Cruise ship industry is set for Great Lakes comeback

The cruise ship, Victory I, in 2019.

Little Current, North Channel popular as ever

GREAT LAKES—The Great Lakes, including areas like Manitoulin Island, are expected to see a major increase in cruise ship sailings compared to figures from 2019, the last year cruise ships sailed on the Great Lakes.

“Yes, in terms of the number of passengers we are projecting a significant increase in 2022 (as much as  40 percent plus) and another increase in 2023,” stated Stephen Burnett, executive director of the Great Lakes Cruise Ship Association.

“For good reason, it looks as if it is going to be a great year in the cruise line industry,” said Bruce O’Hare of Lakeshore Excursions. “We have seen an increase of about 50 percent in inquiries for this year.” 

“The Great Lakes are very much in vogue these days,” said Mr. O’Hare, of Little Current.

Among the cruise lines visiting is Viking Cruise Lines, which will visit Frazer Bay during the summer and will also visit Killarney and Okeechobee Lodge.

“There has definitely been a note of confidence in cruise lines as the industry comes out of the pandemic,” Mr. Burnett told The Expositor. He said the number of cruise lines that are visiting the Great Lakes in 2022 are between five and six with eight or nine ships, and next year (2023) this is expected to expand to 12 ships.”

“One of the big changes is that Viking Cruise Lines is coming into the Great Lakes and where Viking goes, cruise ship enthusiasts go,” said Mr. Burnett. “This will help enormously over the next 10 years.”

Mr. O’Hare said that after two years of inactivity, “we are hoping to provide tours to visiting cruise passengers in Little Current and over 20 additional ports in 2022.” He agreeds that with the increase in the number of visitors, that this  should provide an economic boost to Little Current and other ports of call.

Reid Taylor, NEMI harbour manager said that, “right now, we have 46 dates set from May 14-September 28. On some days, two ships visit the local port in one day. “The last two years were lost with the pandemic,” he explained. “In 2019, we had ships visit on 29 days, with three boats and this year there will be considerably more.”

Along with Victory 1, Victory 2 and Pearl Mist, NEMI will see visits from the Ocean Explorer and Le Bellot this season.

“The numbers are definitely up, and it should be a good season with lots of people coming to town,” said Mr. Taylor.

“The tourism industry generally is coming to grips with the fact that they have to find a way of operating safely for the welfare of their guests and their employees and their community,” Mr. Burnett told The Expositor. The industry has learned a lot since COVID-19 outbreaks on cruise ships at the beginning of the pandemic in early 2020, he said.

Cruise ships haven’t sailed the Great Lakes since 2019, before the start of the pandemic. The Canadian government lifted a cruise ship ban for Canadian waters in late 2021.

Mr. Burnett told CBC News he estimates there could be more than 20,000 passengers this season (which would be an increase of 40 percent over 2019), if the pandemic doesn’t force cancellations. He said steps have been taken to increase the safety of passengers, crews and shore communities. There are now vaccine requirements, regular testing and temperature checking on board.

“People feel more confident taking a cruise ship, and the cruise lines will be extremely stringent in their health requirements and passengers following rules,” Mr. Burnett told The Expositor. “If you don’t follow the rules and regulations, including providing proof you have been vaccinated you won’t get on a ship.”