Skip to content

Cruise ship companies show more interest in Lake Superior's north shore

The Lake Superior North Shore Inside Passage is drawing increasing attention
American Queen Voyages' Ocean Navigator has two stops in Thunder Bay in the 2023 cruising season.

This will be the final season on the Great Lakes for cruise ship operator American Queen Voyages, but a spokesperson for a group that promotes cruising in the region says the overall outlook remains bright.

In recent published statements, Florida-based company AQV said its bookings for the Great Lakes have been strong, and its itineraries have been well-received by guests.

Still, the company has decided to sell the 202-passenger Ocean Navigator and Ocean Voyager and focus its business on its river and Alaska cruise itineraries.

Ocean Navigator is paying two visits to Thunder Bay this season. The company said its inability to operate it and its sister ship for 12 months of the year have led to extended off-season operational costs that outweigh the vessels' benefits to its business objectives.  

Paul Pepe, manager of tourism for the city, said "While we never like to see vessels exit the Great Lakes, we prepare for the reality of the global cruise industry that they move their inventory and itineraries around to keep their guests coming back, or they change focus to meet their business model."

Stephen Burnett, executive director of the the Great Lakes Cruise Association, of which Thunder Bay is a member, said the group is sorry to see AQV go, and noted that its parent company has expanded dramatically to include "lots of sightseeing tour boats in different places around the world."

Burnett told TBnewswatch the cruise ship industry is cyclical.

"We have to accept that there will be peaks and valleys... but by and large we're seeing a great interest in the Great Lakes by the cruise industry."

With respect to Lake Superior specifically, he believes there's big potential for growth in cruising to the north shore.

"Several years ago, we decided to develop the North Shore of Lake Superior between Thunder Bay at one end — being the turnaround port — all the way as far as Marathon. We've developed a project called the Lake Superior North Shore Inside Passage, to include all the communities as cruise destinations. Thunder Bay, Silver Islet, Red Rock, Rossport, Schreiber, Terrace Bay, Slate Islands, and eventually hopefully Marathon."

Burnett said several cruise line planners were taken on a five-day tour which "really lit up their knowledge base" of the area. "There's no question the industry knows it's there."

Cruises to the north shore have already started, and more are expected next year, including one by a company based in Marseille, France.

"The cruise industry is very much an industry where one cruise line develops an area, and when it's successful all the rest of the gang jump on it, try and basically eat their lunch, as it were. So I think we can look forward to growth along the shore of Lake Superior."

This season, Thunder Bay will receive 15 visits by four different ships, compared with only nine visits last year when cruising resumed after a decade-long pause. Next season is expected to be be even busier.

According to Pepe, American Queen Voyages had not booked dock space in the city for 2024, "so we are still very much on track for 24 vessel visits from five ships next year – Viking Octantis, Viking Polaris, Ponant's Le Champlain, Pearl Seas Cruises' Pearl Mist, and Hapag Lloyd's Hanseatic Inspiration." 

— TBNewswatch