Cruising the Great Lakes - in the off season. Part 1

What to expect Cruising the Great Lakes in April and May


9/9/20233 min read

For many adventurous cruisers, the Great Lakes may have creeped onto your bucket list. For many great reasons too. The Great Lakes are a chain five inter connected lakes that store around 21% of the worlds fresh water bordering the US and Canada. This area of the North America is stunningly beautiful. I’m planning a trip up there next spring for my 40’th in search of the scenic beauty and history we’re sure to undertake on this cruise. You get to port in some pretty amazing places as well. Stops like Buffalo-Niagara, NY, Detroit, Michigan and Toronto, Canada to name a small selection. My husband and I are history buffs and we are looking forward to sitting in on the lectures and touring an area of the country we know little about.

Most ships that cruise The Great Lakes will be on the high end, leaning into, and well past the luxury mark. As the mega ships simply will not fit the locks and channels it takes to maneuver into them. Sailing with passengers on vessels that max occupancy is under 400 guests, with a focus on educational and historical lectures and tours. Prices tend to start over $5,000 per person and quickly jump over $10,000 for spacious rooms and suite perks. Expect some well stocked libraries and good conversations on these ships. Along with impressive food, above average service, included excursions and amenities. These trips should be memorable in many ways, making it a well worth it trip.

With a price tag on that scale, this trip is a once in a lifetime for us, so I was looking into ways to save on it. Cruising at the end of April and early to mid May, just might be the ticket.

The weigh in for early season cruising:


Price - You can look to save well over $1,000 per person Cruising in late April and throughout May.

Crowds - You may find your ship not fully booked up. This is a secret hope of mine, since we booked in a lower category with plenty of larger rooms still left. Hoping we might get our first free or discounted upgrade (after many missed opportunities in the past with various lines). Not to mention, not all the cruise ships are sailing until June. Therefor ports shouldn’t be as packed.

Chance of seeing the Northern Lights- Especially if you are sailing on Lake Superior, being the furthest north. If the weather is just right, you may be able to knock off two bucket list items in this trip.

Birding - Entering April, the Great Lakes are booming with an influx of bird migration. May is even more exciting as small gem-like warblers, arrive in massive numbers. These little woodland birds will fill the morning air with song and splendor as they find places inland to rest for the journey further north.


Weather - can be rainy in both April and May. With both months have over 40% chance of rain each day. In 2023 May had a rare snow storm throughout the area. With global changes hitting unprecedented marks, this might be something that happens more often. Pack for cold night and rainy forecasts. One on the reason we choose to go with Viking Expeditions, was the heated closets in all rooms. Something a little special, to dry your wet gear and swim suits. Plus, they offer self service laundry.

Landscape - This is still fairly early in the spring and everything is just starting to come back to life. Whereas, you are sure to have some great foliage in September and October.

The wrap up: Having the opportunity to cruise these unique and beautiful waters will surely be amazing whenever that time may be. If you are sailing in April or May, be mindful of what you pack as you should expect rain and chilly nights and days. Choose a vessel that will suite all your needs and a room that will be comfortable to you. For further insights on the Viking Octantis, and other tips for traveling the Great Lakes, stay tune to my fallow up coming in the spring of 2024 after we sail. We’ll have some great tips and review in our part two posting.