Third generation business owners Captain Bob and Holly H. Agra saw a developing niche market for their historic Mercury, Chicago’s Skyline Cruiseline business and together launched Chicago’s First Lady Cruises in 1991. The specialty cruise dining and educational sightseeing market became apparent as Chicago reached for its place in the global tourism industry. A fleet of six custom-built US Passenger vessels was designed to replicate historic US Presidential Yachts and were built in US Shipyards specifically for their home port in downtown Chicago.
In 1993 the company forged a long-term relationship with the non-profit organization, Chicago Architecture Foundation. Together Chicago’s First Lady and CAF provide floating audiences a close and personal look at Chicago’s diverse and growing riverfront architecture. Today, the company operates over 2500 Chicago Architecture Foundation River tour departures during an 8-month cruise season. A team of 100 volunteers representing all types of personal and professional interests train for months to become a certified-CAF River Cruise Docent.
The company employs a year-round team of professionals and up to 120 seasonal staff and crew to pilot and maintain the vessels. The company is proud to be designated as carbon-neutral and promotes healthy stewardship of Chicago’s waterways. Chicago’s First Lady cruises regularly hosts visiting journalists from around the globe as well as dignitaries and urban planners seeking to replicate Chicago’s amazing collection of skyscrapers and historic architecture. During the evening hours the ships are transformed to private party venue space, where groups are able to combine socializing and sightseeing into one unique City of Chicago experience.
The flagship business, Mercury, Chicago’s Skyline Cruiseline remains a mainstay for domestic and international visitors wishing to experience a tour of Chicago’s River and Lakefront in a more casual setting. The family business has expanded to the forth-generation of owners and is active with Chicago’s local philanthropic, convention and tourism associations. As the Agra family continue to be leaders interested in Chicago, US and International business and tourism issues, the company is poised to serve visitors and residents for several future generations.