LAKE GENEVA—Some families are embarking on summertime day trips this year in Lake Geneva, where visitors can set out on the lake aboard a fleet of eight ships.
“We’re a good driving destination,” said Jack Lothian, General Manager of the Lake Geneva Cruise Line. “It’s a great alternative to the traditional summer vacation.
The Gage family purchased the Lake Geneva business in 1958. The cruise line has operated since 1873 as a transportation service and has been an integral part of the region’s history and tourism market, he said.
Since the cruise line opened for the season at the end of May, it has drawn in many visitors from the Chicago area and across the Midwest as families are taking their first opportunity in months to take a trip together.
“I see it as a way for people to get out and reconnect,” Lothian said. “It’s nice to have that ability to get out on the lake. It’s an easy way to get out on the lake.”
Staff have been sanitizing the ships in between every tour, and groups have been conscientious about maintaining social distance from one another, Lothian said. He added that masks are optional, but encouraged.
One of the most popular tours the cruise line offers is a 1-hour-long journey around the east side of Geneva Bay as tour guides rattle off facts and prices of the many estates lining the lakefront.
Other tours include but are not limited to ice cream socials, cocktail cruises, supper clubs or—for hiking enthusiasts—an option to walk halfway around the lake and charter a cruise back to the other side from stops in either Williams Bay or Lake Geneva. Larger groups can choose to charter a private cruise, too.
And in lieu of traditional summer vacations and the absence of sports activities, Lothian said the cruise line has been letting kids ride the cruises—yes, including the ice cream social—for just $1.
That offer ends June 30, but he said the cruise line might consider extending that deal into July.
A full listing of the various tours can be found online, along with prices and available bookings. For more information, go to https://www.cruiselakegeneva.com
Every day on the lake is a new adventure, said Captain Jerry Mortier of the ship, “Lady of the Lake,” one of the fleet’s oldest ships.
On a recent Saturday afternoon cruise, Mortier kept a close eye on three different wheels and sets of controls as he glided the ship across Geneva Lake, which spans roughly 21 miles.
He underwent between three to four years of training for the role, and he has been a captain for six years since. He is originally from the Quad Cities region between Iowa and Illinois, and he has lived in the Lake Geneva area for 22 years.
“This is my retirement job, and it’s absolutely the best job you can have,” Mortier said. “You never get tired of it.”
Mortier said another one of the historic ships in the fleet is the “Steam Yacht Louise,” which was built in 1899. He said that ship is one of the last functioning steam boats in the U.S.
The tour guides aboard each charter are often young adults in college or teens in high school, and Mortier said being involved helps boost their public speaking skills. Plus, they meet people from all over the world.
By far the most common question he hears from visitors, Mortier said, is along the lines of: How much does that house cost?
Victor and Maria Unguia, from Chicago, recently boarded a cruise around Geneva Bay to celebrate Victor’s birthday. They had read about the outing in brochures.
Victor Unguia said he’s interested in historic mansions and enjoyed coming for the first time to see the lakefront. He appreciated learning about how Chicago’s history is intertwined with that of Lake Geneva.
Bryan Farrell, of Chicago, and his wife, Rachel, came with their sons Liam, 5, and Connor, 2. Bryan’s parents, Patrick and Barbara Farrell, also traveled from Iowa City to join them in celebrating Bryan’s 38th birthday.
It was the first time Bryan had seen his parents since Christmas.
Under normal circumstances, the family enjoys visiting museums in bigger cities.
The family has close friends who live along the lakefront, and they heard the family outing would be a good time and a safe alternative trip this summer—and Bryan said their expectations were not let down.
“This is a very family-friendly thing. It’s a good balance,” Bryan Farrell said.
Tour guide Ashtin Peck, from Williams Bay, said she has been working at the Gage Marina for three seasons and loves sharing local history with families.
Peck said recently, as many as 80-90% of all visitors have come from the Chicago suburbs, as many Illinois residents eager to break quarantine have ventured north.
“It’s a lot of fun being on the boats on the water,” she said. “You always see everyone’s eyes light up when we get to the last house.”