Canine Cruises cater to both man and beast
The searing heat of summer's dog days can drive even the most active pet owners to seek air-conditioned refuge indoors. But Captain Casey and the Mercury Skyline crew have just given pets and their pals a worthy reason to head outdoors to brave the humid elements.
On their Canine Cruises, you and your pup can take a relaxing 90-minute excursion across the cool waters of the Chicago River and Lake Michigan for a breezy day outside your own four walls.
Mercury Skyline owner Holly Agra says Steve Dale, host of Pet Central on WGN-AM 720, hatched the idea for the Canine Cruise when the two worked together on a benefit early in the 2003 boating season. Dale suggested Agra let the little doggies roam freely around one of her vessels every week. "After September 11, we needed to create more cruises that were geared toward residents of Chicago," Agra says. Getting onboard costs $18, $8 for kids and $5 per dog; the boat can handle about 50 dogs and their companions, depending on the size of the pet, and there's no need to reserve a spot since the tours are weather-dependent.
While confining a large, diverse group of dogs to a boat might seem like a large-scale mauling waiting to happen, we're happy to report that on our maiden voyage, all dogs in attendance, ranging from lap dogs to Labs, were on their best behavior. (Agra says that a fight has yet to break out.) And while some might claim that dog people aren't nearly as neurotic as cat folks, the proud pet owners began popping off more pictures than parents at a high-school graduation before we left the dock. One little pooch was even forced to endure a sailor's outfit for the expedition.
Soon the cameras were put away and the boat set sail. Captain Casey begins each journey with some colorful commentary, which is part history lesson, part architecture tour. He points out the city's dog-friendly hotels and restaurants along the way, then lays down some trivia on how George H.W. Bush sharpened his flying skills at Navy Pier.
While we docked momentarily in a lock, the ol' captain was even kind enough to fill the panting pooches' water bowls. Newspaper-lined lavatories are provided, but snacks aren't, so you might want to pack a treat for you and your furry friend—or maybe even a little hooch (Mercury allows BYOB and encourages picnic baskets).
As we gazed at the towering skyscrapers, the four-legged passengers got comfy in their companions' laps, basked in the sun or took in the fine lake mist. The more capricious pups made the rounds to mingle or to roughhouse with their new friends. Captain Casey's history lesson may have been lost on the furry passengers, but he didn't seem to mind. When we approached the Chicago Board of Trade, he noted that when the 45-story building was completed in 1930, no facial details were given to the statue of Ceres (the Roman goddess of agriculture), thinking that no other building in the area would be built as high. The CBOT's building now stands as a midget in the skyline, dwarfed by modern-day marvels like the Sears Tower.
Passengers Brian and Gillian Cronin, who met while volunteering for Anti-Cruelty, thought their dog Diego was having a great time on his first cruise. "He's a little sick right now, but he's loving it out here," Gillian said. Dien and Lee Bryner were also digging their first boat outing with their pup Milo. "We love our dog and just wanted to give him a new experience," Dien said. Milo appeared extremely well behaved, but Lee chalked it up to the heat. "If it were winter, he'd be running up and down the aisles," he laughs.
Mercury Cruiseline's Canine Cruise sets sail every Sunday (weather permitting) at 10am through September 25.