob brown
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4 minutes ago, bob brown said:

Unless things have changed, I believe most of the passengers and crew on their voyages are German-speaking…I suppose they make bi-lingual or tri-lingual announcements on these voyages…

"Hanseatic Inspiration is an international ship, with all cruises conducted in both English and German" per the Hapag Lloyd website

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