The first time I saw the Gypsy Rose pirate ship in southwestern Illinois, I thought I had time-traveled. It looked so authentic as it sailed the Mississippi River. Tattered sails, skull-and-crossbone flags and ... was that a pirate?!
If your child is going through a pirate phase, there actually are a few ways to indulge their curiosity. The Tall Ship Windy blends history, performance and storytelling in the "Real Pirates of the Inland Seas" cruise on Lake Michigan.
"It's based on true stories of piracy on the Great Lakes," says Jessie Mutz, outreach manager for the line of ships. Crew members dress like pirates and adopt pirate speak (you know, "Arrrr…" and "Ahoy Matey!"). Kids can help raise the sails or take a turn at the wheel. There may even be a cannon fired or a dockside duel.
With a host named Buccaneer Bob, Mercury Chicago's Skyline Cruiseline offers an hour-long "wacky pirate cruise" on the Chicago River and Lake Michigan. Older kids can learn how to tie nautical knots, while smaller ones are given finger pirates and pirate tattoos. Parents are encouraged to dress kids as pirates.
If you want a weekend trip, you can find the Gypsy Rose pirate ship in Grafton, about a five-hour drive south of Chicago. Pirates pass out "swords" upon arrival and kids are instructed to wave and scream when the cannons are fired (just Nerf balls, no worries).
The Gypsy Rose also travels to an island-"Treasure Island," that is-where a search for buried treasure begins.
"It's as authentic looking as something you would see on a Hollywood set," says Martha Ifland, who introduces herself to visitors as "Wench Martha."