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Sault cruise ship visits could double in three years

City officials seeking ways to give visitors a more memorable welcome
Ponant's Le Champlain is expected to visit the Sault for the first time in 2019. The brand-new French-flagged yacht offers a special hydraulic platform for easy boarding and for launching Zodiacs, kayaks and paddle-boards

Tourism Sault Ste. Marie's aggressive courting of the cruise ship industry appears to be paying off.

City officials are bracing for a possible doubling in the number of cruise ships arriving to the city over the next three years. And they're quietly looking for more appropriate ways of welcoming the big boats and their hundreds of passengers.

This year, three cruise ships came to visit: M/V Victory 1, Pearl Mist and MS Hamburg.

In October, SooToday reported that all three vessels will return in 2018, plus a newly refurbished one, the M/V Victory 2.

Now there's word that a brand-new European ship is planning to visit in 2019, and yet another newcomer is talking about coming to the Sault in 2020.

After two record-setting years for cruise ship visits, the Sault could be looking at three more record seasons, assuming water levels remain high.

Kathy Fisher, curator at Ermatinger-Clergue National Historic Site, announced news of the two new ships at a Dec. 13 meeting of the local historic sites board.

Cruise ships are a major source of revenue and visitors to local museums, as well as a boon to downtown merchants.

The new boat coming in 2019 is Le Champlain, the first in a series of limited-capacity yachts planned by the French cruise ship operator Ponant.

Le Champlain offers:

  • 92 staterooms and suites
  • two restaurants, one on the fourth deck open to the outside
  • a hydraulic platform with adjustable height for easy boarding and access to the sea for Zodiacs, kayaks, paddle-boarding and swimming
  • a pool with panoramic view and a counter-current swimming system
  • a solarium
  • an outdoor bar and lounge
  • a 200-square-metre main lounge that can accommodate every passengers
  • a 188-seat theatre

Le Champlain's first Great Lakes cruises are scheduled for September and October of 2019.

The cost of an 11-day cruise between Milwaukee and Quebec City ranges from 6,180 Euros (C$9,321) for a small stateroom to 18,500 Euros (C$27,904) for the largest suite. 

"The numbers of annual visits keeps on increasing, which is great," says Rick Borean, the city's supervisor of community services.

Borean says the 2019 visits by Le Champlain are conditional on suitable water levels.

The operator who wants to come here in 2020 is currently refurbishing a cruise ship of similar size to the 420-passenger MS Hamburg, previously known as the Columbus, Borean said.

Kathy Fisher said at the local historic sites board meeting that the city is looking at ways to provide a better welcome to cruise-ship visitors.

Special summer staff and volunteers may be deployed to the Bondar dock to officially greet passengers and provide maps and information about downtown attractions, shopping and eateries, Fisher said.

City officials are also looking at a bigger welcome sign where the ships dock.

Cruise-ship passengers often visit the Ermatinger-Clergue National Historic Site, but Fisher also wants to have costumed interpreters on the waterfront to greet the ships.