Many Great Lakes cruise lines offer guided tours at the various ports of call, and such tours offer as many advantages for the cruise line as there are for the passengers.
If you take the port tour, you do not have to worry about what to do or where to go. Many people find this the most enjoyable part of a vacation, the ability to simply relax and let someone else show you the best that the port has to offer.
With a tour, you also do not have to worry about getting lost in a strange town and maybe missing your ship's departure time. That could be a real problem if you are using someplace that does not have an airport.
The tours are often by bus or other motor vehicle, which can save a lot of walking, and it means you might be able to see things that would otherwise be too far from the harbor.
On the other hand, you can sometimes arrange your own sightseeing for a reasonable amount less than the cruise line would charge, and if your choose to strike out on your own, you are not locked to any particular time schedule except the ship's departure time.
So, how do you decide? Do you take the tour provided or strike out on your own? First, you need to do a little research. Check the itinerary for the Great Lakes Cruise you have chosen. Look at the ports of call. How long will you be in each port? If you are only there for a couple of hours you may want to strike out on your own, unless the tour is offering something that you do not want to miss.
In some Great Lakes ports, the real attractions are a few miles from town. With the smaller ports that Great Lakes often have to offer, you might find transportation hard to come by and in that case the cruise lines tour might be the best bet. In micro ports like Mackinac Island, you might be covering the exact same route wherever you are on tour or not.
While you are studying the ports, check to see if there is anything that you feel is important that you want to see that might not be on the cruise line's tour. Is there a museum that you really want to see? Maybe there is a special store that you are familiar with. Or, maybe there is a nature walk that you've seen pictures of. Either way, the important thing to decide is if you can find more exciting things to do that the tour offers.
If you find something that you are interested in that is not on the tour, you should call ahead to the port you will be visiting. Check with the local Chamber of Commerce office. Almost all cities and towns have one, and many of these have been turned into full-fledged area information centers. From there you can determine what kind of transportation might be available and get more information on the attractions you wanted to see.