Not only was our trip to Ludington, Michigan full of things to do like beaches, museums, ice cream, and awesome food, but it is also the home to the S.S. Badger carferry, a historic, steam-powered ship. Designated as a National Historic Landmark, the 1952 vessel was originally built to transport railroad cars across Lake Michigan and is the largest carferry to sail the Great Lakes. Today, the Badger still transports cargo no matter how big or small. From cars to semis, yachts to a team of Clydesdale horses, the Badger has seen it all.
Not wanting to face the infamous Indiana/Chicago traffic going back home, we thought it would be the perfect time to experience the charm of the S.S. Badger. So off we went on a four-hour voyage journey aboard the 410 foot mammoth to Manitowoc, Wisconsin. It was peaceful and relaxing (as it could be with three young kids), the kids were kept busy with activities, and we didn’t hear the phrase, “Are we there yet?” every ten minutes.
How it works:
One of the unique factors about the S.S. Badger is that cars can come along for the journey across Lake Michigan. The process is very simple really. After we entered the grounds, we waited in line until it was our turn to speak to a police officer and his dog. He asks if you are bringing anything that you shouldn’t.
Afterwards, we spoke with another one of their staff members who checked us in on their tablet. We were then given a lane number to park our car, and then an attendant came over and drove the car into the ship. The only bummer was that we weren’t able to bring food with us, so we couldn’t bring our dozen of donuts that we just purchased from Cops N Doughnuts. (Read about all the food we ate in Ludington.) So what was the sensible thing to do? You better believed we scarfed down a few donuts before boarding. Hah!
We then walked towards the entrance and again and went through a couple checks then we were free to explore the ship.
Things to do:
One of the best things about the journey aboard the Badger is that you’ll find plenty to keep you busy and how family-friendly it truly is! Here are some activities you can do during the 4-hour trip.
- Grab an S.S. Badger Activity Book and crayons. The activity book is fun and keeps them busy. There’s a page in the book that you can submit into the coloring contest.
- Play Badger Bingo. As newbie bingo players, my two older sons had fun playing badger bingo for a chance to win prizes. If you want to play other board games and puzzles they were available from the Cruise Director’s office.
- Let the kids be kids at the Kidsport Toddler room. They can color the wall mural with markers or play in the small house. There are blocks perfect for crawlers and large blocks for building. They also have a TV showing kiddie shows.
- Watch a movie in the movie lounge. Sit back and relax on their comfy theatre-like seats and watch a movie. They play two different movies.
- Buy a souvenir or two at the “Boatique” shop.
- Watch television at two different TV lounges.
- Learn a little bit about the S.S. Badger’s history at the museum.
- Play video games in the Gaming Lounge. They have X-Box Ones available for rent for an additional fee
- Lounge around outside on the open deck. It was a little too chilly when we were there to take advantage of the outside deck, but we saw a few people catching rays. It would have been perfect to catch up on reading!
- Stay connected with free limited wi-fi. Always a plus in my book.
- Explore! How often are you on a huge ship? Find a spot close to the window and enjoy the views.
- Eat….or drink! You’ll never go hungry with plenty of food options. There’s an upper deck café with breakfast options or make-your-own burritos (similar to Chipotle) for lunch. The burritos were larger-than-your-head huge and were extremely tasty. My picky kids devoured them! We also couldn’t resist grabbing a few small bags of freshly popped popcorn for $2 each. If you’re feeling thirsty, they also have a bar available.
- Enjoy being on the water. Nothing as peaceful like watching the water pass by.
and passing iconic Ludington sights like the North Breakwater Light…
….and the new Port of Ludington Maritime Museum.
Tips to enjoy your ride aboard S.S. Badger:
- Arrive at least an hour before the scheduled departure time. You have lines and check-ins that you have to go through; you don’t want to miss leaving on time.
- Head to the bow (the front of the boat) for best views of the lake, and also when they steer into port.
- If you’re early, head to the back of the boat to watch them load the trucks and semis last.
- You can’t access your car during the voyage, so don’t forget the essentials like your chargers and your diaper bag.
- The horn is loud! Just prepare your kids (or go inside). It blares once you leave the port and another once we passed the lighthouse.
- You’ll be passing through two different time zones.
- Six laps around the upper deck equals 1 mile.
- You’re on a highway! Yes, you may be on a boat, but the Badger is officially designated part of U.S. 10, a 565-mile highway that stretches from Michigan to North Dakota.
What a fun and memorable experience! I highly recommend sitting back and relaxing while you cruise across Lake Michigan.
Location: 2 port locations – one in Ludington, Michigan (701 Maritime Drive) and one in Manitowoc, Wisconsin (900 South Lakeview Drive)
Hours: Check website for schedule.
Ticket prices: $59/adult for a one-way ticket, $24/kids (5-15) for a one-way ticket, kids under 5 free. Vehicles are $59 one-way.
Stroller-friendly? Leave ’em. Going up and down the stairs are cumbersome and at times narrow. If you have a baby, I’d recommend wearing them.
Food: Food and drink are not allowed onboard. They have a cafe and other eateries.
Crowded: We went on a Thursday morning in early June. It was not too crowded at all.
What to expect: A car ferry across Lake Michigan with activities to keep the family busy, along with food and beverage options.
Disclosure: My family was provided complimentary tickets for review purposes. I was not required to express a particular point of view, and all opinions are my own.