After more than 60 years plowing through thick sheets of impassible ice in the Mackinac Straits, the Icebreaker Mackinaw (231-436-9825, has yielded its duties to a brand new ice cutter. Luckily for the public, a conscientious group of preservationists made sure the Mackinaw retired at the docks in Mackinaw City as a floating museum.

When the ship was decommissioned, the crew dropped everything and left. That means the preserved ship—with its bookshelves still full of crime thrillers, VHS videos and worn-out board games—offers a real peek at life on the ship, right down to the huge bags of peppermints found under the captain’s bed.On the 45-minute tour, you’ll snake through the belly of the beast to poke your head in the engine room, the crew’s quarters, the galley and the captain’s spacious suite. The ship’s chief food specialist believed his job was to keep morale high—and if the menu posted outside the dining room starring pork tenderloin and crab bisque is any indication, he certainly did his duty well.

Perhaps the most stunning part of the icebreaker is the view from the dock. Standing beside the towering cherry-red ship, visitors get an unprecedented look at the welded steel hull with its nearly two-inch-thick ice-belt plating. The fat steel plates safeguarded the ship as it rocked back and forth to crush through ice. Able to rock five to ten degrees to either side, the ship could smash ice up to 20 feet out. Thanks to this 290-foot giant, hundreds of freighters were able to plow through frigid waters in her wake all winter long.

QUICK BITE: Head across the street to Nonna Lisa’s for a home-style Italian dinner. Settle into a hand-carved hardwood chair next to the colossal stone fireplace for wood-fired pizza or savory pasta creations. 312 S. Huron St., 231-436-7901,

YOU SHOULD KNOW: The crew on the Mackinaw had names for the different ice they cut, determined by the clatter of it against the hull:

  • Pancake: Flat, round chunks
  • Mashed potato: Flaky ice that mushes up in piles
  • Margarita: Small, crunchy bits
  • Saran: Very thin ice

Photo(s) by Patrick Wellever