On the water: carferry, steamboat, river lore

“Chewable Dramamine tablets, $1.50. Sold at ticket office.” 

”Breakfast buffet, $7.95. Looks good; not hungry.” 

 “On a typical summer day, it sails just like glass. But on the last day of the sailing season one year, passengers and crew sat on the floor, in the middle of the ship. A very rocky ride.”

My notes are nine months old. It was far from the peak of summer when I was introduced to the S.S. Badger carferry last year. This was the last leg of a road trip that helped us complete an upper Wisconsin-Michigan loop and avoid vehicular redundancy. Translation: I like to avoid taking the same route to and from a destination when driving.

This trip is a fine memory, even though it was too chilly and cloudy to sun ourselves on the deck. Carferry staffers were friendly, and diversions were adequate. Bingo, a trivia game and music kept us mildly amused.

We skipped the movie that was shown, but appreciated knowing that it was an option. Ship history displays, a cafe and a little souvenir shop are available, too. So are staterooms, for sleeping, but that hikes the cost of a ticket to ride.

The scenery? “Sparse” is a generous description. The seating? It’s comfortable but not plush.

This is a golden year for the S.S. Badger, the carferry that whisks — no, glides, rocks and lulls — people from one side of Lake Michigan to another. More than 600 passengers and 180 vehicles can be transported at once; it takes four hours.

Back in 1953, the ship’s first year, the water was more crowded. A half-dozen other ships also were shuttling people (and railroad cars) daily, between Ludington, Mich., and three Wisconsin ports (Manitowoc, Kewanee, Milwaukee). Now Manitowoc is the only Wisconsin stop, and the S.S. Badger is the lake’s only surviving carferry. 

There are two daily crossings during the summer, then one per day from Sept. 2 to Oct. 12. Make a reservation if you want to transport a vehicle; a $25 deposit is required, refundable until one week before departure (but the departure date can be changed without penalty). That’s particularly good if you’re a chicken when it comes to sailing and want to avoid being afloat during threatening weather.

Am I showing too much of my hand?

“The S.S. Badger was built to handle year-round conditions, and sails in all types of weather encountered during her five-month schedule,” notes the operator, Lake Michigan Carferry Service.

Departures from Ludington are in the morning; Manitwoc sailings begin in the afternoon. It costs slightly more to transport a car ($49 one way) than a person ($47 one way, or $78 roundtrip in summer; it’s less in spring and fall). 

Looking for a bargain? There is a discount to sail without a vehicle, providing that you return 48 hours later. That means spending time in Ludington. If you’ve been there and had a good time, please write to tell me about it. A brew-pub and bakery were about all that we hit – but we didn’t arrive until after shops had closed, and we were on the carferry before shops opened.

For more about the carferry, go to www.ssbadger.com or call (888) 337-7948. It’s a worthwhile experience, and it saves a chunk of time.

Truth be told, I also napped for a while that memorable day in October, but not on the carferry. I decided to pull over while driving home, so I took a snooze while parked on a Fond du Lac street.

I am a wimp who took a motion sickness pill that morning, assuming that the drowsiness of it would wear off by the time we docked in Manitowoc and had lunch. Wrong move, for me anyway. 

Elsewhere on the water: Discounts on seven steamboat excursions along the Upper Mississippi River are being offered in July. The cost is $99 per person, per night; cruise lengths range from four to seven nights

For more, call the Delta Queen Steamboat Company at (504) 586-0631 or go to www.deltaqueen.com. There also are trips on the Ohio, Cumberland and Tennessee rivers. There are one-way and round-trip options.

Do you prefer the fast lane when traveling? Then www.site59.com may be for you. It is a search engine associated with Orbitz.com that finds travel discounts.

Madison recently was added as a departure point for “last-minute deals.” Other airport options include Milwaukee, Chicago and Minneapolis.

What’s last-minute, and what’s a deal? The shorter the lead time, the deeper the discount. A four-night Boston airfare/hotel package, for example, was $409 for the Fourth of July weekend. That will get you a room near the airport, though, not in the heart of downtown. To stay downtown, add $85 per person – or more, depending upon the property.

On the other hand, with the efficient Boston public transportation system, it’s a breeze to go from Logan Airport to Boston Commons or beyond. That’s how I remember it, anyway, and that’s what I hope will still be true as you read this.

If I were in the Midwest this weekend, I’d head to Dubuque, Iowa, for the opening of the National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium. It is part of a major riverfront project that also is adding a riverwalk, outdoor amphitheatre and resort/waterpark to a lackluster area that formerly was known as an agriculture trade site.

For more about this $188 million endeavor, go to www.americasriver.com or www.rivermuseum.com, or call (563) 557-9545. The museum is being developed in association with the Smithsonian Institution; I hope to visit it this fall.