Head to Head: The SS Badger vs. The Lake Express



She is the largest car ferry ever to sail Lake Michigan, and has provided a safe, fun, and reliable shortcut across the huge inland sea for more than fifty years. The S.S. Badger is a national treasure, offering a cruise experience that links us to an earlier time when a sea voyage was the ultimate travel and vacation adventure.

As the only coal-fired steamship in operation in North America, the S.S. Badger operates on domestic fuel, and the company has  an extraordinary commitment to maintaining a unique propulsion system that has been designated as a national mechanical engineering landmark. The S.S. Badger offers an authentic steamship experience unmatched anywhere else. 



She is the first high speed auto/passenger ferry to operate on a route on both the Great Lakes and within the Continental United States.  The aluminum hulled catamaran was built at Austal USA, LLC's  aluminum shipbuilding facility in Mobile, Alabama and was launched on March 20, 2004.  The ship began service on the route between Milwaukee, Wisconsin and Muskegon, Michigan on June 1, 2004.

Both are impressive ships, carting people and their rides across Lake Michigan to avoid the travel around the lake, or just for plain fun.  But which is the best way to travel?  How do they compare?  The following information was mostly gleaned from their respective websites:





SIZE:  SSB:  410' X 60'

          LX:  192' X 57'

--Winner:  Badger


SPEED:  SSB:  18 mph (avg)

               LX:  40 mph

--Winner:  Lake Express


CAPACITY:  SSB:  600 people/ 180 cars

                    LX:  248 people/ 46 cars

--Winner:  Badger


CREW SIZE:  SSB:  50-60

                      LX:  8

--Winner:  Badger


TIME TO CROSS:  SSB:  3.5-4 hrs.

                             LX:  2.5 hrs.

--Winner:  Lake Express, if in a hurry

               Badger:  if not




ADULT (1 Way/Round Trip):

          SSB:  $69/$109

          LX:  $85/$129

--Winner:  Badger (by $16/$20)


CHILD (5-15 y.o.)

          SSB:  $24/$39

          LX:  $15/$24

--Winner:  Lake Express (by $9/$15)


SENIOR (65+, 62+ for LX):

           SSB:  $63/$99

           LX:  $68/$103

--Winner:  Badger (by $5/$4), if over 65 y.o.

               Lake Express(by $1/$26) if 62-65 y.o.



           SSB:  $59/$118

           LX:  $92/169

--Winner:  Badger (by $33/$51)



           SSB:  $6/$12

           LX:  $9/$18

--Winner:  Badger (by $3/$6)



           SSB:  $38/$76

           LX:  $38/$76

--Winner:  Draw



          SSB:  $45/$90

          LX:  $93/$185

--Winner:  Badger (by $48/$95)



          SSB:  None at terminals

          LX:  $5 at MILW., $4 at MUSK.

--Winner:  Badger


At a score of 10-4, the SS Badger wins in the head to head comparisons.  Other comparisons could include that the Badger allows you to bring your own food on board, they offer more activities on board, they ride more smoother in rougher waters, and can travel in weather in which the Lake Express can't.  The Lake Express is a sleek vessel and very helpful if you are in a hurry to get to Wisconsin with a cleaner fuel.  But for the consummate tourist, the nostalgic feel of the Badger, the slower pace, and the value seem to make it the clear choice. 


If you haven't rode either, get out and do so before the season is over.  For two adults and a car it would cost you $197 on the SS Badger, $262 on the Lake Express, but check out the discounts and deals on each site.  A mini cruise on the badger could cost you under $160 for a round trip if you leave the car at home and come back within two days, and you can even bring four kids along for free.

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Your right Aqua I didn't do my homework on the express. But the displacement of the Cat hull and the fact it is much shorter ( like the shorter wheelbase on a car) would tend to make me think it would be choppier even in good weather true?
Actually, the cat design and high speed make it more stable in good weather, due to the fact it's cresting above the water on air so to speak at about 60mph. It's when seas are above 7' or so the stability becomes a factor. I talked first hand to several coming off the Lake Express a few years ago in the fall where 6' seas were prevalent. Most said they got shook up a bit, and quite a few got sea sick. Conversely, 6'-8' seas on the Badger don't faze it. I've been on the Badger during rough water of 12'-15' seas, she took it well, passengers, not so well. But, she wasn't landlocked by that presence. Both vessels have their own charm and appeal, according to your likes and needs. For the sake of historical significance though, I prefer she stay coal powered. Coal ash has not been proven to make the lake toxic nor dangerous. If it did, neither of us would be here now after 100 years of dumping came before us. It's another ploy by environmentalists like global warming and other crackpot schemes to get noticed imho.
I agree she should stay a coal fired land mark. My father was a 2nd on the City of Milwakee many years ago when it was under C&O. We have been told for years by science even, that ash and carbon is a creat clenser of toxins. Why now the junk science complaints for a few over the top liberals?
There are ships like the Express in other countries and the main complaint is the rough ride in heavy seas. A freind of mine booked passage on a duplicate of the Express in South Africa and on that day there were moderately heavy seas and almost everyone on board got seasick and were barfing in the bags provided before they set off on the journy.
LMC may not have any choice but to switch to diesel fuel. Collecting and disposing of the coal refuse may be to expensive and could jeapordize the Badger's existance on the Lake. I don't think folks will care about what engine is powering the Badger. I think the whole experience is just sailing on an old vessel. I personally don't like the coal smoke because it almost always clouds up a good photo.


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