by Sue Copening Ninja Level: 1 out of 5 Budget: $
When we travel we love to take whatever local cruises we can find, whether they are lake cruises or river, they are an excellent way to see a “side” of the city or town you wouldn't see any other way. An added bonus is they are often an excellent entertainment value as well.
Called “Michigan's little Bavaria,” Frankenmuth is a charming town, on the Cass River, featuring a strong German heritage, with it's own Brewery and quaint, German themed shops. Michigan families have made staying at the 13 acre Bavarian Inn a tradition for generations... it's an full fledged family resort with multiple pools, a water park, arcade, mini-golf and a variety of adult, and family, activities. It's a perfect place to stay if you have kids to entertain.
If you are in the Detroit area, Frankenmuth is just an hour, to an hour and a half, North, through some charming farm country. You'll see the Bavarian Inn on your right as you come into town, but if you prefer to stay in the downtown area they have several selections there as well (Marv Herzog, Fairfield Inn, Springhill Suites and Drury Inn).
We were just there for a day trip though, so we hit the downtown and parked at River Place Shops, walking over the bridge to the park, to spend an hour checking out exhibits at the craft festival before the boat ride. We planned the highlight of our day to be the cruise on the Bavarian Belle, followed by lunch at one of the many interesting restaurants and cafes.
The Bavarian Belle is a beautiful boat, and it docks right at the River Place Shops, it's dock and ticket kiosk is by the fountain. Not knowing how crowded the first cruise of the day would be (it wasn't), we got to the ticket kiosk about a half hour early, bought our tickets (just $12 for adults, $4 under 12 and free for children under 4 – cash only), and walked around the shops for a bit.
Getting on the boat was easy, you go down a winding path, a little steep, but still navigable if you have someone in a wheelchair (boat is handicapped accessible), and you just pick your seat. The boat is big enough to move around on, they have popcorn and beverages avail to purchase, and there is plenty of shade on both the upper and lower decks.
I just love taking a boat ride! You always learn a lot of history of the local area and, with the Bavarian Belle, the boats history as well. The Bavarian Belle is a fully restored paddle wheel boat that holds 150 passengers and is run by a family, all working together (Dad is the Captain). It has (non operational) smokestacks and it was interesting to learn that the smokestacks on these boats are hinged and made to lay down for passing under low bridges. Some of what we learned involved the river commerce that used to be so essential to the economy of these small river towns.
We got to see quite a few ducks and Canadian Geese on the Cass River, plus one lonely white goose who, every year, attached itself to the first duck or goose mother to hatch babies, helping to guard and raise the brood. The birds are used to passengers throwing popcorn into the water for them, so they will paddle out for easy picture taking... like they did here!
The cruise lasts only an hour but that was plenty of time to learn the local history and enjoy the scenery. After our cruise we had lunch at the Frankenmuth Brewery, Michigan oldest brewery, partly because the waiters were waving at our cruise boat from the outside deck. We couldn't disappoint them since they were so obviously wanting our business, but it was a good decision, The Brewery has a nice selection of German and American food (even a couple of “Tex-Mex” items), and you can pick up some of their craft beer to go.
Visiting Frankenmuth has been considered a “summer staple” in Michigan for years, so when you go there you'll feel like you're “vacationing like a local.” You could easily spend several days in Frankenmuth enjoying their restaurants, shopping and activities but DO make a cruise on the Bavarian Bell part of your fun; you'll be glad you did!