Cruising the Great Lakes on the Victory I

The Victory 1, on a voyage from Chicago to Toronto.
The Victory 1, on a voyage from Chicago to Toronto.

Victory I Cruise Ship Now Offering Great Lakes Adventures

By Jackie Sheckler Finch

Wines for dinner or before on the Victory I cruise ship on the Great Lakes.
Wines for dinner or before on the Victory I cruise ship on the Great Lakes.

Entering a ship stateroom that will be my cruise home is always exciting. When I opened the door to Stateroom 312 aboard the Victory I, it reminded me of the old John Denver song about grandma’s featherbed.

In that tune, John Denver crooned about his favorite childhood memories of the gigantic featherbed that was “soft as a downy chick.”

That’s sure what my cruise bed looked like. Plopping my backpack on the floor, I aimed to test the comfort of that big bed. Some cruise ships have scrawny mattresses but this one looked heavenly. And expensive.

John Waggoner
John Waggoner

Why these Mattresses?

So why did the new owner of the Victory I go to the extra effort and expense of installing deep plush mattresses and Egyptian sheets on the 2001-built ship?

Because that’s just the way John Waggoner, president, and CEO of the recently relaunched Victory Cruise Lines, does business.

“Our clientele expects really great mattresses and 600-count sheets with soft duvets and fluffy pillows so that is what we want to provide,” he said.

When Waggoner bought the ship, the vessel had almost-new thinner mattresses which may have been acceptable for some cruise lines. But Waggoner wanted to provide the same upgraded sleep comfort offered on American Queen Steamboat Company vessels, which Waggoner also heads.

Why Start Another Cruise Line?

If it seems like running one cruise line would be enough for most people, Waggoner has a good answer for why he bought the Victory I and Victory II cruise ships and started a whole new cruise line – Victory Cruise Lines.

The Great Lakes offer many scenic views on Victory Cruise Lines.
The Great Lakes offer many scenic views.

“Our passengers asked for it,” he answered simply. “Many of our American Queen Steamboat Company passengers have taken multiple cruises with us on the Mississippi River and asked us to start offering cruises to other destinations.”

Sure enough, many of the passengers I talked to on my cruise had enjoyed several trips on the American Queen, American Duchess, American Countess, and American Empress riverboats. However, the Victory I and Victory II are small ships, not paddlewheel boats, with new destinations.

Lourdes is an expert at mixing usual or unusual cocktails.
Lourdes is an expert at mixing usual or unusual cocktails.

“We heard about John planning cruises to New England and the Great Lakes so we signed up right away,” said Marilyn Anderson of Cincinnati. “Cruising is really a wonderful way to see America.”

Many Destinations

Victory Cruise Lines ships head to Canada/St. Lawrence, the Great Lakes, and New England.

My cruise started in Chicago and ended in Toronto with stops in Muskegon, Little Current, Mackinac Island, Detroit, Cleveland, Niagara Falls, Port Colborne (Ontario), and more.

Visitors can take rides in old Fords at the Ford Museum & Greenfield Village outside Detroit. Victory Cruise Lines.
Visitors can take rides in old Fords at the Ford Museum & Greenfield Village outside Detroit.

Shore excursions are included in the cruise price and are led by great guides. For example, on our day in Detroit, shore excursions took us to the Henry Ford Museum and the Detroit Institute of Arts along with a driving tour of Detroit.

As for the ship, the Victory I had been built in the United States for coastal cruising. The 18-year-old ship had been operated by four different owners and was formerly known as the Saint Laurent, Sea Voyager, and Cape May Light.

She was named Victory I in 2016. Her sister ship is Victory II. The five-deck ship has 101 staterooms and suites. Both ships have a passenger capacity of 202 with a crew of 84.

My stateroom boasts an extra-thick mattress and 600-count sheets.
My stateroom boasts an extra-thick mattress and 600-count sheets.

After the Victory I and Victory II were acquired by Waggoner earlier this year, more than $2 million was spent to renovate Victory I and another $1 million upgrading the Victory II before the ship set sail on its Great Lakes itinerary this summer.

Smaller Comfy Staterooms

As for my cabin, it is smaller than on larger cruise ships but it is quite comfortable.

Along with a large bed, it has a flat-screen TV mounted on the wall, telephone, binoculars, audio headset system for shore excursions, safe and V-monogrammed robes, and slippers.

A panoramic window offers a great view and has a room-darkening blind plus a lovely roll-down fabric covering.

The small bathroom has a sink with a shelf below and features L’Occitane de Provence toiletries. The step-in shower with a half-circular shower curtain has excellent water pressure and plentiful hot water.

The ship has two main dining rooms – the Coastal Dining Room and The Grill. The Coastal Dining Room on Deck 1 is large and airy, particularly for such a small ship. Fresh red roses are on our dining table along with a white linen tablecloth and napkins. Chairs are high-backed, padded and comfortable.

Comfy seating spots are plentiful on the Victory Cruise Lines ship.
Comfy seating spots are plentiful on the Victory Cruise Lines ship.

Coastal window views are plentiful. Tables can be set up for two or more. The whole ambiance is elegant and peaceful.

The upper deck Grill is a more casual dining spot.
The upper deck Grill is a more casual dining spot.

Wine, beer, cocktails, and soft drinks are complimentary and served generously. For a visual preview of the night’s menu, the choices are lined up to see at the dining room entrance.

Sometimes seeing those dishes made up my mind before I even read the menu.

Varied Menu Choices

Menus feature standard American fare but also some international dishes and vegetarian choices.

Seems to be something for every taste – from steaks, prime rib, chicken, pork, lamb, and pasta to Beef Bourguignon and pan-seared Corvina Almandine.

A Great Lakes Fish Boil offered one night was a popular choice since we are cruising the Great Lakes.

The dining room is light and airy with many windows for cruise views.
The dining room is light and airy with many windows for cruise views.

Appetizers could be a meal in themselves – chicken and andouille gumbo, oriental beef salad, Michigan shrimp tempura, country pate, Boston clam chowder, and much more.

I will give the Victory I chef credit for a tasty lobster tail dinner. Many cruise ships and restaurants that feature lobster tail on their menu serve a dried-out rubbery lobster that must have been frozen and cooked too long.

For dessert choices, I could have been given any and would have been quite happy. Some choices were ginger crème Brulee, sliced fruit, chocolate fondant, ice cream, cheese, sorbet, baked Alaska, banana cream pie, and a delicious decadent chocolate trio.

The second more-casual dining spot is the 50-seat Grill on Deck 4. Formerly an open-air spot on the top deck, the Grill was enclosed for more comfortable dining in a more than $1 million renovation. Some of the best views are from The Grill with windows reaching almost floor to ceiling and wrapped around the exterior of the room.

A lobster tail dinner was correctly prepared and delicious on Victory Cruise Lines.
A lobster tail dinner was correctly prepared and delicious.

Snacks for All

Looking for a snack? The Compass Lounge on Deck 1 has a coffee and tea bar with fresh-baked cookies and pastries.

A nice touch is the cocktail hour each evening before dinner. Hors d’ oeuvres and complimentary wine, beer, cocktails, and soft drinks are served. Each evening the bar features a signature cocktail, sometimes a salute to that day’s port or itinerary

If you really like the day’s signature martini, head bartender Lourdes will make it again any other day. In fact, Lourdes is an expert at mixing unusual or usual cocktails. Plus, she does it with a smile, a friendly trait that other crew members share on the Victory I.

Unlike big ocean liners, the Victory I does not offer entertainment extravaganzas. A three-piece band playing a variety of music in the evening is about it. But the real star of this cruise is the Great Lakes and the cities along it. In that, the Victory I excels.

For more information: Contact Victory Cruise Lines at (888) 907-2636, www.victorycruiselines.com 1-888 -907-2636

This trip was sponsored by Victory Cruises but the opinions expressed are the author’s own.

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