Jeramey Jannene

Cruise Ships Return to Milwaukee

For the first time since 2019 cruises return, the city expecting 33 visits in 2022.

By - Apr 14th, 2022 12:54 pm
Viking Octanis rendering. Image from Viking Cruises.

Viking Octanis rendering. Image from Viking Cruises.

Cruise ships will return to the shores of Milwaukee on May 6 for the first time since 2019.

There had been an uptick in the number of cruise ships that docked in Milwaukee, then the pandemic hit. Now they’re back in a big way, as 33 cruises are expected to visit the city this year.

Port marketing director Jazmine Jurkiewicz recently said that more than 10,000 passengers were scheduled to pass through Milwaukee this year. “We are keeping it very conservative at 10,000 passengers, but it will likely be more.” That’s up from 1,000 in 2018 and 3,200 in 2019.

“Port Milwaukee continues to capitalize on increased interest in passenger cruising on the Great Lakes and increased interest in Milwaukee as the turnaround hub for passengers to start or end their voyages,” said port director Adam Tindall-Schlicht in a statement Wednesday. “In the coming years, thousands of passengers will visit our city, stay in local hotels, dine in our restaurants, and enjoy all the great things Milwaukee offers.”

Viking Cruises‘ Viking Octantis will be the first vessel to arrive in 2022. The 665-foot, 378-passenger ship was recently completed and entering its first year of service on the Great Lakes. It’s also a Seawaymax-size vessel, which means it is the largest possible ship that can as can still fit through the St. Lawrence Seaway locks that connect the Great Lakes with the Atlantic Ocean. In addition to accommodating 378 passengers, it is configured to hold up to 250 crew members.

In 2022, the Octantis will need to dock alongside the other Seawaymax vessels that call on Milwaukee. It will use Port Milwaukee’s Heavy Lift Dock while the city works to ready the South Shore Cruise Dock for larger vessels as part of a $7 million project. Regardless of where they dock, passengers are bused around on various Milwaukee excursions.

Governor Tony Evers announced a $3.5 million grant for the new dock project in February. The city-owned port intends to cover the remainder with a $500,000 grant it received in 2021 from the Wisconsin Department of Transportation, along with the proceeds from the city’s sale of land for Komatsu Mining South Harbor Campus development in the inner harbor.

“This really is the one-time investment that we need,” said Tindall-Schlicht in February, noting the infrastructure was expected to last for 50 years.

The port will continue to use its Pier Wisconsin dock adjacent to Discovery World. Starting in 2021, Pearl Seas leased that dock for 20 years for use with its 210-passenger, 70-crew-member Pearl Mist vessel, which sails the Great Lakes in the summer. The Pier Wisconsin dock could not accommodate larger Seawaymax vessels. The first Pearl Mist will arrive on June 8.

The city has focused on providing “turnaround service” where one trip ends and another starts. The practice doubles the number of passengers and results in higher per-passenger spending because the individuals often stay an extra night either before or after their trip. The 2022 schedule calls for 25 of the 33 visits to be turnaround visits.

“Milwaukee is a great destination. It’s a city filled with attractions and hospitality. That’s what cruise passengers will find here,” said Mayor Cavalier Johnson in a statement. “As word spreads, I anticipate even more travelers will cruise to Milwaukee.”

The city is still pursuing a partner for the filled-lakebed site next to the new cruise ship dock. A 2021 request for information (RFI) yielded one response, but a new RFI is expected to be issued. “I think it would be really a dynamic experience if we could bring hospitality, cultural amenities, public access and other Public Trust-related features to the site so there is an integration for Milwaukeeans economically, culturally side-by-side with the cruise ship dock,” said Tindall-Schlicht in February.

Four new ships are scheduled to call on the port this year, including the Octantis.

The port is expected to generate $150,000 in direct revenue from the visits, and a $2.25 million regional economic impact. In addition to Viking and Pearl Seas, vessels from American Queen Voyages (the former Victory Cruise Lines), Ponant Explorers and Vantage will visit Milwaukee.

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