When Germans think about vacation in the USA, they typically think about destinations in the Northeast like New York City or Washington, Florida, California or Las Vegas. Chicago is heavily underrated. This is quite a shame – which I especially explored during a Chicago River cruise with Mercury Cruises, which also took me to Lake Michigan. Here is my experience of the trip.
Mercury Cruises – Location & Admission
Like most river and lake cruises, Mercury Cruises depart from a pier right next to the DuSable Bridge. The area is quite touristic. The lovely McCormick Bridgehouse & Chicago River Museum is in close walking distance. Mercury suggests to park at a parking lot at East Wacker Drive if you arrive by car. The closest public transport hubs are Lake (metro) and Millenium Station (Metrarail)
I did the Urban Adventure Cruise, which is a ninety minute tour through Chicago River and Lake Michigan. The tour is offered from spring to fall, times in summer and during weekends are of course more frequent. In peak times, I would definitely recommend to buy the tickets in advance. During my visit, adult admission was 37 USD. Mercury Cruise
Mercury Cruises – The Ships
Mercury Cruises owns a couple of boats, which are not too large. The upper deck is equipped with chairs, the lower deck is roofed and more cozy, but does not offer a that good skyline view. Thus, the upper deck is typically packed.
The lower deck offers services. For example, you can grab a snack or a drink at the bar The prices were quite moderate with cocktail pricing in the range of 10 USD. There are toilets on board, which were more convenient than I expected them to be.
Mercury Cruises – The Cruise
From the pier, the cruise has been first heading East towards Lake Michigan. On the return, it passed the pier towards some city attraction, before the ship made a U-turn again torwards its starting point.
The first impressive sight the cruise passed was definitely the Outer Drive Bridge, before we headed towards the lock right at the end of Chicago River. The locks are necessary, as the water level in Chicago River is some 50 cm lower than the one of Lake Michigan. Passing the Chicago Harbor Lock is indeed one of the highlights of the cruise before you head into the bumpy Lake Michigan. You have a nice view of the skyline of the city, but also of the Navy Pier. Another iconic sight is the Chicago Harbor Lighthouse. Of course, the views of Willis Tower and John Hancock Center are one of the key views to most visitors.
Back Into The City
After cruising along the Chicago shoreline, the ship enters the Chicago Harbor Locks again. The cruise continues until 150 North Riverside. The most iconic buildings are likely the Wrigley Building and the Trump tower. As you turn around and go back to the Mercury Pier, you see these sights twice during your visit.
Mercury Cruises – Alternatives
The most prominent alternative to Mercury Cruises is likely Chicago’s First Lady Cruises, which is however a sister company. There are also other companies like Chicago Line Cruises. I cannot judge on any of the other company’s service.
Mercury Cruises – My View
I had a really nice time on board the Mercury Cruises ship. The guidance given by the staff help a lot and give a lot of helpful information. Going through locks and the bumpy Lake Michigan are as memorable as the skyline and the views. On the negative side, 37 Euro are quite a bunch of money. Compared to cruises in other cities, I would rather see the price to be very high – but as they have to pay lock fees twice, it might still just be in reasonable range.