Viking Cruises Adds Milwaukee as Port
But not all news from the port is good, it's recovering from nearly $1 million in storm damage.
Schlicht has sought out the highly desirable “turnaround” business where a ship starts and ends its journey, doubling the number of visitors and encouraging longer stays in the city.
And last night the city scored a big win. Viking Cruises announced it is entering the Great Lakes market in 2022 and will use Milwaukee as a turnaround point 10 times in the opening year, bringing an estimated 8,000 visitors through the city.
The international cruise provider will operate the biggest cruise ship on the Great Lakes: a 670-foot ship capable of carrying 378 passengers and 250 crew members. Known as Viking Octantis, the ship is currently under construction. Rooms range from 222-square-foot “Nordic Balcony” to a 1,223-square-foot “Owner’s Suite.”
But Milwaukeeans won’t have to wait until 2022 to see the impact of the growing business. The port reported 3,214 passenger visits through 10 cruise ship visits in 2019. This year is expected to bring 14 stops with more than 4,000 passengers.
The growing industry faces a logistical challenge coming from the lakes’ role as the country’s northern border: customs. Many Great Lakes cruises include alternating stops at Canada and U.S. ports, requiring repeat customs checks. The city mitigates the issue by having ships either come from other US ports or foreign passengers clear customs at the airport. Schlicht estimated that the direct flight on Air Canada between Toronto and Milwaukee sees a boost from cruise passengers.
If you see one of the cruise ships docked in Milwaukee, don’t think you’re going to be able to walk right up to it. Similar to airports, a security perimeter is established with a private security firm protecting the vessel.
Great Lakes cruises, which often run from seven to 10 days, regularly cost in excess of $5,000 per person.
Viking’s Great Lakes cruises start at $5,995 for eight days and include options of Milwaukee to Thunder Bay (or the reverse), Toronto to Milwaukee and New York City to Toronto.
Other provides include Pearl Seas Cruises, Blount Small Ship Adventures, American Queen Steamboat Co. and Great Lakes Cruise Co.
The news isn’t all good coming out of the 467-acre, city-owned port.
Winter storms last week pounded the Lake Michigan shoreline with high winds. The city took the unusual step of closing the port’s public roads on Saturday due to flooding, and many port tenants halted their operations.
By the time the storms stopped, the damage was significant and the city is now assessing the damage and exploring funding sources for repairs.
“The engineering and operations teams at the port have documented an estimated $980,000 in damage, and that number is certain to rise as snow and ice melts,” said port spokesperson Jeff Fleming in a statement.
The port’s roads and rail lines are again open. “One ship carrying road salt is in port now, another is due within 24 hours,” said the port representative. That second ship will spend the winter in Milwaukee.
“Things are gradually returning to normal, but there’s a lot of work ahead,” concluded Fleming.
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