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Setting Sail on the Detroit Princess

You walk up slowly, taking in her full five stories. With the gleaming white hull and neon lights against a black sky, the Detroit Princess is the proudest boat on the river.

You came to the city with no expectations that night. Maybe a nice dinner, a live Motown review, a quiet cruise on the water. Then you saw the massive riverboat docked in downtown Detroit, and suddenly the mood changed. Every couple walking toward her is holding hands. Gangs of women are giggling in anticipation of a great bachelorette party. There are even a few families, walking with awe in their eyes.

Inside, you tour the four dining rooms, taking a seat on the second level. (A peek into one room gives you a glimpse of the singers warming up; Marvin Gaye would be proud of these masculine voices united in his honor). Every table is filled – young people on a first date; a man and wife celebrating an anniversary; friends raising a glass in honor of one family's good tidings.

You take in the sights. Linen tablecloths and napkins. Chandeliers everywhere. Mahogany trim. Brass ceilings. Everything has been shined to perfection. It's hard to imagine this used to be an empty casino boat. Even the high rollers' room has been transformed, turned into an intimate dining space.

You meet your host and hostess, Chris and Teresa Kalinka, whose baby faces are deceiving for how much experience they have as sailors. Teresa worked on a similar ship in Lansing throughout college, and Chris always wanted to sail. They completely rehabbed the boat, tearing down wallpaper, repainting the complete exterior, pulling out the elaborative security system to create a more elegant atmosphere.

Teresa invites you to start your meal. The service is impressive. Five entrees from carved prime rib to grilled salmon to glazed pork chops serve as temptation. Filling a plate, you settle down to a complete meal that satisfies completely. Forget the diet, bring on a second helping of that cheese tortellini. The wait staff is caring yet works quietly in the background, bringing drinks and offering dessert.

The Princess sets off from shore with almost unperceivable movement. Suddenly, you notice the city lights slipping by the windows. A breath of fresh air sounds intoxicating.

The nearly three-hour cruise gives you scenery like no other. There is Detroit, diamonds atop every silhouetted building. Windsor shines as well, its casino looking like a miniature Vegas. You cruise past Belle Isle, up the mouth of Lake Saint Clair. The silence is difficult at first, but it helps you settle into a moment of contemplation. This is Detroit wearing the finery she truly deserves.

The music is starting, so you wander back inside. The Prolifics put on an amazing show, playing every hit from the Temptations to the Four Tops to Marvin Gaye. The man at the table next to you is dancing in his seat, rising when the spirit moves him. Dressed in their matching suits, the Prolifics move among the clapping crowd, wooing the women and glad-handing the men. It's like being at a Motown show when music really mattered.

Some history: The Detroit Princess launched in 2005 on the river, but that came after her first life as the Players Riverboat Casino II. She was built in 1993 as a Merv Griffin gambling boat on the Mississippi River before joining the Harrah's family. When they decided to build a larger version, the Princess was nearly scrapped.

Thankfully, an investment group grabbed her in May 2004 and brought it here for a complete renovation. They added a full kitchen, two walk-in coolers and everything else needed to operate as a restaurant. Chris and Teresa head the crew here, their supervision giving the ship a consistent level of quality.

The Detroit Princess can serve as many as 1,800 passengers on party cruises, afternoon lunches and holiday events. Some of the biggest nights are Valentine's Day and New Year's Eve. Other popular events are senior all night parties and proms, where kids can run around and parents can relax about where they are.

As the music slows, you take one more walk out on the deck. The night is sublime. Everything feels comfortable and romantic. Captain Scott takes her in for the night and you leave the ship with an army of happy people. The next cruise is ready to set sail, and your time is over. Hopefully, this won't be your last trip.

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