Our Story


The Early Years

For more than 45 years, the Princess Riverboats have been chartering passengers around Michigan's rivers and lakes. In 1976, John and Karla Chamberlain started a small canoe rental business in Lansing's Potter Park. After a few years, they expanded their business by purchasing an old barge and building it into their first boat, the Spirit of Lansing. This boat operated out of Potter Park and took passengers downtown to Adado Riverfront Park.

The Princess Laura

The Spirit of Lansing became so popular that they needed a larger boat to accommodate all their new passengers. In 1984, they christened the Princess Laura, named after John's daughter. This boat was double the size and held 110 passengers. Communities throughout the state began asking John to transport Laura to their waterfronts for different festivals.

The Michigan Princess

John spent a few years planning his next project and spending time with family. His son Chris was now helping with the boat business. The new boat would be less affected by outside weather and could manage large scale events. In 1991, Governor John Engler christened the Michigan Princess.

The boat was originally designed to be disassembled and moved to different communities. As more people around Lansing became familiar with the Michigan Princess, the demand to rent it for private parties grew. In 1998, the boat went through a major remodel to expand its size. At that same time the Spirit of Lansing was retired. The Michigan Princess now able to handle 500 passengers, has stayed and operated out of Grand River Park ever since. With over 500,000 passengers served the Michigan Princess is the largest vessel to ever run this part of the Grand River. The history of the area and boating goes much farther back.

The Detroit Princess

While the Michigan Princess was a huge success, Captain John had even bigger plans for his next boat. He considered purchasing one of the original Bob-Lo Boats, the large steam vessels that transported passengers between Detroit and Bois Blanc Island for nearly a century. After touring the boats, talking with the Coast Guard, and doing some heavy research, he decided it would take too large an investment to restore these boats to their former glory. But the dream to operate a boat out of Detroit was not lost. In 2004, John found a boat for sale in the classified ads that was perfect. There was only one issue – it was in Texas on the Gulf Coast. John and his wife knew they were facing a giant hurdle to bring it to Detroit, but they purchased the boat anyway and set sail for Detroit in May. They only made it as far as Florida before they hit the first bump in the road. Hurricane season had settled in and they had to delay their trip for four weeks, which meant paying extra docking and fuel expenses. To pay for the amount of fuel they needed to make it home, John and Karla had to make the tough choice to sell Princess Laura. Despite these set backs, they safely brought the boat to Detroit – and it only took 104 days!

The Grand Princess

John and his son Chris began building a new boat to replace the Princess Laura. In 2010, they completed The Grand Princess, a boat almost the same size as its predecessor with an enclosed lower deck. This has operated at several locations over years but primarily out of Island Park in Grand Ledge with tours to the Ledges along the river.

Little Traverse Bay Ferry

In 2019 Chris met with a number of people in the Petoskey region of Michigan inquiring about bringing a ferry to run in Little Traverse Bay. There was a lot of discussion about how best to bring a ferry that would run between the three communities of Bay Harbor, Harbor Springs, and Petoskey. With that in mind a group was formed called the Little Traverse Bay Foundation with members from all three communities. With the experience of starting new boating operation Chris had a number of concerns in starting this boat operation with out support. The foundation in partnership with Princess Riverboats raised funds to support the initial start up cost and investment to bring the boat to Little Traverse Bay. Ultimately, they settled on a smaller boat to get in and out of the busy ports more easily. The Little Traverse Bay Ferry is a retired launch from a navy destroyer tender AD41 USS Yellowstone. We are happy to report we are expecting another great season.

The Harbor Princess

The newest member of the fleet. More information coming soon.