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een there, done that"

 is not an expression used by passengers who explore North America’s Freshwater Seas of the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River. Without spending days at sea, those passengers take in frequent visits to places with the old-school charm of Mackinac Island and the urban awe of cities like Chicago and Toronto.

No two ports are the same and unexplored itineraries are abundant.

North America’s Freshwater Seas are a shared U.S.-Canadian waterway. The natural flow of lakes, rivers and channels are connected by manmade locks—with the combined waterway reaching 3,700 kilometers inland from the Gulf of St. Lawrence to Thunder Bay, Ontario and Duluth, Minnesota on Lake Superior.

The growing hub for luxury cruises includes the clear water of the St. Lawrence River and all five Great Lakes. Unique ports dot the shoreline, all rich with historic, maritime and Midwestern charm. With the water an important part of everyday life, prime attractions are close to berthing space.

Warm and welcoming, the local port communities go out of their way to celebrate the ships and their passengers as they sail in throughout the spring, summer and fall.


Beginning west of Montreal, the locks raise and lower ships for a smooth sail. There are three sets of locks: along the St. Lawrence River, linking Lake Erie to Lake Ontario—the Welland Canal—and linking Lake Huron to Lake Superior—the Soo Locks.

The locks are a fascinating part of sailing the Freshwater Seas. Passengers line the rails and see first-hand how ships “lock through.” Whether for a cruise ship or a massive freighter, the process is the same.

When near the locks—and while sailing the rivers, channels and Lakes—passengers witness the movements of domestic and international cargo vessels moving iron ore, grain and oversized components like wind turbines. The close proximity provides a new appreciation for the size and power of these vessels.

The luxury experience of cruising is amplified by the ports along the way.