The Way It Was – SS Aquarama, 1960

The ship had space to transport 2,500 passengers and their automobiles, too
SS Aquarama
SS Aquarama crosses under the Ambassador Bridge. // Photograph courtesy of the Detroit Historical Society

1960 An excursion on a passenger ship between Detroit and Cleveland probably doesn’t register on anyone’s list of top romantic getaways, but between 1957 and 1962, many folks availed themselves of a trip on the Detroit River and Lake Erie on the SS Aquarama. It may have been a brief cruise, but it was also relatively inexpensive, and there were plenty of diversions on board.

Run by the Michigan-Ohio Navigation Co., the ship had enough space to transport 2,500 passengers and their automobiles too. The 520-foot vessel, seen here crossing under the Ambassador Bridge, plied the waters at a top speed of 22 mph between the two cities in under six hours. Its amenities were many: a movie theater, live entertainment with two dance floors, four restaurants, five bars, marionette shows, a television theater, a children’s playroom, and the occasional fashion show. And, at a time when relatively few homes had central air conditioning, a trek on the lake was often breezy and refreshing. T

he Aquarama began life in 1945 as a troop carrier dubbed the SS Marine Star. After the war it was converted into a nine-deck passenger ship in Muskegon and rechristened the Aquarama. In 1955, the refitted ship docked at various Great Lakes ports, including Navy Pier in Chicago, where it was promoted as “a floating amusement palace.” In 1957, it began voyages between Detroit and Cleveland. Although the trips proved popular with the public, sky-high operating costs forced the Aquarama to drop anchor and cancel the outings in 1962.

Its remaining years were unremarkable. The ship docked in Muskegon, Buffalo, Windsor, and other cities before one final ignominious odyssey. The hulking ship was towed in 2007 to Turkey, where it was dismantled for scrap.

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