Great Lakes cruises are almost all small ship cruises. This is an important distinction since many people who favor small ships over larger ones do not realize that all of the passenger ships on the Great Lakes are smaller ships.

Ocean going cruise liners are often capable of carrying well over 500 passengers and some can reach close to 1000. The ships that provide Great Lakes cruises are much smaller and the largest will just barely top out at 500 passengers. The majority are smaller even that this and may carry only 30 to 100 passengers. Some of the tall ships may carry even fewer when everyone has a cabin.

The reason for this size limitation is partly based on the Lakes themselves and the way that lakes like Superior are connected to the rest of the chain and the way that the entire chain is connected to the sea. For any ships to enter the Great Lakes, they need to be small enough to navigate the waterways that connect the Lakes to the sea. Most larger, ocean going cruise liners are too large to do so.

For ships to access Lake Superior from the rest of the chain, they must pass through the Soo Locks, which limits the size of vessels that are able to move from lake to lake since all vessels passing this way must meet maximum size requirements. Since there is no other way for a cruise ship to enter Lake Superior, unless it is built there, only smaller cruise liners can make the passage.

Another reason for Great Lakes cruise ships being smaller is the relatively shallower waterways that vessels must be able to pass through. Harbors on the Lakes are also shallower and so require a shallower draft vessel to navigate.

Small ship cruises are desirable to many for the feeling of intimacy they bring. The ships are small and it is easy to meet people. Often the crew can make time to talk with the passengers and explain some of the working of the ship.

Please do not equate small with a lack of luxury. While ships like the Clelia II and the Pearl Mist may not be large, and may not have every amenity of their larger ocean going cousins, they are still luxurious and loaded with luxury features, and the services are top notch.

Anyone seeking a small ship cruise should seriously consider a Great Lakes cruise. The trips often can provide an exotic-feeling escape from the normal cruise fare and the ships themselves run the gamut from adventurous tall ships to quiet luxury liners and even small ferries that provide intimate dinner cruises.

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