This Massive Cruise Ship Docks in MKE – With a Tight Squeeze Under the Hoan

Expect to see Great Lakes cruisers exploring Milwaukee this season.

The arrival of the Viking Octantis at Port Milwaukee on Friday marked the start of cruising season on the Great Lakes – even if it did come with a close call as it passed under the Hoan Bridge.

“We were very well prepared for this vessel. We knew that it was going to clear by 4 to 6 feet,” Port Milwaukee Director Adam Tindall-Schlicht said. “It was snug. We knew it was going to be alright, but she got close.”

 

The 2022 season will see 33 port calls by cruise ships that will bring more than 10,000 passengers to the city. This compares to the 10 stops made during the 2019 cruise season, which brought about 1,000 passengers to Milwaukee before Great Lakes cruising halted entirely for the following two years as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

This season represents the first time the Octantis, a newly constructed ship, is designating Milwaukee as an embarkation and debarkation port for Viking’s itineraries.The cruise business is expected to generate an estimated annual economic impact for the Milwaukee area of between $2.8 million and $4 million annually.


 

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“Milwaukee is becoming the turnaround port of choice for international cruise lines that operate on the Great Lakes,” Tindall-Schlicht said as he and others welcomed the Octantis and its passengers to Milwaukee. “These cruise lines will operate here in Milwaukee today, tomorrow and in the years ahead. Cruise activity on the Great Lakes has seen exponential growth.”

The Viking Octantis carries up to 378 passengers and 256 crew members. The vessel, the largest ever to sail the Great Lakes, made its first voyage in leaving from Toronto and making several stops before arriving at Port Milwaukee.

“The amenities are splendid but the real attractions for the passengers are awaiting them when they enter our great city,” Tindall-Schlicht said. “I can confidently say that the momentum here at the port and across the Great Lakes is going to keep Milwaukee as a cruising destination moving forward.”

The growing cruise market will benefit the city on many fronts, including boosting the tourism economy, Milwaukee alderwoman Marina Dimitrijevic said.

“This economic activity will be generated by passengers descending on our city and it will be significant,” she said.

This year is expected to mark a major recovery for tourism in Milwaukee and throughout the state.

“This new cruise ship experience will introduce new visitors to Wisconsin and the boost from these new visitors will continue to buoy our recovery,” said Maria Van Hoorn, deputy secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Tourism.

Milwaukee’s burgeoning cruise ship business will bring thousands of visitors to the city every year, Visit Milwaukee President and CEO Peggy Williams-Smith said.

“As we all know, travel plans have changed drastically these past two years, but we are back with strong demand and cruises are leading the way today with passengers eager to set sail again,” she said. “Beyond the financial impact, cruise travel sheds light on Milwaukee’s waterfront as a premier travel destination.”

The Octantis will travel the Great Lakes through late September or early October, Octantis captain Anders Steen said.

“We are really looking forward to coming back again and again and again,” Steen said. “It means we start to get back to traveling and to meeting new people and new destinations and exploring the world in comfort. Milwaukee is a great start for that.”

Theresa Nemetz, who has operated Milwaukee Food & City Tours for 15 years, is branching out her business to with a new venture, Great Lake Shore Excursions.

For one week, Nemetz traveled aboard the Octantis as it made its way thought the Great Lakes. Her business is planning shore excursions not only in Milwaukee but in other port cities such as Detroit; Alpena, Michigan; Duluth, Minnesota; and Bayfield.

Cruise passengers in Milwaukee are taking part in shore excursions that include visits to the Pabst Mansion, Milwaukee Art Museum, Urban Ecology Center and Schlitz Audubon Nature Center, among other destinations.

“They are spending money locally, but the even more important thing is they are falling in love with the city, and because of that they are going to return and come back here for vacations with their families, their companies for business meetings and more,” Nemetz said. 

About 300 passengers arrived in Milwaukee aboard the Octantis on Friday at the conclusion of their seven-day journey from Toronto. About 340 passengers then boarded the ship on Saturday to begin a new weeklong excursion back to Toronto.

“This ship is going to do the Milwaukee to Toronto journey in perpetuity throughout the summer,” Tindall-Schlicht said. “Every 14 days we will see the ship.”

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Rich Rovito is a freelance writer for Milwaukee Magazine.