After a two-year hiatus, Great Lakes cruisers are back and the industry is trying to get ready.
“There is a huge unmet demand for cruises,” said David Lorenz, vice president of Travel Michigan. “There’s more demand for cruise travel than most travel categories, and I think the reason for that is because people want to be treated a little differently after COVID-19.”
This is good economic news for the ports and nearby communities that attract tourists coming off the ships.
Meanwhile, industry officials say they are working to become more environmentally sustainable.
The Great Lakes cruise ship industry came to a halt for two years after the pandemic began in the spring of 2020.
Since then, potential passengers have been docked at home, booking seats on future cruises and waiting for the opportunity to sail again on the big, blue, beautiful bodies of water surrounding Michigan.
“People have been booking all along because of COVID-19,” Lorenz said. “There’s a big list of people waiting to get on these ships, and we’re very excited to have them back.”
Lorenz said the ships on the Great Lakes are smaller than cruise ships elsewhere and hold between 200 and 400 passengers.
Cruise companies will start expeditions in May and finish in October, he said.
American Queen Voyages, Pearl Seas Cruises, Viking Expeditions, Windstar Cruises, Ponant Explorers, Seabourn Cruises, Silversea Cruises, St. Lawrence Cruise Lines and Hapag Lloyd Cruises sail on the Great Lakes.
Depending on the trip and the type of room booked, the cost can range from $5,000 to almost $20,000 per person, according to prices published by Great Lakes Cruise Co.
When ships start arriving, they are required to visit US and Canadian ports because of the partnership between the two countries.
Michigan’s cruise ports this summer are Detroit, Alpena, Mackinaw Island, Sioux St. Marie, Marquette and Muskegon, according to Lorenz.
Lorenz said out-of-state ships will stop in Cleveland, Milwaukee, Duluth and Windsor, Ontario.
Bob Lukens, Muskegon County community development director, said he’s excited for the return of the cruise ships because of their economic impact.
Lucens said attractions for passengers include three downtown Muskegon museums.
He also said the ship’s kitchen staff likes to shop locally when they have the opportunity.
“Every time they come here to the port, they like to stock up,” Lukens said. “They will go to some of our local shops to buy food, vegetables, fruit and drinks. Sometimes some chefs will go to our farmer’s market when the market is open and the ship is in port.”
According to Lukens, Muskegon welcomed its first cruise ship in 2015. And before the pandemic broke out in 2020, Muskegon was due to receive 35 ships in its port.
According to Lukens, the port is currently due to receive 17 arrivals this year.
“I think it kind of demonstrates that we are coming out of the pandemic to a certain extent,” Lukens said.
Lorenz said ports like Muskegon are also attracting visitors to neighbouring towns. He said those who come to Muskegon can take a bus to places like Grand Rapids or Holland.
Earlier this year, Cruise the Great Lakes, a coalition of cruise lines, ports and travel agencies, announced a new sustainability commitment.
Michigan-based organizations making the commitment include the Detroit, Muskegon and Holland Convention and Visitors Bureau, the Port Authority of Detroit and the Muskegon-Lakeshore Chamber of Commerce.
Others include American Queen Voyages, Pearl Seas Cruises, travel centres in Cleveland, Milwaukee and Thunder Bay, Ontario, and ports in Cleveland, Milwaukee and Duluth.
The commitment focuses on managing the destination to limit travelers’ exposure to the shoreline, reduce air and carbon dioxide emissions, legally discharge wastewater to wastewater treatment plants and promote sustainable development.
Lorenz said this commitment will keep Michigan’s cruise industry competitive, noting that many passengers are concerned about such issues.
“We want to make sure we don’t leave a footprint as much as possible,” Lorenz said. “That’s the message to leave no footprints: take only pictures, leave only footprints.”
In Muskegon, Lukens said one aspect that makes the port valuable is that it can receive sewage from ships and transfer it to the county’s sewage treatment plant.
“Ships appreciate being able to come into the port and discharge that wastewater in Muskegon,” Lukens said.
Lorenz said the advantage that some