Two tickets to paradise. That Eddie Money oldie hummed through my mind all morning as I cheerily dressed for a Sunday brunch aboard Paradise Charter Cruises’ boat on Lake Minnetonka. The weather was cool and overcast skies threatened rain, but nothing was going to discourage me from going. After a long year of pandemic isolation and six months of cold weather, I was desperate for a good time out with my partner. This brunch cruise offered a perfect launchpad back into life – an affordable luxury just a few minutes from home. It turns out I need not have worried at all. Perfect weather is not required for a pleasant time on a Paradise cruise.

Ample, easy, and free parking was found behind the shops along Water Street just a short walk from the Port of Excelsior. As I surveyed the row of docked charter boats I was delighted to discover we’d be sailing aboard a majestic mini cruise ship, the Destiny II. She’s an impressive sight; a modern boat with all the elegance of a full-sized cruise ship. Two decks encased in sparkling clean glass lend an open, airy feel, and she’s outfitted with an understated nautical decor ideally suited to a cruise on Minnesota’s swankiest lake.

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We waited to board in a queue of ‘happy-to-be-here’ Minnesotans gathered to celebrate birthdays, anniversaries, Mother’s Day, engagements, graduations, missed moments and together time after a long season kept apart. An attentive and cheerful crew ushered us aboard just a few minutes before our scheduled departure time.

Once aboard we chose a top-level table surrounded by floor-to-ceiling windows, safe from wind and water. An open-air deck for cruising and dining sat adjacent to the dining room so we could easily step out for a fresh lake breeze or to snap an Instagram moment whenever the need arose.

Our cruise departed sharply at 11am for a pleasant glide through Lake Minnetonka’s gently rolling water. An attentive crew fulfilled drink orders from the onboard bar as we got underway so we could experience firsthand how the other half lives. Mimosas, anyone? While we sipped our drinks we sailed past yachts, sailboats, lakeside mansions, the occasional duck family, and a heap of natural beauty. Captain Ed discretely spilled secrets that only lake insiders know; a who’s who of famous residents, jaw-dropping real estate facts, and morsels of scant Minnetonka histories and mysteries that made us all insiders too. In between his brief comments we enjoyed gazing at spectacular views that are only visible from the lake itself.

The sun appeared midway through our cruise and the surface of the lake lit up like a sea of glittering diamonds. So beautiful. It was a perfect chance to stretch and snap a few envy-inducing photos for the folks back home. (Yes, our home is only eight miles away but in this moment it may as well have been eight million.)

Just as I returned to my table we were invited to partake in a generously laid brunch buffet. I follow a restricted diet and was pleased to find many suitable gluten-free dishes to choose from: fluffy and moist scrambled eggs with various condiment toppings, orange-glazed ham, turkey sausage links, seasoned potatoes O’Brien, and fresh fruits. My partner sampled the full array of buffet items mentioned plus muffins, coffee cake, and their signature dish, a scrumptious cinnamon French toast bake. ‘Deliciously stuffed’ was the unanimous verdict once we pushed ourselves back from the table. (Insider tip: First floor tables get to the buffet first and won’t have to carry a plate up the staircase.)

The evident care taken by every member of the staff really made a good impression on me. Each of our servers were attentive and seemed to really enjoy their work. We observed the captain calm the worries of a woman seated nearby who was afraid of water, slip seamlessly into pleasant banter with another guest, then discreetly dispose of trash on a table as he completed various duties, all without a ruffle to his pleasant demeanor. Another nice surprise was discovering that the cheerful man clad in blue jeans who helped us aboard in Excelsior was, in fact, the owner of the company Dave Lawrance.

Our cruise continued for another blissful, beautiful half hour after we’d finished our breakfast. Just as the Port of Excelsior came into view, a Rolling Stones tune began quietly playing over the onboard sound system. I had to laugh at the timing of the song. You can’t always get what you want. But if you try sometimes, you might find you get what you need. The past two hours with Paradise Charter Cruises were exactly what I wanted and exactly what I needed on this Sunday morning – a micro vacation from my everyday life. If you ask me, there is not a more ideal or affordable getaway in the Twin Cities than this. Hope to meet you aboard sometime.

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By Tracy McDermott