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Great Lakes cruise--am I going to be sorry I booked this?


3rdGenCunarder
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I'm booked on Ocean Voyager departing Chicago (or Milwaukee?) June 13 (or maybe the 14th, do I count the hotel stay as the departure date?).

 

I've wanted to do this cruise for a long time. Companies came and went, and the ships changed names and owners. But I was hopeful that AQV had enough experience to run the cruise well. Now, I'm wondering about that. Nothing seems to be consistent. I'm hoping posters here can answer my questions. I don't have a lot of faith in the AQV agents. And reading recent reviews has made me very nervous. I know, a lot of people who post reviews are the unhappy passengers. I'm just afraid I'm going to turn out to be one of them. 

 

The cruise leaves from Chicago. Or does it? A poster here said his left from Milwaukee. I could swear somewhere it said that we would get a tour on the way to the ship. Now it's $99. So if I don't do that, do I have to take a taxi to the pier? Or will there be a later bus that just goes to the boat, wherever it might be? I really don't want a bus tour of Chicago, especially at that price. I've been to Chicago a couple of times and would prefer to spend the time enjoying it on my own. 

 

I've been checking on shore excursions. Somewhere, I read that the excursions would be available last week. But when I tried, I couldn't book anything. And everywhere I looked said excursions would be available 90 days out. So I did a "chat" with an agent on Jan 30. Her reply was: 

"Our Development Team is currently working on all the details. They've instructed that all the information should be up and ready by tomorrow afternoon. The booking, however, should be available within the 90 days."

 

I was told to check again mid-March. Out of curiosity, I checked today. Optional tours are open for booking. And now, instead of 90 days, it says tours can be booked 180 days ahead of time. What the what???????? And two that I was interested in aren't showing as available. One port isn't showing anything, not even the included tours. BUT if I just research the cruise as if I hadn't booked yet, those tours are showing on the itinerary for my cruise. IF they're already sold out (in a week?), do they keep a waitlist? 

 

Included tours are not open for booking. Will I be able to choose my time in advance, or do I have to wait and book that on the ship? Or at the hotel at their "desk" in the hotel? BTW, I was told that the pre-cruise hotel would be the Sheraton. 

 

I know this is a lot of picky stuff, but the whole thing feels too disorganized. This is an expensive trip, twice the cost of 10 days on Cunard! 

 

Any information/advice about the Chicago to Toronto cruise would be appreciated!

 

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If anyone is on a Chicago-to-Toronto itinerary or the reverse, the itinerary is changing and some tours are not available. In one case, the vendor isn't available to do the tour for them. 

 

Isn't it amazing how one employee can make a company look bad and another can redeem it? Two months after I made the booking, I was contacted by someone who would be my "single point of contact and concierge" at AQV. So that's who I contacted with questions about tours and itinerary. His reply? Contact my travel agent. I know I can't change the booking directly with a cruise line if I use a TA, but it's standard practice on "real" cruise lines to allow me to ask questions about itinerary or services, buy tours, etc directly. 

 

I tried chat and the chat defaulted to an email after I typed my questions, even though it had said an agent was available. AQV was going downhill fast in my estimation. But a very helpful person from the tours department replied to my email and was able to answer my questions. I was greatly relieved to find someone at AQV who has a clue!

 

So the upshot is, Manitoulin is out and the new port is Escanaba, MI.

 

I also noticed on the website that some Chicago departures say that the transfer is to Milwaukee. Mine does not, so I'm hoping that means I will depart from Navy Pier and not have the longer bus ride. Interestingly, the transfer and city tour is $99 for either departure. The one that goes to Milwaukee includes lunch. The one that doesn't go to Milwaukee does not include lunch, but appears to have stops along the tour to justify the amount of time given to drive to the pier, less than a mile away from the hotel. 

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I  am very interested in whatever you learn and care to share.  I am sailing on the September 28/29 Sep 2024 Chicago to Montreal cruise of the Ocean Navigator.

I would be disappointed if we didn’t sail directly from Chicago, as that was the primary reason we selected AQV, rather than others that started from Milwaukee.

I haven’t tried to research shorex yet…

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You're more than a year out, so anything could happen. The "development department" won't have started working on your excursions, so contacting shorex won't get you anything.  I would just keep checking the website to see if the itinerary description changes. They seem to be pretty clear about departures being "Chicago" (as in really Chicago) or "Chicago/Milwaukee." 

 

The actual excursions available are not all the same as the "teasers" in the pre-booking itinerary page. I'm disappointed that the lighthouse boat ride from Mackinac Island isn't running. (Yes, there's the fine print about things being subject to change.) Excursions go "live" 180 days out, so I suggest that you look at your itinerary for 2023, maybe in April. Unlike other cruise line sites, the AQV site lets you see the real excursions and their prices without having to have a booking. 

 

I will post about the cruise because there is so little info on this board that isn't just press releases  directly from AQV. 

 

For my itinerary, the change makes a lot of sense. As it was originally planned, we would go from the US to Canada (Manitoulin Island) and back to the US (Detroit) and then to Canada again (Niagara Falls, docking at Port Colborne). With the rearranged schedule, the ports are all US until we get to Port Colborne. So now there's only one border crossing. 

Edited by 3rdGenCunarder
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We are on a May 2023 cruise that goes Toronto to Chicago, it is still showing Manitoulin Island and ending in Chicago.  I wonder how that will shape out.  I had not really researched all the stops so have no expectations other than Niagara!

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On 2/10/2023 at 3:45 PM, uktog said:

We are on a May 2023 cruise that goes Toronto to Chicago, it is still showing Manitoulin Island and ending in Chicago.  I wonder how that will shape out.  I had not really researched all the stops so have no expectations other than Niagara!

 

Are you looking at the itinerary that comes up when you do the "find a voyage search?" Those haven't been updated yet. Click on one of the "premium" (extra cost) excursions, and you will be bounced to the page where you can find the excursions for your cruise and other cruises for your ship. I've looked at several and they all are missing a day and Mackinac Island is showing for a different day. I guess they're in the process of updating it. 

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6 hours ago, 3rdGenCunarder said:

 

Are you looking at the itinerary that comes up when you do the "find a voyage search?" Those haven't been updated yet. Click on one of the "premium" (extra cost) excursions, and you will be bounced to the page where you can find the excursions for your cruise and other cruises for your ship. I've looked at several and they all are missing a day and Mackinac Island is showing for a different day. I guess they're in the process of updating it. 

Thanks I see that now, our cruise ends in Milwaukee not in Chicago as booked.  Hmm technically under UK legislation ( its a booking done under UK legislation) they will be obliged to take us to Chicago at no additional cost.  Oh well one for our travel agent, its not a big issue - it ticks another US city for us 🙂 

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5 hours ago, uktog said:

Thanks I see that now, our cruise ends in Milwaukee not in Chicago as booked.  Hmm technically under UK legislation ( its a booking done under UK legislation) they will be obliged to take us to Chicago at no additional cost.  Oh well one for our travel agent, its not a big issue - it ticks another US city for us 🙂 

 

I think transfers are included in the cost of the cruise, but I find it interesting that the "included" transfer does not appear, although the overpriced bus tour transfer is listed. I think that the "included" transfer/tour options are worked out at the cruise line's "desk" at the pre-cruise hotel instead of being booked in advance online. Given the state of AQV's IT department, this could turn out to be a good thing. 

 

I hope you have planned on having a few days in Chicago. It's a great city!

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Ours will be post cruise. Currently it’s showing a cost to transfer to Chicago but we will see. We are indeed spending a few days in Chicago and look forward to exploring it. Been checking out things to do 😀

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I know AQV’s business model is to “extend” its cruises by a day, and include  mandatory overnight hotel stays.  And also, in many places, a bus transfer from that location, to where you actually board the ship or boat.

For example, stay in Minneapolis, board at Red Wing; or stay in St. Louis, board at Alton; or stay in Spokane, board at Clarkston, etc….

 

I don’t mind that so much, but would not want to board in Milwaukee, even if the transfer was included, for a cruise carded as “from Chicago”…

 

 

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  • 4 weeks later...

We are doing the reverse Toronto to Chicago (well that’s what we have booked, who knows what is happening at the end! - one day hopefully very soon we will be told). 
I have questions @Springfield6 some of which I think I know the answers

1.  What if any are the laundry options - we are away for three weeks in total so have to think about that

2.  Any advice on must sees on the inclusion tours - or things to avoid!
3.  We are thinking of the Premium tour at Niagara. This is a once only visit for us.  Did you hear any reports about it, good or bad?

 

Thanks so much.  We realise our trip is only 8 weeks off but as usual we have zero information.  It’s worse because AQ work through a UK handling travel agency who then links to our TA so everything comes so last minute.  

We did the Mississippi last year on AQ - that’s what convinced us to see the lakes this way remembering school geography and embellished teacher’s stories.  I have to agree, embarkation was shambolic also in Memphis made worse for us due to agent ignorance. They’d never seen Scottish covid passes so couldn’t understand how to read them and because the don’t say the word booster (it said 4/4 vaccinations Doh) we were denied boarding!  It was the most stressful non customer focussed four hours of our life in three different lines with a very aggressive supervisor pleading our case.  We had to take to Twitter to get head office help. 
But we like the onboard experience and the hop on off principle so are back for more

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@Springfield6, thank you so much for posting! I can put up with shoreside cluelessness if I know things will be good on the ship. I always book through a TA, but I don't bother her for details I can find (or should be able to find) on the cruiseline's website. I have a strong need to know, and the AQV staff were not satisfying that.

 

Your description sounds great. I don't need a lot of entertainment. I can sit and watch the water go by. I've been to most of the ports before, but not recently. I'm on this more for the ride than the stops.

 

I hear you and @uktog about embarkation with the vaccination and test checks. So many people didn't understand what they had to do--including the people who checked in passengers! My embarkation in Vancouver for an Alaska cruise in June was an unholy mess. I don't know how people got into Canada without the ArriveCAN app--I needed it to fly to Vancouver. And we needed it to board because we had a stop in Victoria BC. I was ready to go (despite being a boomer in her 70s), but got stuck in a queue with the 95% of passengers who hadn't done the app. I stood in line for an hour, when I should have just breezed through. The port people did an awful job of trying to help passengers who didn't understand how the app works. Cunard could have done a much better job of informing passengers that they would need to complete the app before boarding. It would have been so much better if Cunard or the port staff provided a paper with the steps involved in doing the app. 

 

So at least we don't have that to deal with. And checking in 200 people instead of 2000+ (Queen Elizabeth) should make for an easier time than I had in June. 

 

I do have 3 questions.

 

1. On Mackinac Island, the included tour takes us to the hotel, and the description says we can tour on our own. So does the included tour give us access to the inside of the hotel? Because it's so famous, they charge ($10, I think) to just go in and look around. It's a long time since I've been there, so I'll go in and wander if it's included, but not if I have to pay.

 

2. Port Colborne is the port for Niagara Falls. Do tours leave and return to Port Colborne, or does the ship transit the Welland Canal while people are off on their tours and you go back to the ship at a different point?

 

3. What time did they transfer people from the hotel to the ship on the direct transfer? The hotel for my cruise is supposed to be the Sheraton Grand, about a mile from the pier. I don't want to do the city tour. I'd rather spend the afternoon doing something on my own and go back to the hotel in time to get my luggage and board the bus.

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Hi Uktog,  Here are our answers as best as we remember. We were allowed one free load of laundry on board. Whatever fit in the bag they gave us. Additional laundry was charged to the room. Not sure what the charge was. We tried to think of negatives about the included tours and could not come up with anything. We would recommend the Vally Camp Museum at Sault Ste Marie, a lake freighter that has been turned into a museum. The carriage tour of Mackinac Island was really pretty excellent. We had not been there before. Good places for lunch and plenty of fudge stores in town. The fort is interesting also. In Cleveland, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame admission is included. It was a highlight for me and their cafeteria was surprisingly good.. We took the basic Niagara Falls boat get drench tour which we really liked. I can’t comment on the premium tour.

All in all we have great memories from the Great Lakes cruise. The real negatives were entirely caused by Air Canada on the way home but that’s another story.

 

Hi 3rd Gen Cunader, I’ll give you questions a shot. On Mackinac, we had passes to get inside the Grand Hotel from AQ. We sat on the porch and had a couple drinks while we drank in the view! Glorious! My wife and I do not remember the ship moving to another dock area at Niagara Falls. As far as our transfer to the ship in Chicago. We both remember boarding the bus for Navy Pier at 2PM. AQ will move your luggage separately, all you will need for the bus ride is a carry on if you have one. I don’t know if you have taken the river architecture tour in Chicago, but it was amazing and we highly recommend it. I think about an hour + time wise. You would have to book the first trip so you could get back in plenty of time. 
 

Good luck and happy Great Lakes sailing to both of you.

Happy to answer more questions

 

Alex M

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19 minutes ago, Springfield6 said:

Hi Uktog,  Here are our answers as best as we remember. We were allowed one free load of laundry on board. Whatever fit in the bag they gave us. Additional laundry was charged to the room. Not sure what the charge was. We tried to think of negatives about the included tours and could not come up with anything. We would recommend the Vally Camp Museum at Sault Ste Marie, a lake freighter that has been turned into a museum. The carriage tour of Mackinac Island was really pretty excellent. We had not been there before. Good places for lunch and plenty of fudge stores in town. The fort is interesting also. In Cleveland, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame admission is included. It was a highlight for me and their cafeteria was surprisingly good.. We took the basic Niagara Falls boat get drench tour which we really liked. I can’t comment on the premium tour.

All in all we have great memories from the Great Lakes cruise. The real negatives were entirely caused by Air Canada on the way home but that’s another story.

 

Hi 3rd Gen Cunader, I’ll give you questions a shot. On Mackinac, we had passes to get inside the Grand Hotel from AQ. We sat on the porch and had a couple drinks while we drank in the view! Glorious! My wife and I do not remember the ship moving to another dock area at Niagara Falls. As far as our transfer to the ship in Chicago. We both remember boarding the bus for Navy Pier at 2PM. AQ will move your luggage separately, all you will need for the bus ride is a carry on if you have one. I don’t know if you have taken the river architecture tour in Chicago, but it was amazing and we highly recommend it. I think about an hour + time wise. You would have to book the first trip so you could get back in plenty of time. 
 

Good luck and happy Great Lakes sailing to both of you.

Happy to answer more questions

 

Alex M

 

 

Thanks, Alex, especially for the heads-up on the transfer to the ship. It's earlier than I expected, so now I know to plan around it.

 

I have done the boat tour in Chicago. If you ever get back to Chicago, check to see if they still do the tour that's mostly done riding on the "El." The tracks get VERY close to some of the buildings. I will check to see if there are other tours they offer. Viator sells a gangster tour. That could be fun. 

 

LOL at the reference to fudge stores. It's definitely a "thing" on Mackinac Island. Locals call the day trippers on the ferry from lower Michigan "fudgies" because they arrive in the morning, see the sights, buy fudge, and go home. A friend who grew up on the Upper Peninsula made us promise to stay overnight and not be "fudgies." We did not stay at the Grand, but the hotel we chose had a nice view of the harbor at a better price. We did go to afternoon tea at the Grand. I'm thinking about the ice cream parlor this time.

 

I'm excited to go to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. In Detroit, there's a Motown museum that I wanted to go to, but it's closed on Tuesdays, which is the day we'll be there. Very disappointing, as Motown was the music of my college years.

 

 

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Thank you so much that is exactly what I wanted to hear.  

So excited at the variety of tours available especially the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Funny we went to the Grammy Museum in Cleveland Mississippi on the last ASQ cruise on their Hop on Hop Off so we can complete the double.  Fudge seems the perfect take home present so that is another tick

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On 3/18/2023 at 12:50 PM, 3rdGenCunarder said:

I'm excited to go to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. In Detroit, there's a Motown museum that I wanted to go to, but it's closed on Tuesdays, which is the day we'll be there. Very disappointing, as Motown was the music of my college years.

 

Detroit update! They just added a Motown tour (one of the "Premium" tours that you pay for)! it's supposed to go to the Motown museum, plus some sites to drive by and a music performance. I signed up today!

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12 hours ago, 3rdGenCunarder said:

 

Detroit update! They just added a Motown tour (one of the "Premium" tours that you pay for)! it's supposed to go to the Motown museum, plus some sites to drive by and a music performance. I signed up today!

Thanks Unfortunately they have not added it on our voyage as far as I can see but I will check back again nearer the time as that is one we would certainly add on.

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  • 2 weeks later...
On 2/10/2023 at 8:59 AM, bob brown said:

I  am very interested in whatever you learn and care to share.  I am sailing on the September 28/29 Sep 2024 Chicago to Montreal cruise of the Ocean Navigator.

I would be disappointed if we didn’t sail directly from Chicago, as that was the primary reason we selected AQV, rather than others that started from Milwaukee.

I haven’t tried to research shorex yet…

To Bob Brown and anyone else who has a Great Lakes cruise scheduled with AQV in 2024 (NOT 2023):

 

In Aug 2022 I put down a deposit on a 14-night Great Lakes cruise on the Ocean Voyager starting Aug 10, 2024 beginning and ending in Chicago.  Last week I was informed by AQV that my cruise has been cancelled because they are temporarily taking the Ocean Voyager and Ocean Navigator out of service next year because they are revamping their Great Lakes itineraries (what I don’t know is whether they are also refurbishing the cruise vessels).  I requested a refund of the deposit because there is no alternative AQV voyage that I’d like to take at this time.  AQV told me that because I made my deposit by AMEX, it might take up to 60 days to be refunded.  I can live with that, but the posts in this forum about people waiting 4-1/2 months for a refund from AQV are scaring me.  For now I am taking AQV at their word and have not asked my credit card company to take any action, but will keep an eye on it.  Anything after 60 days is beyond the realm of reasonability.  But the main purpose of this message is that if you have an AQV Great Lakes cruise scheduled for 2024 on the Ocean Voyager or Ocean Navigator and have not yet heard from them, you need to get in touch with them.

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Good luck with the refund. If you don't get the money by day 60, call Amex on day 61. 

 

At least they let you know about the cancellation. The itinerary for 2023 Chicago-Toronto was changed, and I never received notification. I stumbled on the information when I was checking for tours.

 

I was on their site earlier today because I'm still checking to see if the "premium" tours for Escanaba will ever show up. When I did a search, the site allowed me to search for Great Lakes next summer. So I went back to see if I was remembering correctly, and yes, there are plenty of Great Lakes itineraries showing for the Voyager and Navigator. If you were notified last week, AQV should have updated the website by now. 

 

 

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2 hours ago, 3rdGenCunarder said:

Good luck with the refund.

Thank you.

 

2 hours ago, 3rdGenCunarder said:

At least they let you know about the cancellation. The itinerary for 2023 Chicago-Toronto was changed, and I never received notification. I stumbled on the information when I was checking for tours.

I think they all do this to some extent.  The itinerary for ACL’s Alaskan Explorer cruise that I am taking this July is no longer the same that it was when I booked it in Sept. 2021 and had I known they were going to change it (several times no less) I would have never booked it.  And ACL never notified me.  Like your Chicago-Toronto itinerary with AQV, I found out by accident.

 

2 hours ago, 3rdGenCunarder said:

yes, there are plenty of Great Lakes itineraries showing for the Voyager and Navigator. If you were notified last week, AQV should have updated the website by now. 

Yes, I just checked and see that my cancelled Aug 2024 departure on the Voyager is still listed, as well as a Navigator departure that leaves a few days later.  They need to change these quickly before anyone else puts down a deposit on them.

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49 minutes ago, bob brown said:

Hmmm…beginning to think that perhaps it would be “worth it”, to pay premium prices, and book my Great Lakes cruise on the Viking Polaris…🤷‍♂️

Or Ponant: https://us.ponant.com/catalogsearch/result/?q=great+lakes

[note the Smithsonian connection on some cruises]

 

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