chicago cruises

Tour Chicago by Boat with Shoreline Sightseeing

Wednesday, October 08, 2014 Rob Samuelson

When waiting in the line to board the Bright Star, I see people buzzing at the front. The two Shoreline Sightseeing employees are there taking tickets, but they're also giving stuff out. Specifically, they're giving out mugs. For drinking. Drinking beer. Good beer. The pumpkin variety. The kind of beer that everyone loses their mind for during the fall. And it's free – or at least the first one is. Sweet deal nonetheless. It's all part of their Oktoberfest cruise.

The idea of free beer perks me up. I'm a little beaten down from running. Turns out the bus from the Grand Red Line stop to Navy Pier, where Shoreline docks, isn't always the most reliable. But I made it on time. And I get free Revolution seasonal beer as my running reward.

After I head onboard, I look to get situated below deck, where the bar is. I am not the only person with this idea. One nice woman behind me mentions to her companions, “I can't remember the last time I drank beer.” I make a note to check in on her as the night progresses. She seems like fun, and the sociologist in me is intrigued by the introduction of beer to a relatively staid crowd.

I feel a little self conscious, because the nice people behind me keep looking at me as I tinker on my phone. I forgot to bring a pen for my field notebook, so I look like I'm texting the whole time. In reality, I'm taking notes for this here piece. I may look like a sullen teenager with an above-it-all attitude, texting my way-cooler-than-you friends, but I swear I'm not, everyone. I want to be here and hang out with you. I just have a terrible memory. Please don't hate me.

But then something catches my eye. People walk from behind the bar with plates topped high with sausages, sauerkraut, soft pretzels, and other goodies. I think, wait a second. There's food, too? Like, good food? I must investigate.

So I grab my tall beer and scurry to the front of the boat-slash-back of the bar area to find my smorgasbord. I was dumb and didn't eat all day, so this is like manna from heaven. There are no limits on how much I can stuff my face. Forget about the beer, just give me smoked meats and don't stop until I explode.

Now that I have my drink and my mountain of German themed eats, we're about ready to disembark on our sightseeing mission. The captain or the tour coordinator or somebody in a position of authority enters our consciousness via a crackly PA system, and gives us the skinny on what's happening. Turns out the Bright Star has been inspected by the Coast Guard, so we can rest assured that we won't sink. I like this. He doesn't say, “We won't sink,” of course, because that would immediately engender ideas about us joining the Edmund Fitzgerald in great seafaring disaster lore. But that's obviously what he meant, my anxiety-wracked brain tells me. But anyway, we're good in the flotation department.

He lets us know that for the rest of the night, the bar will revert to cash-only status. This makes me acutely aware of the fact that boats don't have ATMs onboard. I properly readjust my sipping from “Gulp” to “Trickle” and instead bask in the glory of the food, which the disembodied nice man tells me is catered by the Paulina Meat Market – I, or rather my distended belly, can vouch for their quality.

Side note: While I listen intently and gobble my feast, someone uncanny passes me by. I can't take my eyes off him. I hope he doesn't notice the messy eater staring at him, trying to see into his soul. I can't help it. He looks exactly like the perfect amalgamation of Ted Danson and Albert Brooks, the first who made my sickly younger years comfortable by babysitting me via syndication and the second who greatly influences the worldview of my adult self. I want to thank this unlikely love child for his parents' (this genealogy is unconfirmed) contributions to my happiness.

Back to the boat stuff and not my hopeful genetically engineered celebrity best friend. Our guide tells us we're more of a party boat tonight, with live music provided by the lederhosen-clad band, Euro Express. They go all out for the Oktoberfest theme, with fun, kitschy performances of things like “Happy Birthday” for those passengers celebrating their birth-iversaries and “The Chicken Dance,” all in the Americana-Germanic style you'll recognize if you've been to any Oktoberfest here in the States.

While listening to Euro Express, I notice something about seafaring vessels. They are host to some of the gnarliest spiders known to the world. Big, nasty suckers. I swear I see one bob its head in time with the beat. I make sure I have no arachnid stowaways on my person for the rest of the night.

Upon moving away from the railing with the 'roided out spiders, I take note of how smooth the ride is. There is almost no rocking or swaying. Lake Michigan is calm tonight but waves are still rolling. Perhaps my Buster Keaton-fueled nightmares about water travel were unfounded. Instead of being a gigantic hamster wheel on water, the Bright Star instead allows us, on one of the clearest, most beautiful nights I can remember in a while, to view the Chicago skyline and take in parts of what make this city special.

The night winds down with me stuffed on my third soft pretzel and Euro Express playing “Sweet Caroline.” I'm ready to burst, I've had a lot of fun except for the disappointment over the nice non-beer drinker not turning into a wild party animal, and I now have a souvenir to fill with more liquid, alcoholic or not, whenever I want. Plus we didn't finish the night on the bottom of Lake Michigan. Thanks, safety!

Shoreline Sightseeing has all kinds of tours to explore Chicago. Visit theirwebsite for tickets and scheduling information.

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