Cruise ships return to the Great Lakes after hiatus

Vantage Deluxe World Travel Photo Courtesy of Vantage Deluxe World Travel/Facebook

Cruise ships are returning to the Great Lakes after a two-year hiatus during the pandemic. On April 29, the Port of Toronto Cruise Ship Terminal welcomed its first cruise ship in over two years, the Viking Octantis.

PortsToronto, which operates the terminal, said that 2022 will be one of its biggest years yet with 40 cruise ships scheduled to call at the port. According to a 2018 study, cruise activity in Ontario generates approximately $6 million in revenue annually for businesses catering to the vessels, passengers, and crew, such as restaurants, attractions, and shopping centres.

“The return of cruise ship passengers to the Great Lakes will bring renewal and revitalization to our local tourism and travel sectors, hard-hit over the past two years. We are thrilled to welcome them back,” said Geoffrey Wilson, CEO of PortsToronto, in a statement. “Between May and October, the Port of Toronto Cruise Ship Terminal will connect thousands of foodies, sightseers, and enthusiasts of all kinds to Toronto to discover what we know to be one of the greatest cities in the world.”

Not only will the return of cruise ships bring tourists to Toronto, but it’ll also allow Ontarians to visit other locations around the Great Lakes. In fact, this year, Vantage Tours is offering a 14-day cruise on its ship Ocean Explorer that takes passengers through four of the five Great Lakes, travelling from Toronto to Chicago.

The Ocean Explorer, which was launched in 2021, measures 104 metres long and features 77 cabins, holding a maximum of 162 passengers. Along its Toronto-to-Chicago route, the ship makes 21 stops, exploring some of North America’s largest lakeside cities, regional cuisine, and Indigenous history.

After leaving Toronto, the first stop on the ship’s itinerary is Port Colborne where passengers tour around Niagara Falls, and stop for lunch and wine tasting at a local winery. From there, the ship passes onto Lake Erie, stopping in Cleveland for a city tour that includes the Cleveland Museum of Art, the West Side Market, and the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.

The next day, the ship docks in Detroit where passengers receive a guided tour of the Ford Rouge Factory, the automaker’s largest single industrial complex. From there, the boat goes to Lake Huron, heading north to Manitoulin Island in Georgian Bay, the largest freshwater island in the world. Here, passengers learn about Ojibwe culture, participating in a traditional smudging ceremony and powwow at the Ojibwe Cultural Foundation.

The cruise then continues on to Sault Ste. Marie before backtracking to Mackinac Island, a Revolutionary-era heritage site near the entrance to Lake Michigan that’s been car-free since 1901.

Finally, the ship reaches Chicago, taking passengers on an architectural tour of the city along the Chicago River.

Throughout the cruise, passengers can enjoy curated talks about the areas visited by a resident lecturer, as well as a long list of amenities, such as a spa, infinity pool, fitness centre, and an on-board restaurant.

As you’d expect, the cruise comes with a hefty price tag. Costs differ by cabin, but the starting price is $8,699, working out to $621 per day. The 2022 cruises are sold out, but if you’re looking for a way to explore the Great Lakes in 2023, cabins are still available.

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