Discover Madison and Lakes Aboard Betty Lou Cruises

View of Madison from yacht
Photo by Betty Lou Cruises

To really discover the true character of Madison, those who live or visit here seek out unique experiences and local dining to uncover what sets the city apart from everywhere else. The beauty of the lakes draws people to our city. Enjoying great food and a boat cruise on Lake Mendota and Lake Monona aboard Betty Lou Cruises showcases Madison and takes in the natural beauty of the lakes while enjoying a beautiful Madison sunset on the water. Betty Lou Cruises has been a special part of the lakescape of Lake Mendota since 1998 and Lake Monona since 2002.

Since the two lakes hug the city's isthmus, the best view of the state’s capitol and waterfront splendor is from the lake. Every seat on Betty Lou Cruises has a great view, and passengers aboard this floating eatery get to enjoy the lake and great food while viewing the luxury homes and condominiums. These properties were built to both have a view and to be viewed from the lake. The Lake Mendota cruise showcases the properties on the Gold Coast of Westport, Maple Bluff, and other significant homes. There are nearly 22 miles of Lake Mendota shoreline. Lake Monona has 13 miles of shoreline and an unparalleled vista of Monona Terrace and the Madison city skyline.

Photograph provided by Betty Lou Cruises

Betty Lou Cruises offers both public and private charter cruises aboard motor yachts. The main level cabin is enclosed and the upper decks have protective canopies to enable the cruise to go out rain or shine. All cruises include a captain and crew, buffet food, and bar service. They moor at Mariner’s Inn on Lake Mendota and at the Machinery Row building on Lake Monona.

The season starts the last Friday of April and continues through the third weekend of October. Betty Lou Cruises operates four boats—two on Lake Mendota and two on Lake Monona—that hold between 20 to 50 passengers. Public cruises are offered every day of the week and require advance reservations and payment. No tickets are sold at the boat. Special public cruises are either party themed holiday or special event cruises. Private charter cruises can be scheduled on any day at any time. See bettyloucruises.com for a complete list of cruises and themes, as well as to make reservations.

The cruises are more than a boat ride that happens to have food. The chefs at Mariner’s Inn make the food for the cruises, which features a signature buffet menu suited for those mingling and having fun aboard the cruise. Great hospitality is an art, and aboard the Betty Lou, the authentic, attentive, and engaging crew, along with topnotch food, elevates the quality of customer service to the next level. The caliber reaches from great to exceptional to provide a memorable experience. In addition to public cruises, they make family functions, weddings, receptions, anniversaries, and birthday parties, and any other special occasion, including company parties and promotional events more special.

Photograph by Donald P. Sanford

From a casual pizza or ice cream event to formal receptions, the food and beverages aboard Betty Lou Cruises complement any occasion. Betty Lou Cruises has local partners for a few featured cruises. Ian’s Pizza is a partner for the Thursday Pizza and Beer Cruise. The Friday night Seafood Cruise features Wollersheim wine, and the Sunday Ice Cream Social and Sightseeing Cruise features six flavors and nine topping choices from Chocolate Shoppe Ice Cream. The children’s eyes pop out of their heads, thinking they’ll never get full eating ice cream the entire cruise.

Betty Lou Cruises is owned by von Rutenberg Ventures, which also owns Mariner’s Inn, Nau-Ti-Gal, and Captain Bill’s lakefront restaurants, known for steak and seafood. Mariner’s Inn, opened in 1966 by Bill and Betty von Rutenberg, was the first. Their three sons, Bill, Jack, and Robert, who grew up immersed in the hospitality business, are now at the helm of the restaurants.

It made sense for von Rutenberg Ventures to bring Betty Lou Cruises to the Madison tourism scene since they possessed the attributes needed to get started and thrive. They owned three successful lakefront restaurants that could cross promote the cruises, and had a protected harbor with convenient parking. Hospitality and great food that could be made at Mariner’s Inn by experienced chefs are important elements that have helped the cruises stand the test of time. After all, good food and a great experience bring people back to visit time and time again.

Photograph provided by Betty Lou Cruises

“Betty Lou Cruises was named to honor the memory of our mother,” says Jack. “She passed away at age 64, two years before we launched the cruises.” The research had been in the works for 14 years, so the family thought it was fitting to pay tribute to Betty’s fun, vivacious, and loving spirit combined with her love of Madison, the lakes, and people by naming the cruise business after her. She excelled at hospitality and is remembered for her verbal menu presentation where she playfully demonstrated the location and tenderness of the steaks using the leg of one of the guys in the party. It was a memorable and entertaining start to their meal and for those at tables nearby. Betty’s legacy of hospitality lives on and is adhered to by all the crew and staff of von Rutenberg Ventures. “We place such high value on hospitality that when we hire new crew, we look for great hospitality personalities and then train them to do knots, docking, and tying lines.”

The best way to see Madison’s splendor is from the deck aboard Betty Lou Cruises. People may reserve a cruise one by one, but because they have a “wow” experience, they come back two by two to try the other lake or a different cruise.

Lauri Lee is a foodie living in Madison, Wisconsin.