THUNDER BAY -- This July will mark the first time since 2012 that a cruise ship has docked in Thunder Bay.
What is perhaps equally significant is that the arrival of the Victory II will be the first time ever that the city has hosted a turnaround cruise ship.
Thunder Bay will be the final disembarkation point for one group of 202 passengers who board in Milwaukee, WI, while another group of 202 will board the vessel for a trip south.
The city's tourism manager, Paul Pepe, sees that as a big deal in terms of economic benefits to the city.
"What that means is that passengers will actually be flying into the city a day or two early and staying overnight in the city before they board the ship. And a lot of the guests that are disembarking will stay a night in the city as well before flying home," Pepe told tbnewswatch.com.
"It's the first turnaround we've done here in modern cruising times. It really extends the economic impact more into the community."
The benefits will be broad-ranging, Pepe said.
"That includes the hotel spend. And a lot of these visitors are going to be seeing different attractions in the city. They're going to be chartering buses are using cabs or rental cars. The food scene is certainly up their alley, as well, so they're going to be exploring before and after the cruise."
Pepe said the other important impact will come from the supply side.
"The ship will be taking on supplies, groceries. We're working with them on procurement from local farms and suppliers as part of their experience, so the economic impact for us is pretty big."
The Victory II is operated by Victory Cruise Lines and is registered in the Bahamas. She carries a crew of approximately 80.
Pepe hopes her visit on July 27 will mark the beginning of a resurgence of the cruise ship business in Thunder Bay.
The high-water mark was reached in 2010 when one vessel made a total of 12 stops at the Lakehead over the course of the season.
In an understatement, Pepe acknowledged that "it's been a bit of a lull" since then, but said more cruise-ship operators are looking at coming to Lake Superior. "We're in discussions with five different companies that are interested in coming into Superior over the next four to five years. We're excited by some of the conversations we're having with ship owners."
According to Pepe, the Victory II will return to Thunder Bay on two occasions in 2019.
He's also encouraged by the fact that 45 new cruise ships potentially suitable for traversing the St. Lawrence Seaway are on the order books at various shipyards around the world. Right now, Pepe said, only about 65 ships are capable of getting through the locks.
He added that Thunder Bay is also working with tourism promoters at ports on both sides of the Canada/U.S. border to better position the Great Lakes as a cruising destination.
One of the ports it cooperates with is Duluth, MN, which will also be a stop for Victory II this year, making it the first cruise ship visit to Duluth since 2013.
Passengers taking the Milwaukee to Thunder Bay cruise will pay $5,512 including airfare from Thunder Bay to Toronto.
Passengers embarking at Thunder Bay for the voyage south—with the destination being Detroit/Windsor—will pay $6,199 including airfare from Toronto to Thunder Bay.