Great Lakes Region Reports Record Cruise Visitor Numbers

The Great Lakes saw record cruise passenger numbers, as cruise calls to Detroit doubled and new vessels started sailing.

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The great lakes cruise season has ended, and with more major cruise lines finding their way to the Great Lakes, visitor numbers have sky-rocketed. 

While the numbers do not come close to those seen down South in Florida and Texas, the current trend shows great promise for an economic boost to the region. Cruise calls to Detroit more than doubled, and even more ships are expected in the region next year. 

Over 150,000 Cruise Ships Passengers Sail to the Great Lakes

Since cruising has returned post-pandemic, more cruise ships have found their way to the great lakes. Detroit, in particular, saw cruise ship arrivals double in the last year, going from just over 20 ship visits in 2019 to 52 cruise ship calls in 2022. In total, over 150,000 cruise ship passengers sailed to the region onboard a variety of cruise ships. 

“This year was record-breaking for Great Lakes cruising.  It was also a record-breaking year for Detroit and our port. This year we welcomed 52 cruise ship dockings here in our city, which is more than double our last cruising season in 2019,” said Mark Schrupp, Executive Director of the Detroit/Wayne County Port Authority.

Viking Octantis at Port of Toronto
Photo Courtesy: Port of Toronto

The reason for this popularity is two-fold. First, several cities have been improving their cruise docks and amenities, making it more attractive for cruise lines to include the great lakes in their itineraries. 

Second, Expedition cruising has become far more popular in recent years. Viking now has two expedition ships, Ponant has seen tremendous growth, and Hapag Lloyd is gearing toward a more international crowd these days. 

Typically, these vessels would operate in areas such as the Arctic and Australia in the summer. However, the significant number of ships in these areas has made these companies look for new and exciting destinations to explore. 

As they are typically much smaller than the mega-ships from Carnival Cruise Line and Royal Caribbean, they are ideal for sailing through the narrow passages and often shallow waters in the great lakes.

Cruise Industry’s Positive Impact on the Local Economy

The influx of cruise passengers has had a positive impact on the region’s local entrepreneurs as well. The total economic impact of cruises to the area, including places such as Detroit, Houghton, Mackinac Island, and Sault Ste. Marie increased to some 125 million dollars. This was 5 million more than expected. 

“The broader regional success of Great Lakes cruising is represented right here in Michigan,” said Dave Lorenz, Vice President of Travel Michigan and Chair of Cruise the Great Lakes. “This year, cruises visited places like Houghton, Mackinac Island, Muskegon, Holland, Sault Ste. Marie and, of course, Detroit.”

Next year the Great Lakes can expect to see more cruise ships sailing to the area. Cruise the Great Lakes expects 170,000 visitors, more than 15% more than this year, and a total economic impact of 180 million dollars. Eleven ships are expected to sail the Great Lakes, including two new ships, Viking Polaris and Hanseatic Inspiration. 

Eight cruise lines operate the 11 cruise ships: Pearl Seas Cruises, American Queen Voyages, Viking Cruises, St. Lawrence Cruise Lines, Ponant, Vantage, Hapag-Lloyd, and Plantours Cruises.

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