THUNDER BAY — For the first time in the modern era, Thunder Bay will be a turnaround port for a Great Lakes cruise ship starting next year.
Viking Cruises will send its newest vessel, the Octantis, from Milwaukee to Thunder Bay seven times in 2022.
After passengers disembark, they will return by air, and the Octantis will pick up another group of travellers who have been flown to Thunder Bay to meet the ship for a voyage to Milwaukee via Duluth.
The vessel will be in port for about 48 hours on each visit.
The Octantis is nearing completion in a European shipyard.
Paul Pepe, manager of tourism for the City of Thunder Bay, says the 378-passenger boat will be the largest passenger vessel the Great Lakes has ever seen.
At 205 meters (670 feet) in length, its hull is much longer than the 137-meter Columbus (renamed the Hamburg in 2012).
The Columbus could actually carry more passengers, but the Octantis, with six decks and a crew of 250, will have numerous amenities not found on other ships.
"It's much more luxurious in terms of the size of the cabins," and will have excursion equipment onboard including two submersible boats for viewing shipwrecks, Pepe noted.
"It has a lot of different accoutrements that we've never seen before on a cruise ship on the Great Lakes."
Another notable feature is that the Octantis has a special design and an ice-strengthened hull, allowing Viking to use it for cruises in the Antarctic during summer months in the southern hemisphere.
Pepe said the designation of Thunder Bay as a turnaround port will bring significant economic spinoffs to the city.
"It's pretty big for us. What that means is that the vessel will take on supplies here. It's a company that's really committed to local procurement. As well, the passengers will be staying in Thunder Bay hotels," both pre-boarding and post-boarding, he said.
Pepe said Thunder Bay will no longer be just a quick stopover for cruise ships, adding that having good airline connections here is a strong selling point for Viking.
Viking is now taking reservations for the 2022 cruising season.
The first Milwaukee-to-Thunder Bay eight-day tour will leave the Wisconsin city on May 21, with prices starting at $8,395 including airfare.
Trips will continue into September.