During summer’s hottest days, there’s nothing better than cruising along Chicago’s magnificent lakefront, in the Chicago River and out to Lake Michigan. And what makes it even better…you can learn something about Chicago history and architecture. Or, enjoy the romance of a Lake Michigan sunset. All of this is courtesy of Wendella Tours & Cruises, 400 N. Michigan Avenue, Chicago’s longest-running, family-owned tour service.
Yes, we know that there are many tour lines in Chicago, and frankly, they’re all good. We’re focusing on Wendella because it was the original line in Chicago, and it is still family-owned.
The name is Borgstrom…Bo Borgstrom
Contrary to popular belief, the family name wasn’t Wendella. The Wendella line was founded in 1935 by Swedish immigrant Bo Albert Borgstrom at Navy Pier, according to the Digital Research Journal. The original boat was a 65-foot long, wood-hulled vessel named the Wendela (a second ‘l’ was added in 1956 for pronunciation) that carried 96 passengers, according to their website. Tickets cost 25 cents. Then, as now, tours are offered year round (weather permitting).
In 1938, they moved to their current location at the Wrigley Building, at the foot of the Chicago River (Michigan and Wacker.) As their website notes, they were the first vessel to use the newly-constructed Chicago Lock.
Water Taxis offer an alternative commute
In 1943, Wendella began “WWII Water Taxi” service for sailors from U.S. Navy Great Lakes Naval Training Station and Navy Pier. In 1962, Wendella Commuter Cruiser service (now Chicago Water Taxi) began shuttling rail commuters between the Chicago & Northwestern Train Station and Michigan Avenue during morning and evening rush hour.
Today, water taxis are a way of life for Chicago commuters working downtown.
Today…Tours for every season and reason
Today, according to their website, Wendella tours blend nostalgia for Chicago’s rich history with modern experiences to provide a fun day on the water, whatever the occasion.
Whether you’re looking for an in-depth tour or a brief overview of Chicago, Wendella has many tour options to choose from:
What began as a 30-minute tour quickly evolved into the 90-minute Wendella’s Signature Lake & River Tour. Their Chicago’s Original Architecture Tour® isa registered trademark, focusing on Chicago’s rich architectural heritage and history. The journey begins with an up-close perspective of Chicago’s internationally-known architecture as seen from the Chicago River, their website notes. Then, the tour ventures through the Chicago Locks to gain a new perspective of Chicago’s architecture from Lake Michigan.
On Wednesday and Saturday nights, from May 25-September 2, you and your family can watch the Navy Pier fireworks on their Lake Michigan fireworks cruise.
OnThursdays, Wendellahostsa Beer & BBQ Cruise from 5:45-7:45pm from June-September, where you can sample a variety of craft beers from local breweries, paired with authentic barbecue bites. A different brewery is featured each month.
Google reviews were near perfect, including this recent one:
“Advance tickets worked well. Boarding easy. Guide knowledgeable, entertaining, easy to hear. Just the right amount of time for 10 year old, 14 year old, 2 parents and a grandmother.”
Wendella Boat Cruises is located at 400 N. Michigan Avenue, downstairs from the Wrigley Building. Wendella has four dock locations that extend west from the Michigan Avenue (DuSable) Bridge to Wabash Avenue. For information and tickets, click here.
Alison Moran-Powers and Dean’s Team Chicago