Far away from the hustle and bustle of Caribbean cruising, the Port of Toronto quietly had itself a record year with cruise ship traffic in 2023.
Located on the shores of Lake Ontario, the Port of Toronto is an attractive port of embarkation for passengers looking to explore the Great Lakes region.
Toronto Attracts Record Crowd of Cruises This Year
For 2023, the Port of Toronto served 45 cruise ships and nearly 18,000 passengers, officials reported on December 18. As a hub port, passengers arriving and departing in Toronto often stay for several days, boosting the economic impact on the region’s hospitality region.
Among the lines taking advantage of Toronto’s port are Viking Cruises, Ponant Cruises, Plantours Cruises, American Queen Voyages, and Pearl Seas Cruises. Two ships in particular – Viking Polaris and Hanseatic Inspiration – sailed their first seasons from Toronto in 2023.
“The growing Great Lakes cruise market brings international visitors to Toronto who often extend their trip, making their way into the city’s many diverse neighborhoods for food, culture, entertainment, and more,” said Andrew Weir, executive vice president of Destination Toronto. “We look forward to the continued growth of the cruise market that helps support a thriving visitor economy.”
Toronto is the largest city by population in Canada, with nearly 3 million residents. The surrounding region – known as the Golden Horseshoe – is home to nearly 8 million.
The city is home to the Toronto Pearson International Airport, the nation’s largest airport and a convenient destination for traveling cruise passengers. PortsToronto, which manages the cruise ship terminal, also operates the smaller Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport.
“I am thrilled to cap off another record season at the Port of Toronto Cruise Ship Terminal, welcoming thousands of visitors to Toronto through the harbor’s scenic Eastern Gap,” said RJ Steenstra, president and CEO of PortsToronto. “We are proud to be connecting visitors to Toronto through our city’s remarkable waterfront and to operate a transportation network that brings connectivity, tourism and investment to our city.”
Toronto’s Cruise Ship Terminal Offers Closer Look at the City
Toronto’s cruise ship terminal is located next to downtown, so shopping and entertainment options are nearby. First opened in 1793, the port has historically served as a gateway to the St. Lawrence Seaway, the series of canals and channels that vessels use to travel from the Great Lakes to the Atlantic Ocean.
According to official reports, cruising in the Great Lakes generated more than $120 million in economic value to the region’s ports and communities in 2022.
Toronto isn’t alone in witnessing the growth in cruise traffic. Detroit saw its traffic double in 2022, with 52 ship calls and more than 150,000 cruise ship passengers. Michigan coastal communities enjoyed $125 million in total economic impact, $5 million more than was expected.
Great Lakes cruises have gained popularity partly because they’re a closer-to-home vacation option for North American travelers. Plus, unlike Caribbean ports, they typically utilize smaller ships and visit a range of larger cities. Cruise ships often stay in cities such as Toronto for multiple days rather than making half-day visits.
Among the cruises offered from Toronto is an 8-day “Niagara and the Great Lakes” itinerary by Viking Cruises that includes stops in Point Pelee National Park, Detroit, Alpena (Michigan), Mackinac Island (Michigan), and Milwaukee as the final destination.
Viking Polaris, which began service from Toronto this year, is the second Expedition class ship from Viking Cruises. It sails a variety of itineraries during the year, including 8-day travels through the Great Lakes and longer journeys from Toronto down the East Coast of the United States.
American Queen Voyages – featuring a fleet of paddlewheel vessels – offers an 11-day adventure from Toronto to Chicago with stops in Cleveland, Detroit, and Mackinac Island in Michigan.