New Chicago cruise boat continues a tradition of luxury river touring


On the Chicago River, a water gauntlet of old low-slung iron bridges cutting through the heart of American architecture, Chicago’s First Lady Cruises is said to set the standard for class among several excursion companies offering architectural cruises.

“This is the white linen tablecloth of boats on the river,” said Capt. Keith Krokosz. “So we’re special.” Krokosz was acting as mate under Capt. Jovan Binion, aboard Chicago’s Classic Lady, the latest vessel in the fleet.

The 98-foot boat was designed by Mark Pudlo of Seacraft Design in Sturgeon Bay, Wis., a close neighbor of Burger Boat Co., the vessel’s builder in Manitowoc. Classic Lady was preceded in 2011 by Chicago’s Leading Lady — also a Seacraft and Burger Boat project.

“The fit and finish are phenomenal,” said Capt. Bob Agra, owner of the Chicago cruise company founded by his grandfather in 1935. “But you’d expect that from craftsmen (Burger Boat employees) who build megayachts worth $65 million or more.”

The cruise vessel’s crew: bartender Jose Garcia, Capt. Jovan Binion, architectural docent Val Adams, deck hand Cameron Riley and Capt. Keith Krokosz, the acting mate of the day.

Both vessels are close replicas of Chicago’s First Lady, designed by William Preston and built in 1991 by Steiner Shipyard of Bayou La Batre, Ala. The design, which stems from the luxury cruising yachts of the 1920s, required some creative design work to shoehorn the machinery, electronics and passenger areas, with all of their comforts, into a low-profile vessel capable of clearing the Madison Street Bridge — 18 feet, 5 inches at normal water — by 28 inches.

To that end, the pilothouse was recessed into the upper deck, dictating a crawlspace machinery area to house twin 340-hp, Caterpillar C12 diesels with ZF gears, and two 76kW Caterpillar C4.4 generators.

In addition to the above-mentioned ladies, the Chicago First Lady Cruise fleet, a Mercury Skyline Cruiseline company, includes Chicago’s Fair Lady, Chicago’s Little Lady and Lady Grebe, a 48-foot vintage mahogany yacht for small private cruises.
Chicago’s Classic Lady is licensed for 299 passengers and crew. The vessel has an open foredeck and climate-controlled enclosed lower deck featuring grand curved stern windows.
The open upper deck, with 255 seats, affords a great view of the city’s magnificent skyline. “We have a cooperative agreement with the Chicago Architecture Foundation (CAF) that has worked out very well,” said Agra. A CAF docent who is knowledgeable about the significant buildings lining the river is aboard each of the cruises.

With a sweep of his arm, Val Adams, the CAF docent aboard Chicago’s Classic Lady on a bright but chilly day in September, took in an expanse of architecture that is applauded around the world.


Binion is at the helm with Krokosz in the wheelhouse as Chicago’s Classic Lady operates on the Chicago River.


Adams conducts the architectural tour from the top deck as the cruise vessel transits past the Windy City’s skyscrapers and low bridges.


The 98-foot Chicago’s Classic Lady, designed by Seacraft Design, passes a docked tour boat and landmark buildings along the Chicago River.


The new  vessel is powered by a pair of 340-hp Caterpillar C12 engines and is also equipped with two Cat generators.


By Professional Mariner Staff