Jeramey Jannene

Biggest Cruise Ship On Great Lakes Makes First Milwaukee Visit

See inside the brand new Viking Octantis.

By - May 6th, 2022 05:51 pm
The Viking Octantis docked in Milwaukee. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

The Viking Octantis docked in Milwaukee. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

It’s here, and it’s huge.

Viking Cruises‘ new Viking Octantis cruise ship docked in Milwaukee for the first time Friday.

The 666-foot-long vessel carried 307 passengers into the city, the start of what is expected to be a 10,000-passenger, record-breaking season. The Octantis will visit nine more times, and other operators are expected to visit 23 times.

“Cruise activity in the Great Lakes is experiencing exponential growth,” said port director Adam Tindall-Schlicht at a press conference marking the occasion. When Tindall-Schlicht started in 2018, the city had approximately 1,000 cruise passengers a year.

The port and its marketing partners have positioned the city as a turn-around destination, where one trip ends and another begins. As such, Viking will welcome more than 300 new passengers Saturday before launching a new, eight-day cruise that ends in Canada. Having turn-around service in Milwaukee is estimated to yield more hotel stays and auxiliary business for the city, as opposed to simply being a mid-point destination.

“Today is a wonderful example of how the city is creating new partnerships that are exciting and will create more economic activity,” said Mayor Cavalier Johnson.

The Octantis is a Seawaymax-size vessel, which means it is the largest possible ship that can still fit through the St. Lawrence Seaway locks connecting the Great Lakes with the Atlantic Ocean. In addition to accommodating 378 passengers, it is configured to hold up to 250 crew members.

The city is rebuilding its South Shore Cruise Dock to accommodate the larger vessels, but for 2022 the Octantis will dock at the Heavy Lift Dock in the inner harbor. Its size was on full display Friday, as it carefully backed into the harbor with only, reportedly, four feet of clearance under the Hoan Bridge.

Johnson and Tindall-Schlicht presented ship captain Anders Steen with a wood Milwaukee plaque. By custom, Urban Milwaukee is told, the plaque is now to stay with the vessel for the duration of its life.

The passengers are treated to excursions in each city, with buses escorting them to a range of options including the Pabst Mansion, Milwaukee Art Museum, hiking at the Urban Ecology Center or bird watching at the Schlitz Audubon Nature Center.

“I keep pointing, ‘go that way, go that way,'” joked Alderwoman Marina Dimitrijevic of encouraging passengers to go south to visit Bay View.

Part of Viking’s Expedition series, the Toronto-to-Milwaukee cruise has a nature focus. The design of the ship reflects that. A spokesperson described the aesthetic as “clean, Scandanavian, modern.” There is a heavy amount of exposed wood, and a mixture of digital displays and art pieces that highlight the natural history of the Great Lakes area.

Passengers are paying for an all-inclusive package (starting at $5,995), but Viking eschews the party atmosphere that characterizes some its ocean-going competitors. Every passenger cabin has an operable window and a pair of binoculars. Other amenities include multiple restaurants, three pools of various sizes and temperatures, a multi-room spa, a fitness center, a library with curated books and puzzles and a series of lounges.

A highlight of the spa during the media tour was the “snow grotto.” A staple of Viking’s ships, it is a small room with falling snow designed to help someone cool down after a warm activity.

The ship will stay in the Great Lakes until early October. Next year, the Viking Polaris — a sister ship still under-construction — will join the Octantis on the Great Lakes. The Octantis was built in Norway and first sailed to Antarctica before sailing through the Caribbean and New York and entering the Great Lakes in April.

Wherever the ship goes, it will literally have Milwaukee written on it. One of the ship’s hallways has name plates on the floor for every port Viking calls on.

Viking’s entrance into the Great Lakes cruise market has been a boon for one Milwaukee business already. Theresa Nemetz‘ Milwaukee Food & City Tours is now leading excursions not just locally, but in Detroit, Duluth, Bayfield, WI and Alpena, MI.

“These are all amazing opportunities, and maybe they’re only going to be here for a few hours today, but they are spending money locally,” said Nemetz of the Milwaukee excursions. “And the even more important thing is that they are falling in love with the city and because of that they are going to return; they’re going to come back.”

VISIT Milwaukee President and CEO Peggy Williams-Smith praised all the partners for working to expand the city’s tourism business. VISIT team members were on hand to greet people getting off the ship.

After nearly all of the passengers had departed and the media tour was over, an overlooked economic ripple of the turn-around service came clearly into view. At least five tankers were refueling the ship, port workers were coordinating the delivery of a piano to the vessel and a host of other workers were scurrying about cleaning and preparing the ship for its next journey.

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.

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

Once the South Shore Cruise Dock is rebuilt, it will not only be easier for the ships to dock, and more visually appealing, but it will also smell better. The wind was moving in the right direction Friday for the smell of the Jones Island sewage treatment plant to greet the visitors.

On The Ship

Press Conference

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Categories: Business, Economics

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