The Great Lakes of North America are the largest group of freshwater lakes in the world, with the rivers and channels connecting them extending over 3,700 kilometres from the Gulf of St. Lawrence to Duluth, Minnesota, on the western end of Lake Superior.
The many miles of rivers, lakes and channels create a cruising experience that strike a balance between ocean travel and river cruising, providing access to ports of call in six of eight US states. They include New York, Ohio, Michigan, Illinois, Wisconsin and Minnesota, along with the Canadian provinces of Ontario and Quebec.
Rebecca Yackley, director of the Office of Trade & Economic Development at the Great Lakes St. Lawrence Seaway Development Corporation (GLS), a division of the US Department of Transportation tasked with promoting the region as a cruise destination, highlights the many experiences available on a cruise to the region.
“Travellers can disembark on Mackinac Island for horse and carriage rides, or visit Green Bay, Wisconsin, to tour the American football team Green Bay Packers’ Hall of Fame,” says Yackley. “Guests can also explore the Great Lakes Aquarium in Duluth, Victorian homes and art museums of Muskegon, the gourmet cuisines of Milwaukee’s beer city food markets and tour the renowned Harley Davidson Museum. The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland and the famous, historic Henry Ford Museum in Detroit, Michigan, are also must-see attractions.”
The variety and appeal of the experiences on offer during a cruise to the Great Lakes is now being recognised by the cruise industry. An increasing number of cruise lines are offering voyages to the region in response to guests’ interest, and ports are developing their infrastructure and services to meet demand.
“All five Great Lakes are currently supporting cruise itineraries, alongside the established route between Milwaukee in Wisconsin and Toronto, Ontario,” says Yackley. “Ports across the Great Lakes are improving and expanding their dock space and accommodation for cruise ships. For example, the ports of Cleveland, Ohio, and Duluth, Minnesota, opened compliant Customs and Border Protection Agency (CBP) passenger clearance facilities in 2022. On Lake Michigan, the Ports of Milwaukee and Muskegon are building new docks for larger expedition-type cruise ships.”
GLS is working with cruise lines to help develop their relationships with other federal agencies such as the CBP and the US Coast Guard.
“When vessels transit the St. Lawrence Seaway, just west of Montreal to the mid-point of Lake Erie, they seamlessly cross the border between the USA and Canada 27 times,” says Yackley. “Our work to build the relationships between cruise lines and our federal partners to provide a complete understanding of expectations is crucial to create the most efficient process for passenger clearing at ports of entry.”
The GLS, along with the Great Lakes Cruising Coalition (GLCC), is also making efforts to connect with the global cruise industry and further develop the reputation of the Great Lakes as a destination. Annually, the GLS and its stakeholders attend North America’s largest cruise conference and exhibits at Seatrade Cruise Global in Florida. It also attended Seatrade Europe for the first time in 2023, where discussions focused on the many benefits that the European cruise operators could receive from the itineraries visiting the Great Lakes.
“During each trade show, communicating our message with the media has been a crucial component to raising awareness of the Great Lakes as a destination,” says Yackley. “We also retain a membership with the Cruise Lines International Association to extend our reach and amplify our message to our target audience of cruise line itinerary planners and port development specialists. The GLS has been working in cooperation with Great Lakes stakeholders, including the GLCC, Cruise the Great Lakes, Great Lakes Expedition Cruises, and Cruise the St. Lawrence to raise the international visibility of the region. Co-hosted events with our partners at trade shows serve to promote the region holistically.”
This article was first published in the 2024 issue of Cruise & Ferry Itinerary Planning. All information was correct at the time of printing, but may since have changed. Subscribe to Cruise & Ferry Itinerary Planning for FREE to get the next issue delivered directly to your inbox.