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Cruising the Great Lakes

Photo by Emily Kolodge.

Approximately 1,000 ships visited the Duluth-Superior Harbor in 2012, including the motor vessel M/V Yorktown. What makes the Yorktown unusual is that it wasn't built to carry coal, grain, ore, or wind turbines. People are its bailiwick; 138 of them.

Fresh from an 11-day voyage from Detroit to Duluth, the U.S.-flagged cruise ship stopped for a day in the port before weighing anchor to retrace its route, one
of a very few ships, with a new set of passengers. The visit from Yorktown represents an interesting development for the Lake Superior maritime industry.

The idea of Great Lakes cruise lines is not especially new. In fact, the history of Great Lakes cruise ships began in the mid-19th century, when "palace steamers" carried passengers along the Great Lakes coast. Since then, the intrigue of cruising North America's inland seas has been replaced by other vacation and transportation options.

The Great Lakes Cruising Coalition (GLCC) formed in an attempt to rejuvenate the long-lost industry. Two Duluth organizations, Visit Duluth and the Duluth Seaway Port Authority, hold memberships with the GLCC and jointly worked to bring the Yorktown (as well as the Columbus and Clelia II in past years) to Duluth.

Adele Yorde, the Duluth Seaway Port Authority Public Relations Manager, explains their interest. "Our mission is to bring business to the port and develop this region," she stated. "[Working with cruise vessels] is a part of this business."

Mary Nelson, Visit Duluth's Director of Packaged Travel, said, "[Cruise ships] really make a lot of difference because we have all kinds of people coming down to see us. We have passengers coming beforehand to stay in hotels, and it's great for a lot of companies in town. It's an economic boom for the airport, too."

Need proof? Dr. Bill Hole and Frances Singer, first-time Duluth visitors from Florida, flew in a day early to see the city before boarding the Yorktown in Duluth. On their stay, they toured Glensheen Mansion, visited the U.S. Army Corps Maritime Museum, and rode on the trolley. The travelers, who had yet to board the Yorktown, intentionally sought out a Great Lakes cruise liner to see the area. "[Frances] wanted to go on a Great Lakes cruise, so I looked it up on the internet," said Hole.

The ship itself with its 257 foot length, 43 foot width, and 9 foot draw is as beautiful as they come. Its four floors feature a dining room, observation deck, promenade, and a sundeck for balmy Lake Superior days.

While some people board the ship for its beauty, the on-board education is what excited Singer and Hole most about the Yorktown. Throughout the 11-day passage, colonial historians, geologists, art historians, and naturalists help enrich the experience. The cruise ship stops at destinations like the Apostle Islands, Sault Ste. Marie, Munising, and more along the way. With the amenities and education in mind, Singer said, "I highly recommend it."

You may be thinking; these economic opportunities and educational efforts are right up Sea Grant's alley. Dale Bergeron, Maritime Extension Educator with Minnesota Sea Grant, agrees. "Today the cruise industry is bringing people back onto the waters, and the Great Lakes offer one of the most unique travel experiences available anywhere in the world. In the coming years, I think we can expect more and more people to rediscover the Great Lakes and Saint Lawrence Seaway through cruises."

Interested in cruising the Great Lakes this summer? Learn more about your very own Great Lakes getaway as well as the history of this on-the-rise tourism at www.greatlakescruisingcoalition.com.

By Russell Habermann
January 2013

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