Lake Michigan tour boats are returning to Michigan City for the first time since 1949, setting sail from port starting June 2.
New Buffalo, Michigan-based Harbor Country Adventures will offer sightseeing tours along the lake in the Emita 2, a 67-foot-long, double-decker tour boat similar to those at Navy Pier, and in the Sea Rocket speedboat that will zip along at 50 miles per hour. Owner Victor Tieri, a Lowell resident, said he plans to offer 90-minute cruises past the Indiana Dunes — with tour guides explaining sights such as the 1933 Chicago World's Fair's Homes of Tomorrow in Beverly Shores — seven days a week through Labor Day.
"A lot of people have never really experienced the lake from the water side," he said. "It's a different view, being on the water."
He's looking to capitalize off summer tourism at the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore and Michigan City, as well as to offer Northwest Indiana and south suburban residents a lake cruise alternative to Navy Pier that's closer to home.
"The main deck is enclosed, and the upper deck is wide open for people to take in the scenery," Tieri said. "We'll serve late snacks and a full-service bar on the vessel. A couple of times a month, we'll do promotional special events like Blues, Brews and Barbecue, microbrewery tastings, Wine on the Waves. There's nothing else like it in the area"
Michigan City Mayor Ron Meer said he hoped the tour boats would become another major lakefront attraction and the city plans to "market the heck out of it."
The main tour boat, which seats up to 150 people, will offer four cruises a day, which will cost $30 for adults and $16 for children. That includes sunset cruises from 7:30 p.m. to 9 p.m.
On weekends, the Emita 2 will sail from 9:30 p.m. to midnight as a party boat with a DJ or live band for a 21-and-older crowd.
"All things being equal, and you want to grab a beverage with friends on a Friday, what better place than going to see a band on the top deck of a boat on the lake?" Tieri said.
Alternately, sightseers could pay $30 for adults or $22 for children to go on a 40-minute tour in a speedboat that seats 12 people.
"It's a fast boat flying across the lake, while the tour boat is more of a slow cruise with cocktails or lemonade," he said. "They're completely different experiences."
The operation will employ more than a dozen workers and be based at Millennium Plaza just south of Washington Park on the Michigan City lakefront. People can reserve tickets online up to 10 days in advance or walk up and buy tickets.
"Beyond the obvious size of the port, Michigan City stood out because it's a maritime city with a rich history," Tieri said. "It's a pro-business town with new restaurants, hotels and the Blue Chip Casino."
He's looking to heavily promote the new attraction, such as with billboards along Interstate 80/94, the Indiana Toll Road and Ind. 49 in Porter County, and has been working with local convention and visitors bureaus to get the word out.
In future years, the boat tours will be offered daily from Memorial Day to Labor Day, and on weekends in the fall. Harbor Country Adventures could ramp up the number of tours during the busy summer tourist season if the cruises prove popular enough, Tieri said.
He also plans to rent the boats out, such as for school, corporate or civic group outings. Discounts will be offered to first responders, active military and groups of more than 10.
For more information, visit harbourcountryadventures.com or call 269-231-5867.
12 must-see Region landmarks
Location: Michigan City
Age: Built in 1857; expanded in 1905
Significance to the Region: More than just a pretty, giant structure on Michigan City's Washington Street, the Barker Mansion housed the Barker family, the owners and operators of a factory that manufactured railroad cars, nicknamed the "Car Works," in Michigan City during the 1800s and early 1900s. The boom of the railroad generated enormous wealth for the family. The Barkers were influential in shaping the culture and development of Michigan City with philanthropic contributions toward Trinity Cathedral, the Michigan City Public Library, St. Anthony's Hospital, the first conservatory in Washington Park and the YMCA.
Age: Finished in 1939
Significance to the Region: The Brickie Bowl, which has been inactive since 2008, stood as one of the more iconic and picturesque spots in the Region to catch Friday Night football. The stadium was notable for its dip near adjacent railroad tracks, reported to be a sight where the overflow of loyal Brickie fans would stand or climb trees to try and watch the action. The site fell into disrepair and was purchased by the city in 2013 with an effort to revitalize it to its former glory one day still hanging out there.
Chapel of the Resurrection
Age: Dedicated in 1959
Significance to the Region: Valparaiso University's Chapel of the Resurrection stands as one of the Region's most picturesque and decorated church structures with its tall chancel and nave and stained glass windows. The chapel can seat around 2,000 people. It's the site of church services, performances and the annual commencements of Valparaiso Crusaders.
Crown Point Courthouse
Location: Crown Point
Age: 181 years (opened originally as a post office in 1836)
Significance to the Region: Nicknamed the "Grand Old Lady," the court house is a tall, landmark structure in the very heart of downtown Crown Point. The courthouse became the Lake County Seat in 1840, and Solon Robinson and Judge William Clark set out to develop the surrounding area, giving it the name of "Crown Point." In the 1970s the structure was almost torn down for development of a parking lot until locals helped prevent the demolition.
Gary Bathing Beach Aquatorium
Age: Opened in 1922
Significance to the Region: The Gary Bathing Beach House, now called the Aquatorium, is a historic structure in Marquette Park adjacent to the beach. The park is one of several that have been longtime tourist sites for waterfront recreation along Lake Michigan. The site, and much of the park, fell into disrepair in the latter part of the 20th century until organizers gathered to rehabilitate the location, including the Aquatorium. The site continues to offer a picturesque view of the lake and also is home to a monument dedicated to the Tuskegee Airmen.
Historic homes at the Dunes National Lakeshore
Location: Porter, Chesterton and Michigan City
Significance to the Region: There are several historic homesteads and farmsteads scattered in Duneland. Notable spots include the Bailly Homestead and Chellberg Farm, homes that hearken back to a time of pioneers staking out spots in gorgeous Duneland. The National Park Service occasionally hosts events allowing tours of the homes and offering insight into the lives and hardships of life in the 1800s.
LaPorte County Courthouse
Age: Finished in 1894
Significance to the Region: Much like the Crown Point Courthouse, the LaPorte County Courthouse is a tall, historic structure within the city's downtown. Aside from old architecture, the structure sports a tower with a 272-piece glass skylight and gargoyles on the exterior. It's actually the third courthouse built in its spot, the first two having been completed in 1833 and 1848. It was selected as LaPorte County's seat in 1832.
Little Red Schoolhouse
Age: Built in 1869
Significance to the Region: The Little Red Schoolhouse in Hammond's Hessville neighborhood was originally ordered to be constructed by Joseph Hess, the founder of Hessville, when the German community was a collection of small farmers, carpenters and blacksmiths. Like some other historic Region structures, the building was slated for demolition until locals helped save it. Since then its been regarded as likely the oldest one-room schoolhouse in Lake County, one of the oldest structures in North Township and the site of the Little Red Schoolhouse Festival.
Michigan City Lighthouse
Location: Michigan City
Age: Opened in 1858
Significance to the Region: The Michigan City Lighthouse, and the nearby area, has served as a guiding light for ships and their sailors since the 1800s when a simple light post helped bring them into the Michigan City Harbor. The lighthouse marks the edge of "harbor country" as the lighthouse and lakefront of Michigan City mirror much of the layout found in southwest Michigan locations such as St. Joseph, South Haven and Muskegon.
The Shrine of Christ's Passion
Location: St. John
Age: 16 years (construction began in 2001)
Significance to the Region: From Indianapolis Boulevard west to the newer St. John the Evangelist church on its hilltop perch, a path winds its way filled with images depicting the Christian chronicle of events leading to Jesus Christ's crucifixion. Forty life-size bronze statues are staged at various spots, intending to offer visitors a more personal experience. Although it ranks as one of the youngest Region landmarks, it's been featured on television segments and draws visitors from around the world.
St. John the Baptist Church
Age: 123 years (built in 1869)
Significance to the Region: Straddling the very edge of city lines, St. John the Baptist Church takes in parishioners from Whiting and Hammond's Robertsdale neighborhood.
U.S. Steel Yard
Age: 14 years (finished in 2003)
Significance to the Region: U.S. Steel Yard is home to one of the Region's pro-sports spectacles: the Gary SouthShore Railcats. When the idea for the stadium was first proposed, it was lauded as a structure that would help revitalize a downtown stretch of 5th Avenue into an arts and entertainment district. The stadium continues to draw Railcats followers and those from visiting American Association teams. Rusty the RailCat also makes occasional appearances at Region events.