Crossing the Great Lakes

Traditionally, when a Chicago family wanted to get to northern Michigan, it meant piling everyone into the car and heading off on a seven-hour trek around Lake Michigan. But, if you want to ensure that “getting there” is at least part of your family vacation fun, try traveling to northern Michigan by plane or boat.

If you go

Lakeshore Express

Lake Express

S.S. Badger

A new charter service called Lakeshore Express operates Thursday-Monday between Midway and Pellston Regional Airport in northern Michigan. It offers the kind of personal service the wealthy are used to (no long security lines, someone else carries your bags, the flight attendants and even the pilots smile and are pleasant) at a price regular people can afford-$205 each way at full price. Check the Web for deals before you book.

The personal service continues onboard, where the airplane is clean and comfortable, the drinks (even the alcoholic ones) are free and the pretzels and peanuts come in full-size bags.

Once you arrive in Pellston, you can rent a car at the airport or, if you’re headed to Mackinac Island, take the shuttle service from the airport to the island ferry dock.

If you prefer to have your own car when you get to northern Michigan, take one of the car ferries that cross the lake, shaving 300 miles off your travel and adding a little adventure to the trip.

There are two options: the sleek Lake Express that crosses Lake Michigan in 2 1/2 hours on a northeastern route from Milwaukee to Muskegon, Mich., and the lumbering S.S. Badger, which takes 4 1/2 hours and crosses from Manitowoc, Wis., to Ludington, Mich.

If you’re going for speed, take the Lake Express. But, if you have the time, opt for the Badger and its multitude of things to do-from a children’s play area to a movie theater, gift shop and quiet room. Before and after you sail, entertain your kids by standing around the dock to watch the buzzing hive of activity as the car deck loads and unloads everything from mini smart cars to huge 18-wheel semi trucks.

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