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S.S. City of Milwaukee Offers Shipboard Meeting Space

All aboard for a vintage experience in Manistee

By Kathy Gibbons

Sunset over the S.S. City of Milwaukee, docked on Lake Manistee in Manistee || Courtesy of S.S. City of Milwaukee

The S.S. City of Milwaukee docked on Lake Manistee is available for groups seeking a one-of-a-kind setting in Manistee for meetings and events as well as small team-building overnight retreats.

The 1931-built former passenger-carrying railroad car ferry and floating National Historic Landmark offers up a 1930s-era experience. At 360 feet long, the S.S. City of Milwaukee has seven decks; its passenger deck is dedicated to what it dubs a “boatel” with 16 guest rooms available for rent.

Rob Laurain, executive director of the nonprofit organization that oversees the ship, says efforts are ongoing to restore the rooms to how they appeared when the S.S. City of Milwaukee was originally built “to bring back the full glory of the Great Lakes car ferries.” Meanwhile, the vessel has proven popular for group gatherings.

The S.S. City of Milwaukee creates a 1930s-era experience. || Courtesy of S.S. City of Milwaukee

“We do quite a few private events each year,” Laurain says. “There are smaller gathering rooms inside of the ship, but most of our groups like to use the bow of the ship since that provides a beautiful view of Manistee Lake. And in the event of bad weather, there’s the car deck, which is a large open space.”

Staff can set up tables and chairs for events that accommodate up to about 100 attendees. “We have had business groups for either meetings or more social gatherings like networking events,” Laurain explains.

It’s not unusual for groups convening at nearby Little River Casino Resort to schedule outings to the S.S. City of Milwaukee as part of their itineraries. “We have had them attend conferences and come over to us,” he says.

The S.S. City of Milwaukee is also close by for groups that gather at the new Hampton Inn & Suites Manistee Waterfront. The hotel opened last year on the site of the former Lakeshore Motel on Lake Michigan. It has a small meeting area as well as a restaurant that can be bought out in its entirety and accommodate about 100.