Cruising the Great Lakes

Cruising the Great Lakes

Record-Eagle file photo/Jan-Michael StumpJeff Clifton, of Traverse City, checks out the cruise ship MS Hamburg at anchor in West Grand Traverse Bay in 2017 during a stop in Traverse City on its Great Lakes cruise. The 472-foot vessel can carry around 400 passengers and 197 crew members, and is operated by the German cruise line Plantours Kreuzfahrten.

International partnership aims to boost tourism

TRAVERSE CITY — A view of the bay soon will feature more floating steel.

One passenger vessel, the MS Hamburg, already stops here twice a year, and is scheduled to anchor in Traverse City this fall on Sept. 30 and Oct. 15, from 2-7 p.m.

Another cruise ship, still under construction, in 2020 will begin stopping in Traverse City twice a year.

Those short visits offer local residents an interesting but fleeting view of huge vessels in West Grand Traverse Bay. But visits to Traverse City are just a drop in the Great Lakes bucket of passenger cruising.

“For Traverse City, we’re never going to be a large port of entry for these ships,” said Trevor Tkach, Traverse City Tourism president and CEO. “We don’t have a place where a large cruise ship could easily dock. We don’t have the infrastructure.”

Other communities in the Great Lakes already see more cruise ship traffic than Traverse City.

Ships can tie up to shore in Detroit, Chicago, Cleveland and Toronto. That means passengers can access those cities simply by walking down a gangplank. Various companies offer cruises that stop at those ports, and at Mackinac Island and Sault Ste. Marie.

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder on Aug. 30 held a press conference on Mackinac Island to help launch a new initiative to bring more cruise ships to the Great Lakes.

Snyder is the chair of the Chicago-based Conference of Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Governors and Premiers, which recently launched its Cruise the Great Lakes Initiative. The group wants to bring more ships to more ports in the Great Lakes.

“We think we have some of the finest destinations in the world if you look at the Great Lakes, the St. Lawrence,” Snyder said.

Snyder on Aug. 30 took a tour of the Victory I, in its third year of bringing 200 passengers per trip to Mackinac Island and other Great Lakes destinations.

A release from the conference of governors and premiers states Cruise the Great Lakes is a marketing partnership, a collaboration of eight states, two provinces and partners who together want to expand regional cruising. Its mission is to promote cruising in the region through branding efforts.

Travel Michigan Vice President David Lorenz serves as chair of Cruise the Great Lakes.

Future of Cruising on the Great Lakes

Cruising on the Great Lakes is poised for major growth in the coming years, the release states, with significant economic benefits for the region.

Eight vessels operated in the region in 2018, including ships from Victory, Blount Small Ship Adventures and Pearl Seas Cruises. The cruises together represent nearly a million port visits by passengers. Two more ships plan to enter the region by 2020.

Victory Cruise Lines founder Bruce Nierenberg told the Associated Press his company is building more ships like the Victory I.

“They need a place to go,” said Nierenberg. “A lot of them have been built to go to Antarctica in the winter and we have the perfect place to send them in the summertime.”

Communities with existing nautical infrastructure will benefit most from cruising activity growth.

Tkach said Traverse City is not officially part of the Cruise the Great Lakes initiative, but Traverse City Tourism is “providing input and thoughts on the matter when appropriate.”

Passengers of the MS Hamburg must ride a small launch from the anchored ship to shore in Traverse City. The Hamburg, which can carry up to 400 passengers, usually stays in the bay just a few hours, enough time to give passengers a taste of Traverse City.

That taste, in the long run, can be valuable for the town, Tkach said.

“The cruise business is a nice introduction to the area,” he said. “This introduces international travelers to the area. Quite likely there will be a handful of them who will come back.”

European Influence

Many passengers on Great Lakes cruises are from Europe.

Germany-based Hapag Lloyd Cruises is building two new ships, one of which will in 2020 begin stopping in Traverse City. The vessel will stop twice each season. The 450-foot-long ship will carry up to 230 passengers and have three on-board restaurants.

The new Hapag Lloyd vessel will be marketed to German-speaking travelers, said Stefanie Kulpe, owner of Ann Arbor-based Michigan Travels LLC.

The MS Hamburg has been operated by Plantours Cruises since 2012. The ship previously was operated by Hapag Lloyd, and visited Traverse City several summers when it carried the name Columbus. The vessel’s name was changed in 2012.

The MS Hamburg specifically was designed to operate in the Great Lakes and is the largest cruise ship operating here, said Kulpe. The vessel will visit Traverse City twice more in 2019, on Sept. 24 and Oct. 10, she said.

The website displays the current locations of passenger ships around the globe.

Traverse City’s location in Grand Traverse Bay places it at the end of a nautical dead-end street. Ships must make a 60-mile round trip away from the main body of Lake Michigan.

But international visitors from the cruise ships who do come here may return for longer shore-based visits. And they might talk about the region with their friends back home.

Traverse City may not instantly benefit from the new international marketing partnership. But it eventually could.

“With limited resources in the bay, we’re waiting to see what types of boats we can handle, what volume,” Tkach said. “We’re just patiently waiting any interest that comes our way.”


SOURCE: Record Eagle