The Iconic Excursion Boat Moved to Wenonah Park in Downtown Bay City on June 9, 2021
June 16, 2021
In 1998, the William M. Miller floated into town and moored at a very different-looking Wenonah Park. Bay City was just developing the riverfront. A few visionaries had grand plans for a system of rail trails, downtown housing, and a revamped downtown. Many local residents could not imagine tourists and visitors thinking of hardscrabble Bay City as a weekend destination on par with Traverse City or Grand Rapids. The Wm. M. Miller was christened Princess Wenonah and began offering free tours and hosting private parties from a dock left vacant by the research vessel Lake Guardian.
Over two decades later, miles of trails wind through Bay County and downtown Bay City. New residents call refurbished buildings home. A vibrant downtown offers dining, shopping, and cultural activities. Suddenly, a city that was once a secret is gaining traction as destination for travelers hungry for a Pure Michigan experience.
The Princess Wenonah began offering tours and private parties in the the early days, and was soon joined by Islander. As the waterfront developed the Princess Wenonah and Islander were moved to several locations, eventually landing 2 miles south of downtown on the Middleground Island in 2014. Tucked away in a quiet location next to local bar known for live music on the river, Bay City Boat Lines worked hard to draw visitors upriver for tours and events.
Reeling from the 2020 pandemic year, Bay City Boat Lines along with local economic development organization Bay Future, renewed a push to bring the Princess Wenonah back to her original berth at Wenonah Park in downtown Bay City. With key support from the Doubletree Hotel and help from the City of Bay City, Bay City Boat Lines successfully negotiated a lease for the summer season back where it all began. The Princess Wenonah once again graces the riverfront to host a new generation of locals and visitors for tours, dinner cruises and entertainment.
The family-owned and operated business provides a unique perspective of the Saginaw River and the community that surrounds it. Tour guides and crew members are happy to share stories and information with guests aboard the 150 passenger vessel on regularly scheduled tours. Several family members and an experienced, close-knit crew are delighted to help passengers have an safe, enjoyable trip no matter the occasion.
Partnerships and collaborations tie the Princess and Wenonah and Islander back to the region that supports it. Local businesses help provide funding for a series of free tours, local bands, disc jockeys are put to work on dinner cruises, and another family-owned restaurant, Krzysiak House, and the nearby Doubletree Hotel provide catering options for private events aboard the boat. The owners of Bay City Boat Lines still operate a well-known antiques store just blocks away and believe in the power of local businesses to drive growth and change.
The Princess Wenonah will offer a variety of public events from Wenonah Park beginning in June and continuing through October. For more information see www.baycityboatlines.com or call 989-891-BOAT.
When something is good, you want it to last. And last it has.
For 22 seasons, Bay City Boat Lines has partnered with local businesses to offer individuals a chance to do something special for free – the opportunity to cruise the Saginaw River by boat and learn about the history of the river and the communities surrounding it.
The staff of Bay City Boat Lines takes particular pride in offering this service to the public because it allows locals and visitors of all ages access to the boats and the riverfront. Many passengers have lived in the area their entire lives and have never seen their hometown from the river, where the perspective of the community is completely different.
Onboard tour guides delight in sharing colorful stories of the lumbering, shipbuilding and industrial eras, showing off recent developments along the banks and helping riders spot a variety of wildlife including waterfowl, deer and bald eagles along the way. The trip is relaxing, informative and appreciated by all ages.
The Saginaw River is typically peaceful and quiet on these weekday morning tours, which is a great start to a day of exploration in the Great Lakes Bay Region. Departing at 10 a.m. and returning at 12 p.m., the next logical step after the tour is to enjoy one of the area’s restaurants or visit one of the riverfront parks you cruised by for a picnic lunch. Lots of other attractions, shopping and recreation is available nearby to complete a day of fun for families, friends or out of town visitors.
Often, visitors are amazed when they hear the annual tours are free. They wonder “what’s the catch”? Fortunately, there isn’t one, thanks to the generosity of others. Bay City Boat Lines has been fortunate to find several community partners who consistently step forward to help fund the tours every year. This year, seven weeks of tours will be offered beginning July 8 and continuing through August 23. The route varies by day, heading North, or downriver through active areas such as downtown Bay City and beyond on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Tuesday and Thursday trips take the South route upriver through more quiet and natural scenery, while still offering interesting stories.
The History Tours take place aboard Islander, an iconic red and white boat originally used to ferry passengers to offshore islands in Wisconsin. Built in 1946, she is a sturdy steel double-decker and is perfect for sight seeing from either deck with comfortable seating, shady cover and a snack bar to tide you over until lunch.
This year’s series of tours kick off July 8 -12 courtesy of the Bay City Fireworks Festival Committee and BaySail. Come into town the weekend prior to enjoy one of the state’s biggest and best known Fireworks displays. A three day Fireworks Festival features entertainment, a carnival, craft show and other activities, all capped off by nightly Fireworks Displays. The Princess Wenonah will also host a dinner cruise on Saturday, July 6th with a live band to celebrate the holiday and raise funds for the festival.
The Bay County Realtors Association brings you Week 3, with tours every weekday morning from July 22 – 26th. The end of the week is capped off by Downtown Bay City’s Sidewalk Sale Days, beginning Thursday, for those who enjoy shopping sales street fair style. Bay City is known for its boutique and specialty shops, featuring everything from unique women’s clothing, home decor, antique stores, vinyl record purveyors and used books to name a few.
Finally Bay City Boat Lines picks up Week 7 to end the summer series of Free History Tours, at 10am daily August 19 -23. Stay in town to check out A Taste of Downtown Bay City in the new Nickless Pavilion Saturday afternoon, with a dozen local eateries offering samples of their wares. All summer long you can also catch Bay City Boat Lines other vessel, Princess Wenonah for a Friday night Entertainment & Dinner Cruise. The Princess Wenonah is the larger of the two fleet mates and the evening atmosphere is lively, with top side dancing and a full bar onboard.
Because they are free, the tours are extremely popular and all seats are generally reserved in advance. Reservations open two weeks ahead through Bay City Boat Lines website and have a limit of six per household, to ensure that as many different people enjoy the tour and that no seats go unused (groups are referred to paid Saturday tours or private tours to keep free seats open for families and travelers).
If you haven’t visited Bay City or the Great Lakes Bay Region, or if you live nearby and keep meaning to “be a tourist in your own town”, what are you waiting for? A warm welcome and a new adventure awaits!
Over the past 20 years, a 65 ton steel lady has become an icon on the Saginaw River, plying the waters from downtown Bay City to the edges of the Saginaw Bay. Originally built as the M/V Wm. M. Miller in 1954, and re-christened the Princess Wenonah upon her Bay City debut in 1998, this popular excursion boat has been hard at work for 64 years.
From her very first season, the 150 passenger Princess Wenonah has been a popular attraction for children and adults, attracting attention wherever she travels on the river. Three partners originally joined forces to purchase the ship from Miller Boat Lines in Ohio, converting her from a car and passenger ferry to a full-time passenger excursion use. A few years later, the Princess Wenonah was joined by Islander, a 53 foot former ferry which lay dormant after operating on Lake Superior and on the Chicago River, but found new life in Bay City.
Over the past two decades, over 250,000 passengers have enjoyed cruising aboard the Princess Wenonah and her fleet-mate Islander. Original partner William Fournier, his wife Elaine, and daughter Michelle Judd still play host to public guided tours, dinner cruises with entertainment, and private parties each season. A dedicated crew (to which several grandchildren have now been added) takes pride in welcoming guests onboard from May to October each year.
Showing off the beauty of the local waterway, sharing the area’s vibrant maritime and lumbering history and entertaining guests with dinner and dancing is a job the entire staff is proud to take part in. Guests delight in opening each of the city’s four bascule bridges as the Princess Wenonah ventures through town while the Islander specializes in leisurely guided tours and smaller gatherings. Bald eagles, egrets, deer, a great many bird species and small mammals are regularly spotted in their natural habitats along the banks.
Since Bay City Boat Line’s inception, many areas of the riverbank have been improved and developed with charming trails, riverfront parks and new developments. Three outstanding hotels, hip restaurants, unique boutiques and cultural venues have sprung up and turned downtown Bay City into a growing destination for visitors. First-time visitors marvel at the entrepreneurial spirit of this city, which has managed to blend renovated historic structures with complementary new construction, gradually reworking it’s lumbering and blue collar roots into a small urban gem.
An easy drive from metro Detroit and minutes off I-75 (the main route heading “up North” for many Michiganders) you can find tickets for Bay City Boat Lines’ public events most days of the week in July and August at www.baycityboatlines.com. Tickets range from free to under $50.
What are you waiting for? Come see what has made the Princess Wenonah and Islander one of the most beloved summer attractions in the heart of the Great Lakes Bay Region for 20 years.