CLEVELAND — Great Lakes cruising has returned to the Port of Cleveland with the first ships dropping anchor in Northeast Ohio last month.
Cleveland has seen a steady increase in cruise ships in recent years, particularly before the COVID-19 pandemic shuttered the industry. The Port expects as many as 50 stops this year as the industry sets sail on another season.
“Cleveland has been rated over the years and still continues to be the number two most popular destination for passengers on these ships,” said Jade Davis, Vice President of the Port of Cleveland. “Each ship that docks here for a single day, passengers get off. They go and visit everything from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the Cuyahoga Valley, Metroparks, Amish Country, downtown, our various casinos, restaurants.”
The Ocean Voyager made a stop in Cleveland this week, part of the American Queen Voyages line. The cruise ship is one of two operated by the line and offers luxury trips with newly renovated interiors and amenities. The ship is on the smaller side, at 285 feet and holds roughly 200 passengers.
“Our ships here in the Great Lakes are sort of confined by the locks that you have to take to get down the St Lawrence River and then get through the Welland Canal and so that necessitates some smaller ships.”
Ships that travel on the Great Lakes will typically have a capacity of 200-500 people, which is much smaller than the larger ocean liners. The Great Lakes cruises offer a more casual experience for anyone who may be thinking about exploring a cruise.
“It's a high-end cruise is a boutique kind of experience. We go to places where a lot of the larger ships can and cannot go to. And you feel very personalized here with our guests to be we get to know them like almost like family,” said Captain Geir Lilleeng. “It is a more laid back. It's leisure. And the weather here is we don't have this season the waves that you will have in the ocean.”
Cruising season on the Great Lakes runs from May through October, coinciding with the St. Lawrence Seaway months of operation. The shipping season runs roughly from March through December. Larger cruise ships started docking in the port of Cleveland in 2017 and the City of Cleveland has made investments into attracting more vessels, including a new customs clearance facility.
“We're investing a lot of infrastructures to help support this industry. We anticipate being a big part of the industry,” Davis said. “As it grows and looking at having possible origin and destination trips from Cleveland, the port will be here to help facilitate that.”
New this year on the Great Lakes Viking cruises is Cleveland, which has been added to the itinerary for the cruise line that started sailing the region this year. Viking is headquartered in Switzerland and announced its expansion into the Great Lakes in 2020, however, the first stop in Cleveland won’t come until 2023.
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