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Vacation ships on Great Lakes

Thunder Bay residents can expect to see travellers arriving by passenger vessels beginning in May.
Viking Cruise Ship
Viking Expeditions plans to use the port of Thunder Bay as an embarking point for planned Great Lakes cruises, starting in 2022. (Supplied photo)

THUNDER BAY — Beginning in late May, the Thunder Bay cruise ship port will be bustling with travellers arriving on the Viking Expeditions’ Viking Octantis and the American Queen Voyages’ Ocean Navigator passenger vessels.

Paul Pepe, manager of tourism for the city, says the arrival of the cruise ships will mark the first time Thunder Bay has seen passenger ships in more than nine years. The Octantis will arrive for seven turnarounds this summer and the Navigator will visit twice.

“This is a pretty big advancement in the cruise shipping industry from the Great Lakes and for Thunder Bay, because (the Viking Octantis) will be in port for about 48 hours every two weeks while exchanging passengers, and with that, taking on groceries and supplies for the ship’s servicing of the vessel,” said Pepe.

“Passengers will be flying in and out of Thunder Bay to pick up the ship here and some will be staying a few days longer as a result — so it extends the economic impacts on the city immensely.”

The Octantis, which will arrive around May 26 from Milwaukee, is a new ship that went into service about three weeks ago and is currently in the Antarctic.

“The 378-passenger vessel is very luxurious and at 665 feet long, it is the largest cruise ship ever in the Great Lakes, in the history of the Great Lakes,” said Pepe. “It’s absolutely beautiful and it’s an ice-class polarized vessel.”

As an added attraction, passengers on board will be able to take advantage of two submersible vessels that can be deployed for the guests to explore shipwrecks and other underwater life.

“It’s a big development in cruising and it definitely appeals to a global audience like a global clientele and affluent travellers that are looking to connect with a new destination,” Pepe added.

“The Great Lakes have a lot to offer. It’s safe. It’s got natural history, Indigenous history and industrial history to really create unique itineraries for the international clientele.”

The American Queen Voyages’ Ocean Navigator hosts 210 passengers, and will make its first stop in Thunder Bay on June 26. Both ships will be in port on that day. Arriving passengers will be greeted in a vibrant and “festive” atmosphere filled with culture and musical entertainment as they disembark.

“We have installed lots of flower planters, benches, seating, tents and flags to create a warm and welcoming area,” said Pepe.

Infrastructure work, which includes removal of Saskatchewan Wheat pool rubble, the replacement of the bollards, which the ships tie onto, and installation of new bumpers that cushion the ship against the dock will get underway in the spring.

Cory Halvorsen, the city’s parks manager, says their first priority is to ensure safe and accessible access to people who exit the ship and come into the city.

“We also have the Waterfront Trail work that was in the budget for this year and that is in the same part of the park wrapping around the edge of the Pool Six land,” he said. “We’ll be working on planning the final alignment for that and making sure it integrates through that cruise dock area.”

Halvorsen says any landscaping, either temporary or permanent, will be sourced through the Thunder Bay Botanical Conservatory operations.

“We are integrating some of the horticulture knowledge and experience into some of our parks operations areas as well,” he said. “We’ll be doing that over time so we don’t have to call the direct conservatory staff to do everything hands-on, but they would oversee and help train and bring in the sources and the plant material.”

Amid the ongoing development of the Pool Six area, Halvorson says they don’t have immediate plans to pave a walkway from the ship to the roadway, however, the arrival cruise ships will definitely “expedite the urgency” around it.

“If we have the Waterfront Trail coming through, it’s a portion of it,” said Halvorsen. 

“We know we have the trail committed and ships arriving each year. Now the priority and the need to invest in that area is going to go up as more things are becoming solidified as opposed to a theoretical planning.

“We should be able to execute those as quickly as possible but not for the spring. We’ll be working on this actively, going forward, to change that space as soon as possible so that visitors coming in feel like they’re stepping into a developed space versus something that isn’t.”

On the horizon, the Thunder Bay Cruise ship dock will welcome back the Viking Octantis for three, turn-around stops and her sister, the Viking Polaris, which will make 12 day-stops.

The Polaris is still being built in Europe. Also expected is the German based Hapag-Lloyd Cruises’ Hanseatic Inspiration, which will also make day-stops at the port.

The Chronical Journal

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