Coming soon: high-speed ferry, light rail

Taking an order for 43 brats was one of the highlights of working at The World’s Largest Brat Fest on Labor Day in Madison (130,869 brats sold and 40-plus charities helped; go to or call 608-236-2021 to learn more).

Fielding questions about what to see in Barcelona and Paris rank right up there, too. Because I write about travel, some people figure it means I’ve been every place in the world. Not on my budget. Sing it with me and Three Dog Night: I’ve never been to Spain. And I haven’t been to France since 1975.

A big part of what I do is stay closer to home and roam anonymously, just like you tend to travel. Then there are situations that I pursue so I can be more informed about what’s new, unusual and worth seeing.

This year’s Travel Media Showcase was in St. Charles, Ill., about one hour west of Chicago. The event exists to give travel writers and travel destination promoters a forum to interact efficiently. It is tightly choreographed: Talk to one person for 12 minutes, get three minutes off, then talk to somebody else. The pattern doesn’t break until mealtime; the event doesn’t end until each journalist meets at least a couple of dozen people from places as far away as Malaysia and as close as Pheasant Run, the host resort.

Here are a few of the things that are significant to three of the 60 vendors who attended. We’ll do another installment next week.

What do you know about Muskegon? The Michigan city, population 40,000, is soon to become more familiar to the average Wisconsin resident. That’s because of a high-speed catamaran that will link Milwaukee with Muskegon next year, starting in May or June, making three roundtrips per day.

A one-way trip will take about two and one-half hours, compared to the four-hour S.S. Badger carferry trips between Manitowoc and Ludington, Mich. The new Lake Express will be faster because it is smaller. It will handle 250 passengers and 46 vehicles, compared to the S.S. Badger’s 620 passengers and 185 vehicles.

Kirsten Tava of the Travel Michigan state tourism office hopes the addition will help make her state less mysterious and more accessible for weekend getaways. You won’t necessarily need to bring your car to have a good time; Muskegon folks are discussing how to help visitors get around, particularly to nearby beach towns.

Three trolley routes already operate, albeit seasonally. The fare is 25 cents.

Why should we visit? Kirsten is particularly proud of Michigan’s lighthouses (22 are within 20 miles of each other) and – she chooses her words carefully here, to not offend—“our clean and soft, sandy beaches.”

Plus, “you’ve never seen a sunset until you’ve seen one in Michigan,” she contends. Do you agree?

Another form of transportation is about to make a big impact on the Twin Cities, and perhaps its visitors’ travel patterns. John Lambecht of the Destination Bloomington tourism bureau says the first full leg of the cities’ new light rail system should be operating by late 2004. It will link the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, Mall of America, downtown Minneapolis and the University of Minnesota campus.

The first train in this $715 million project should begin running next spring; the route then will grow and branch off gradually.

What does that all mean to you? Many Bloomington hotels already provide a shuttle service to the Big Mall. So now it will be effortless to shop, drop off your bounty, then take the rail to a sporting event, play, gallery or nightclub.

Keep an eye on for updates, or call the project hotline at (651) 284-0502.

For a group of Madison friends and me, it eventually will be no sweat to stay a half-hour from the Minnesota campus and just hop onto the rail to get to a Badger hockey or football game. The parking hassle and expense will disappear.

What about this year? Our group of 13 snagged a good Internet rate ($87 per room, breakfast included) at the Residence Inn at The Depot, a short walk to the “Hump Dome” for the Nov. 8 Badger-Gopher football game. We had ruled out Bloomington for lodging because of the inconvenient drive and parking congestion on game day.

After our plans were in place, a press release from John arrived, announcing lodging/tailgate/game shuttle/game ticket package deals for the same weekend. To learn more about the Border Battle promotion, go to or call (800) 490-4200. Rates per couple for a two-night stay are $320-517, depending upon the type of lodging chosen.

“Next year, we’ll do the same thing when Iowa comes here,” John says.

Last, what do the Olympics and Milwaukee have in common? Wendy Haase of the Greater Milwaukee Convention and Visitors Bureau considers the Harley-Davidson Motor Co.’s recent centennial celebration to be an event of Olympic proportions, because of the extent of worldwide representation.

“I can think of no other event that has drawn in people from so many countries,” she says, expressing her amazement at seeing a world map with pins that bikers used to mark their homeland. All U.S. states and Canadian provinces were represented, Wendy says, as well as countries on the other continents.

“That put it in total perspective for me,” she says. “There really is nothing else like this, except the Olympics. I can’t think of another product that has this kind of brand loyalty – to the point where people tattoo the name onto their skin.”

The estimated 300,000 visitors included 320 Japanese bikers who chartered a jet to get here, 120 Germans who (with their bikes) used the S.S. Badger carferry to get into Wisconsin, plus 550 people from Australia and New Zealand who brought their bikes to California on July 27 – and then began a long, leisurely ride eastward.