Jeramey Jannene

Milwaukee Kicks Off Three-Cruise-Ship Weekend

The two biggest cruise ships on the Great Lakes were both in Milwaukee simultaneously Friday.

By - Jun 2nd, 2023 09:51 pm
The Viking Octantis departs while the Viking Polaris (right) waits to dock. Photo by Sophie Bolich.

The Viking Octantis departs while the Viking Polaris (right) waits to dock. Photo by Sophie Bolich.

Driving over the Hoan Bridge Friday likely induced a sense of deja vu.

If you looked left, you saw the massive Viking Octantis cruise ship, the largest on the Great Lakes. If you looked right, you saw it again, in a completely different spot.

The Viking Polaris, the newest cruise ship on the Great Lakes, made its first call on Milwaukee Friday, just hours after its slightly older sister vessel.

The 665-foot-long, 378-guest, 250-crew vessels are spending their summers cruising the Great Lakes. It was already the third visit to the city this season for the Octantis, which is cruising the Great Lakes for a second season. The vessels, with an estimated cost of $255 million each, represent a sizable investment by Viking Cruises into the growing Great Lakes cruise industry.

The city is planning 31 port calls this year, with three this weekend alone. The Octantis departed Friday evening, with Polaris scheduled to depart Saturday. American Queen VoyagesOcean Navigator will arrive Saturday, using the South Shore Cruise Dock near Bay View. The 286-foot-long vessel accommodates up to 202 guests and 84 crew members.

The double-Viking visit created a small logistical issue for Milwaukee. The city can currently only accommodate one of the Seawaymax-sized vessels at a time. While the Octantis was docked on the Heavy Lift Dock in the inner harbor, Polaris had to float just inside the breakwater. A smaller vessel that travels with the cruise ship could ferry passengers to shore.

The Octantis left port at approximately 5 p.m., creating space for the Polaris.

Port Milwaukee intends to rebuild the South Shore Cruise Dock to accommodate the larger vessels and their more frequent visits. But that project has been delayed multiple times. It will be 2025 at the earliest before the new dock opens.

Four additional cruise lines are expected to call on Milwaukee this year. Each of the six cruise lines offers a different itinerary and price point, with Viking offering a mix of eight-day cruise options between Milwaukee and either Toronto or Thunder Bay that start at $5,995.

The Hanseatic Inspiration, a 2019 vessel with a 230-passenger capacity, will make its first visit to Milwaukee this year.

Great Lakes cruise operators, owing to the 1886 Passenger Vessel Services Act and the reliance on foreign-made vessels, transport passengers on one-way trips between American and Canadian ports. Only American-made vessels can transport passengers between U.S. ports, though the ships can stop in consecutive U.S. ports provided all passengers return to the vessel.

Milwaukee finds itself in what Urban Milwaukee previously called “a cruise ship arms race” as other Great Lakes ports upgrade their offerings in an attempt to secure more business from the lines. For additional on the latest timing for the dock upgrade, see our coverage from the Octantis’ first visit of the season.

The port estimates that 12,000 passengers will pass through Milwaukee this year, up from 1,000 in 2018. The city and tourism partners have worked to leverage the city’s location and amenities to secure turn-around visits, where one trip ends and another begins. The turn-around service doubles the number of passengers and increases the indirect revenue as guests and workers spend more time in the city, stay in city hotels and often fly out of the airport.

Guests on each line are treated to excursions in the city that are coordinated as part of booking their cruise. The trips are particularly popular with foreign tourists.

Aboard the Octantis (2022 photos)

Friday Photos

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