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Cruising the Great Lakes: 20,000 passengers expected to set sail in '24

A giant white cruise ship
More than 20,000 passengers are expected to take Great Lakes cruises this year, on ships like the Pearl Mist. Cruise passengers will make a projected 140,000 stops at ports in the region. (Courtesy of Cruise the Great Lakes)
  • Cruise the Great Lakes expects over 20,000 individual cruise passengers this year, which is double what it was in 2014 
  • There will be six cruise lines operating in the Great Lakes and are expected to make about 600 port visits this year 
  • The cruise line Ponant’s Le Champlain will return to the region this year and make stops in Michigan

While the Michigan cruise industry may not offer the same attractions as those that operate out of the Caribbean, Mediterranean and other well-known destinations, tourism officials expect a robust season.

Cruise The Great Lakes, an organization that promotes cruising in the region, predicts that there will be over 140,000 cruise-passenger visits to regional ports in the Great Lakes this year.


“We bring together unique experiences that include large urban ports …  in major metropolitan cities, as well as quaint, unique destinations where we feel this impact far and wide,” said Anna Tanski, tourism director for Cruise the Great Lakes.

“The other important part of this initiative is that this is a sustainable effort that is having a positive impact on our communities,” she said. 


Six cruise lines are expected to make 600 port visits in 2024 and 157 in Michigan, bringing over 20,000 individual passengers to the region, which is more than double the passenger visits a decade ago. The 2024 forecast is down from the 800 port visits and 25,000 cruise passengers the group projected a year earlier.

Michigan has nearly a dozen ports but seven will host ships: Alpena, Detroit, Mackinac Island, Marquette, Muskegon, Sault Ste. Marie and Traverse City.

Trips run anywhere from seven to 14 days, according to Cruise the Great Lakes. The lines operating in the Great Lakes include Pearl Seas Cruises, Viking Cruises, Ponant, Hapag-Lloyd, St. Laurence Cruise Lines and Plantours Cruises. 

This year they will be joined by the cruise line Ponant’s Le Champlain. The 430-foot vessel, which has five guest decks and a passenger capacity of 184, has multiple Great Lakes cruises scheduled, originating in Toronto, Milwaukee and Thunder Bay, Ontario. 

The last time the ship sailed the Great Lakes was in 2022. 

“It really is exciting to look out and see a beautiful cruise ship and the kind of growth that we've seen in the last six years,” said David Naftzger, executive director for the Conference of Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Governors and Premiers. “This is a really interesting and new trend for our regional tourism industry and it's one we're really looking to grow into the future.”

In Michigan, the Muskegon port is one of the most populated, with over 2,000 visitors between May and October, Cindy Larsen, president of the Muskegon Lakeshore Chamber of Commerce, told Bridge Michigan

The vessels Pearl Mist, Victory I & II and Le Champlain stop at the Muskegon Port. The Lake Express, a high-speed ferry, also operates out of the Muskegon Port and makes daily trips to Milwaukee. 

“Cruising in the Great Lakes is unique because (passengers are) really learning a lot about the history of the Great Lakes themselves as well as the Great Lakes states,” Larsen said. “There are literally millions of people who have never been to the Great Lakes. They've never seen the freshwater seas. They've never seen the greenery.” 

The cruise ships that travel along the Great Lakes are much smaller than those that travel in the Caribbean or Mediterranean, which could be an advantage to some travelers. 


Unlike their larger counterparts, which often have thousands of people onboard, some Great Lakes cruise ships only carry up to 400 passengers, others even fewer. Passengers don’t have to worry about the boat being overcrowded and can enjoy better food, Larsen said. 

“You actually get to know the other passengers that you're traveling with and you also get a lot of personal service,” she said. “There's really focus on relaxation as well as, then the education that you get when you stop at each port.” 

“We take these amazing waterways for granted and if you're coming from Iowa or Nevada or Arizona … we have something amazing to share with the rest of the world,” Larsen said.

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