THUNDER BAY – From all accounts, the visit of the first cruise ship to dock in Thunder Bay in 10 years was a big success.
But local tourism promoters and partners don’t intend to stand pat while waiting for Viking Octantis to make six more trips to the head of the Great Lakes this summer, or for Ocean Navigator to make its two scheduled visits.
Thunder Bay Tourism Manager Paul Pepe says city staff spent “a really great weekend” working with Viking Expeditions and local tourism partners to make sure the ship’s 378 passengers had as good an experience as possible during their stay in the city.
Pepe said it was also an opportunity to find out what the visitors preferred to see and do.
“That will help influence the tweaking that we do with the process going forward for future visits,” he said.
He said the relationship with Viking has been developed over a period of nearly four years.
“We’re excited, proud and humbled that they picked Thunder Bay as their turnaround location, and excited about our future relationship as they grow into the Great Lakes with their second ship next year. We look forward to continuing the investments in the community to help meet their needs and their guests’ needs as well. “
Investments to date include work that transformed the appearance of a rubble-strewn industrial site where a grain elevator once operated.
Pepe said “A lot of people are surprised at how quickly Pool 6 has transformed for the vessel this year. The contractors Tom Jones and Nadin Construction have done wonderful jobs over the past couple of months, and the work’s not done yet. There’ll be a nature trail installed around the perimeter of the park this year. There will be more paving done, and electrical and water service brought to the dock. “
City officials say these investments will pay off with multiple spinoff economic benefits for local food services, providers of land transportation and guided tours, waste management services, rental cars, and hotel accommodations among others.
Pepe also noted the contributions to the economy when the ship’s 260 crew members take shore leave to visit local restaurants, bars and shops.
Chamber of Commerce says selection of Thunder Bay as a turnaround port is significant
The importance of the revival of the cruise ship business in Thunder Bay cannot be overestimated, according to Charla Robinson, president of the chamber of commerce.
Robinson cited both the direct benefits to local businesses and the boost to the city’s profile in the travel industry which will pay dividends in years to come.
She said that over the course of the summer, the cruise ships will bring thousands of first-time visitors to Thunder Bay, most of whom will spend both time and money in the city.
Each time passengers on Viking Octantis disembark in port at the end of their tour, another set will already be here waiting to begin a cruise back to Milwaukee.
“That’s huge from a tourism perspective,” Robinson said. “But the added bonus is the turnaround piece from the logistical perspective. It’s not just a stop for the day. It’s actually a service stop, with major purchases being made from our businesses to restock that ship before it starts the tour again.”
The significance of the occasion was not lost on city residents either.
Hundreds of people took time on Friday evening or Saturday to check out Viking Octantis and take pictures of the vessel at its berth.
“It’s all over social media. There’s a buzz in the community. We’ve been getting emails and phone calls and texts from people. They’re just very excited” the ship is here, Pepe said.
He added that he feels the revival of the cruise ship business will be “transformative” for the city, saying “it’s really bringing a sense of community pride.”
When Viking Octantis left Thunder Bay early Sunday morning with a new set of passengers, it headed back to Silver Islet before diverting south to Duluth.
Pepe recalled being at Silver Islet on Friday when the ship stopped there for the first time en route to Thunder Bay.
“The backdrop of the Sleeping Giant behind the Viking Octantis on a calm morning was pretty spectacular. It really drives home the point that what we have here is world-class landscapes and a world-class natural environment that is a draw for the guests of companies like Viking. “
Viking Octantis and American Queen Voyages’ 210-passenger Ocean Navigator will both be in Thunder Bay near the end of June.