Cruise lines are eyeing the Great Lakes to grow business

Updated: July 31, 2019

cruise-ship-or-boat-on-lake-muskoka Photo by jiaqing/Shutterstock

If what you think when you look out over any one of the gorgeous Great Lakes is “this needs more cruise ship traffic”, it looks like you’ll get your wish.

A coalition of tourism professionals and cruise line operators have created a blueprint to promote cruising on the Great Lakes. They’re tapping into a growing desire for “safe” cruise locations and more exclusive boutique-style cruising on smaller boats.

Eight Ontario ports currently receive cruise traffic, including Midland, Parry Sound, and Manitoulin Island. Roughly ten cruise ships dock at these ports each year, with a season that runs roughly from May through October. If Great Lakes cruising catches on — the St Lawrence Seaway has seen a tenfold increase in cruise traffic recently — that number could double in the next decade, says Andy Campbell, Director of Engineering, Water and Wastewater Services for the town of Midland. Right now, these larger ships get to the mouth of the Great Lakes and are held back by the locks.

“We’re expecting some of these new ships to start coming in in 2022,” says Campbell. “Companies are building these smaller boats that will fit through the locks on the Great Lakes.”

Cruise lines around the world have often taken heat for a dismal environmental record, such as dumping raw sewage in the ocean. “That’s totally against Canadian and U.S. laws,” says Campbell. And any infrastructure that needs to be built or improved upon, he says, is also good for the community and local businesses, not just tourists. What’s more, he says, these are small ships with hundreds, not thousands of passengers.

Right now, the vast majority of those passengers are American but the proposed changes aim to appeal to the European and Asian market. Campbell thinks the future for Great Lakes cruising looks bright. “Here we have this resource called the Great Lakes, it’s beautiful, unique, has a lot of history… It’s a wonderful asset and it’s something we have to share.”

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