First, I am aware that many of my friends and family already visited Pictured Rocks this summer, so I apologize for not having shared a very important money saving secret to anyone who may have paid full price for the Pictured Rocks Cruise. If only I could write really fast, had all the time in the world, and could talk to all of you before you head out on vacation . . . .
One other point — if you do plan to head to Pictured Rocks from the Lower Peninsula on Labor Day Weekend 2017, the Mackinac Bridge is closed on Labor Day from 6:30 a.m. to noon.
If you didn’t already know, Pictured Rocks is a National Lakeshore (part of the National Parks). It is an area on Lake Superior that spans about 35 miles and includes beautiful and unusual rock formations, cliffs and water falls. With small children, the only way I could conceive to see all of it is to go on the Pictured Rocks Cruise. Once again, this is a great opportunity because children under 6 only pay $1 to go on the 2-hour long cruise.
They allow you to take food on board, so you can pack a lunch and eat it while you enjoy the view with your family. Having the food also helps keep the kids content during the ride. There is a concession stand on board that we did not visit, but good to know if you need some more food. You are somehow allowed to walk to this concession stand, but expected to be seated the whole cruise. I guess that just means ‘no standing up for extended periods of time.’
So here’s the big money saver I suggest subscribing to that will probably be offered next year as well, maybe starting in April or May: WJML.deals
If this link becomes old and stops working, I suggest googling WJML.deals and/or “Northern Michigan’s Marketplace.” It comes from WJML, a radio station based in Traverse City and Petoskey. Somehow, my husband and I both signed up for their newsletter and we are so glad we did. In May and June it was offering a voucher for $29 that was valid for a $45 Pictured Rocks Cruise. We both bought one — saving a lot of money.
The link I provided above does not provide a Pictured Rocks voucher because they are probably all sold out for the year, but it does have several other really good deals like a discounted Mackinac Island Carriage Tour, an Apostle Island Cruise, Beaver Island, and Alpena Shipwreck Tour discounts.
After your purchase, WJML sends you the voucher by email that you will have to print out and take to the Pictured Rocks Cruises ticket counter.
However, you need to do a little more leg work before you just present the voucher at the ticket counter — this is where listening to fellow travelers helps. As our sons played with a couple of little girls from Wisconsin in the Newberry School playground, their dad was telling my husband that they went to the Pictured Rocks Cruise that same day. He suggested calling before to schedule our departure because many of the cruises sell out hours before. People also start lining up for the best spots well before the cruise takes off. The Wisconsin traveler told us you want to start the cruise sitting on the right side of the boat to get the best view of the rock formations. He also said it was great to sit outside, though it did get a little cold.
So the night before the cruise, my husband called Pictured Rock Cruises, explained that we had the vouchers, and reserved our spot and the kids spots ($2 total) for the cruise time we wanted. The representative gave my husband two confirmation numbers — one for our vouchers and one for the kids’ tickets. I had to wait in line with people purchasing tickets, but upon presenting the confirmation numbers, they indeed had our tickets ready.
Meanwhile, my husband and the kids got in the really long line. Unfortunately we were not able to sit outside, but we did get a space on the right side of the boat, which really was good advice. We had a great view of all the rock formations, could see the crew and could hear the narration of the captain. Sitting inside may have kept the wind out of the kids’ faces too. Who knows. . . they may have wanted to come inside.
My kids really enjoyed listening to the captain’s narration as well. They discovered rock formations that looked like battle ships and even identified the beach they wanted to visit after the cruise was over.
As another friend’s wife — a mama + 3 muchachos noted on Facebook a few weeks before we took our trip — a two hour boat ride can be a little difficult for the small ones. Kids naturally get restless and want to move around, but they can’t on this cruise. Especially when we were heading back and there was no narration. I played clapping games with mine, we still had snacks, and once my husband could get some cell phone reception, he let them watch a few minutes of NetFlix on his phone.
As I mentioned, my kids picked a beach, Miners Beach, where they wanted to go after the cruise. On vacation, we always have a beach bag ready, so that’s what we did — follow the signs, or GPS, and there were bathrooms where we could change.
Miners Beach is famous for a video Kid Rock filmed on it. We also discovered a lot of opportunities for kayaking around Pictured Rocks at the beach — something we could probably do when the kids are older and can no longer take a $1 cruise. The kids had a great time on Miners Beach — the water was cold and refreshing with beautiful cliffs in the distance. We had a wonderful time collecting the smooth colorful rocks created my Lake Superior. We’re still looking at them now!
So click on WJML — enjoy a Labor Day Weekend or plan for next year! Pictured Rocks is definitely a place you want to visit with your kids.