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Duluth port prepares for cruise ships to arrive

The first cruise ship since 2013 to arrive in Duluth's harbor will be here May 30, and will dock at the new customs facility in the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center.

David Naftzger stands behind a podium inside the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center.
David Naftzger, executive director of the Great Lakes/St. Lawrence Governors & Premiers, speaks about opening up the Duluth port to cruise ship companies at a news conference at the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center on Tuesday.
Teri Cadeau / Duluth News Tribune
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DULUTH — The cruise ship passenger terminal on the Harbor Drive side of the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center will be completed later this month, just in time for the first cruise ship since 2013 to dock in Duluth’s harbor.

During the Cruise the Great Lakes annual meeting, which is being held at the DECC this week, organization and Duluth officials highlighted the work that’s been done to allow for cruise ships to come to Duluth. This summer, nine cruises will be stopping in Duluth for the day.

David Naftzger, executive director of the Great Lakes/St. Lawrence Governors & Premiers, said having a fixed location for a U.S. Customs and Border Protection facility was “instrumental” in attracting cruise ship companies Viking Cruises and American Queen Voyages to add Duluth to their networks.

“This effectively opens Lake Superior to cruising that crosses that U.S.-Canadian border,” Naftzger said. “Ports like Thunder Bay will benefit, ports like Duluth will benefit, and we will see it grow over time to other places.”

The Great Lakes have been named top global tourism destinations by Conde Nast Traveler Magazine and Travel + Leisure Magazine in recent years. Naftzger said because of this, he expects to see more international visitors to the Great Lakes in the coming years.

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Duluth Seaway Port Authority director Deb DeLuca speaks at the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center.
Duluth Seaway Port Authority director Deb DeLuca speaks about opening up the Duluth port to Great Lakes cruises, one of the fastest-growing cruise marketplaces in the world, at a news conference.
Teri Cadeau / Duluth News Tribune

Deb DeLuca, executive director of the Duluth Seaway Port Authority, said even though the Great Lakes are among the fastest-growing cruise destinations in the world right now, Lake Superior wasn’t previously included in the growth because there was no fixed customs facility until now.

Dan Hartman, executive director of the DECC, said the effort to get the facility to meet U.S. Customs and Border Protection requirements was a yearslong effort between many entities, including the city of Duluth and the Duluth Seaway Port Authority. Hartman said depending on reconstruction of the Duluth seawall, ships will hopefully dock behind or near the DECC during their stays.

A view of the street and harbor behind the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center.
Cruise ships might soon be spotted in the harbor behind the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center as they stop at the soon-to-be-opened customs facility.
Teri Cadeau / Duluth News Tribune

“Imagine this cruise ship, that’s going to be almost the size of the (William A.) Irvin, coming through that beautiful Lift Bridge around 8 a.m., and they'll come in here and go through our facility, which is kind of like the TSA for cruise boats,” he said. “Then they’re going to come out and go on these excursions.”

Popular excursions include the North Shore Scenic Railroad, Glensheen Mansion, Canal Park, and local restaurants and breweries, Hartman said.

Dan Hartman, executive director of the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center stands behind a podium at the DECC.
Dan Hartman, executive director of the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center, speaks about bringing new visitors to the area via Great Lakes cruise ships in the coming years.
Teri Cadeau / Duluth News Tribune

Naftzger said the ships have to be small enough to fit through the Soo Locks in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, and hold an average of fewer than 200 passengers.

“Great Lakes cruising customers are a unique market within the cruising world,” DeLuca said. “They are interested in the area’s natural resources, our cultural amenities and the area’s history,” she said, noting they are “not your umbrella drink crowd.”

Naftzger said the typical passenger on a Great Lakes cruise is older and well-traveled, with a budget large enough to spend $10,000 to $15,000 on the cruise and still have a large amount of disposable income for day excursions. He said most visitors are highly interested in learning about local culture and history.

“There’s going to be people getting to see Duluth that would normally never, ever see this community, and I think that’s one of the best parts about this cruising venture,” Hartman said. “We’re introducing our community to people who would’ve normally never thought of coming here.”

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The cruises will stop in other cities on Lake Superior, Lake Michigan and Lake Huron, including Chicago; Sault Ste. Marie, Mackinac Island and Marquette, Michigan; Thunder Bay, Ontario; and Green Bay, Wisconsin. Hartman said ships will be in Duluth on Mondays, which will help balance from weekend tourism influxes and will support local businesses during the week. The ships will be docked for the day, then will travel on toward Bayfield overnight.

Lauren Bennet McGinty, executive director of Explore Minnesota, said she looks forward to marketing Duluth to people around the world.

“I think it’s such a great opportunity to bring people here in a brand new way and really invite them to experience not only the beautiful Lake Superior, but the region around it — travel a little outside of Duluth to check out some of the fantastic outdoor recreation — but also stick around Duluth and check out the wonderful restaurants, breweries, distilleries, hotels and all of the other great offerings we have here,” she said.

READ MORE ABOUT TOURISM
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Laura Butterbrodt covers health for the Duluth News Tribune. She has a bachelor of arts in journalism from South Dakota State University and has been working as a reporter in Minnesota and South Dakota since 2014.
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