In 1962, the Iroquois came from Mackinac Island to Milwaukee to serve as one of the city’s premiere public tour boats. Today, Jake Chianelli owns the Iroquois and it's one of three boats that make up the Milwaukee Boat Line, located on the Riverwalk at 101 W. Michigan Ave.
This spring, all three of the boats are receiving various additions and upgrades and the historic Iroquois will soon serve as the Milwaukee Boat Line staff’s floating offices.
Chianelli purchased Milwaukee Boat Line in 2006 from a family friend. He grew up on the Gulf Coast of Texas.
"My dad was a deep sea diver, so I was raised with nautical, maritime-y type stuff," he says.
The Voyager and the Vista King are the company’s double-decker passenger boats, with the Voyager primarily offering corporate events and weddings and the Vista King serving as the set for live music concerts, the popular Monday Night Yacht Rock and a new weekday happy hour called Brats and Beers which will offer, aptly, brats, Sprecher and other beers and a 90-minute cruise for $15.
The Voyager, which has a capacity of 150 people, will have a freshly-built bar this year and the 250-passenger Vista King remodeling efforts include new paint, floors and a "general sprucing up."
Both boats feature full bars. The Voyager offers catering from Saz’s for private events and public cruises on the Vista King feature food options such as brats, hot dogs and snacks.
The cruises start the first weekend in May, with a truncated schedule until Memorial Day weekend when there will be multiple cruises daily. Milwaukee Boat Line offers sightseeing cruises, cocktail cruises and live music cruises. For a full list of cruises, go here.
The vessels are licensed to sail on the Milwaukee River, Harbor and Lake Michigan, but Chianelli says the route depends primarily on weather and passenger comfort. Chianelli and Karl Watts serve as captains of the ships.
"Captain Karl has operated damn near every tour boat down here," says Chianelli. "He’s been doing it for 30 years and he’s our senior captain."
The Riverwalk location of the Milwaukee Boat Line has been home to boats since the 1860s and today draws thousands of tourists every summer.
"I don’t know why I thought this business was a good or plausible idea, but nonetheless I did and now it’s been 10 years and I can’t imagine having any other job," says Chianelli. "This season is going to be a lot of fun."
Molly Snyder started writing and publishing her work at the age 10, when her community newspaper printed her poem, "The Unicorn.” Since then, she's expanded beyond the subject of mythical creatures and written in many different mediums but, nearest and dearest to her heart, thousands of articles for OnMilwaukee.
Molly is a regular contributor to FOX6 News and numerous radio stations as well as the co-host of "Dandelions: A Podcast For Women.” She's received five Milwaukee Press Club Awards, served as the Pfister Narrator and is the Wisconsin State Fair’s Celebrity Cream Puff Eating Champion of 2019.