These Lakes Are So Big and Beautiful That You Can Take Multiday Cruises Along Them

Some lakes are as big as a small sea, so perhaps it’s little surprise that on these stunning bodies of water, you can take an overnight cruise to better explore their impressive shores.

the Grotto in Bruce Peninsula National Park featuring a rocky alcove and turquoise blue water

At the cross-section of Lake Huron and Georgian Bay in Ontario, Canada, cruise passengers will see photogenic shorelines like the Grotto in Bruce Peninsula National Park.

Facto Photo/Shutterstock

When dreaming of a cruise getaway, the first options that come to mind for most people are ocean, river, or even expedition sailings. We tend to imagine that lakes are reserved for a tranquil day of picnicking with family or dropping a fishing line. But, in fact, there are some overnight lake cruises around the world. On these cruises, you can linger longer and travel far deeper than you could during an afternoon on the shore of these vast and impressive bodies of water.

Overnight lake cruises run anywhere from a three-night jaunt to a two-week journey, depending on the size of the body or bodies of water on which you are sailing. Along the way, you’ll see sights ranging from the Great Lakes’ charming shoreside villages, towns, and natural landscapes to the Nubian Desert in Egypt. All of these cruises allow you to visit sights difficult to get to by land. You’ll stop most days, though the pace may be slow at times. And don’t assume the water will be smooth as silk; as someone who spends time in a cottage on Lake Erie, I can attest to the fact that lakes get waves, sometimes big ones, formed by the friction between wind and surface water. No matter the conditions, passengers are bound to be pleasantly surprised by these lesser-known lake cruise itineraries.

Here are our choices for the best overnight lake cruises around the world.

A Nordic junior suite on the 'Viking Octantis' with a bed, small seating area, and floor-to-ceiling window

Book a Great Lakes cruise on the Viking Octantis expedition ship and these could be your digs during the sailing.

Eric Laignel/Viking

The Great Lakes, North America

Cruises on the five Great Lakes of North America—Superior, Michigan, Huron, Erie, Ontario—are offered from May to October and include such great Midwestern cities as Cleveland, Detroit, and Milwaukee as well as areas of Ontario, Canada. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Motown Museum, and Niagara Falls are among big-hitter attractions, along with sightings of birds and other wildlife, boreal forests, boulder-filled natural landscapes, and quaint lakeside towns such as Mackinac Island in Michigan. Some sailings include the UNESCO-recognized Georgian Bay Biosphere, the world’s largest freshwater archipelago.

To book: Ruling the region with their breadth of itineraries are Viking’s sleek 348-passenger expedition vessels Viking Octantis and Viking Polaris, done up in attractive Scandinavian decor and featuring science labs where you may run into a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration scientist testing water quality, examining plankton composition, and doing other experiments. Viking’s Great Lakes sailings start at seven nights; to see all five lakes, book a 14-night cruise between Minnesota’s Duluth and Ontario’s Toronto, from $13,995 per person.

Other lines to consider include Pearl Seas Cruises, with exploration via a 210-passenger classic coastal cruiser, Pearl Mist, on 7- to 14-night sailings (from $8,980 per person for an 11-night, four-lake itinerary that skips Lake Superior). On its upscale, 184-passenger Le Champlain, French line Ponant offers two seven-night, four-lake (again missing Lake Superior) cruises in partnership with Smithsonian Journeys. Guest speakers onboard include Frederick Stonehouse, author of the best-selling book The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald (Avery Color Studios, 2006), about the famous and tragic 1975 shipwreck on Lake Superior. (Fares for the Ponant/Smithsonian Journeys cruise start at $8,250 per person.)

Isle Royale National Park on Lake Superior in Michigan with pine trees all along the coastline

Isle Royale National Park is among the natural wonders along Lake Superior in Michigan.

Arlene Waller/Shutterstock

Lake Superior, North America

Lake Superior, which borders Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan in the United States and Ontario in Canada and encompasses some 31,700 square miles, is worthy of an entire trip. Nature-focused sailings include a complete crossing of the width of the lake and a tour through the Soo Locks into Lake Michigan. Lake Superior is home to five national parks, including the Isle Royale National Park, a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, and the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore. Passengers will also have a chance to behold Kakabeka Falls and the towering cliffs of Sleeping Giant in Thunder Bay.

To book: Viking’s seven-night “Undiscovered Great Lakes” itinerary between Milwaukee and Thunder Bay is priced from $6,495 per person. Ponant also focuses on Lake Superior with two new 10-night sailings on Le Champlain (from $8,930 per person).

A sail boat in the Lake Nasser region of Egypt with a large sand dune in the background topped by a small building or temple

On Lake Nasser, view sweeping desert landscapes en route to one of the most impressive ancient Egyptian sites: Abu Simbel.

Photo by Mael Balland/Unsplash

Lake Nasser, Egypt

Many tour operators in Egypt will offer visitors the option of flying on a small plane from Aswan to spend a day visiting the astounding temples of Abu Simbel, near Egypt’s southern border. Or you can get there at a more leisurely pace via a three- or four-night cruise on Lake Nasser, with the advantage of visiting lower-trafficked antiquities such as the rock-cut Tomb of Pennut, which honors a viceroy of Nubia under the king Ramses VI, and seeing more of the dry, hilly Nubian desert landscape. The lake, a vast reservoir created as part of the Aswan High Dam project, is one of the world’s largest man-made lakes.

The key attraction is the towering, rock-carved temple at Abu Simbel, built by King Ramesses II (the Great) around 1264 B.C.E., with breathtaking 65-foot-high seated statues of the king on the façade and standing statues indoors, plus a smaller temple that pays tribute to Queen Nefertari. The temples were moved in 1968 when the dam was under construction so that they wouldn’t be drowned in water, an engineering feat that only makes the site more impressive.

To book: You can cruise on Lake Nasser on hotel ships (such as the MS Steigenberger Omar El Khayam operated by Steigenberger Hotels and Resorts) complete with swimming pools for cooling off in the desert sun, or more intimately on the SAÏ, a traditional, handcrafted wooden boat (about $270 per person, per night).

A small elephant in the grassy shallows of Lake Kariba on the border of Zambia and Zimbabwe

Combine a relaxing lake cruise with incredible wildlife viewing on Lake Kariba on the border of Zambia and Zimbabwe.

Photo by Arpit Rastogi/Unsplash

Lake Kariba, Zambia and Zimbabwe

While cruising on Lake Kariba, which borders Zambia and Zimbabwe, keep an eye out for hippos and crocodiles in the water and elephants and lions on the shore. French river cruise company CroisiEurope explores the 2,154-square-mile waterway, the world’s largest man-made lake in terms of water volume, for three nights as part of an eight-night cruise and safari experience. The trip also includes three nights in a safari lodge from which you can explore Chobe National Park. The cruise, flights, and hotel stays start at $6,986 per person, as you travel from Johannesburg to Victoria Falls.

To book: The CroisiEurope Lake Kariba sailing is on board either the 16-passenger RV Zimbabwean Dream or RV African Dream, each decked out attractively in wood and local fabrics, with a big hot tub on an upper deck, plus a pampering crew of 15.

Fran Golden is an award-winning travel writer who has sailed on some 170 ships to destinations around the world.
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