Economic Development, Lakeshore, and Travel & Tourism

Muskegon floats cruise ship plan

An unscheduled visit from the cruise ship Pearl Mist further enhances city’s readiness.

September 18, 2015
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Pearl Mist Muskegon
The Pearl Mist’s stop in Muskegon provided proof to officials that the city is ready to serve as a port of call for Great Lakes cruise ships. Courtesy Muskegon Lakeshore Chamber of Commerce

A cruise ship’s impromptu visit to Muskegon Lake may be a sign of things to come for the lakeshore community.

The Port of Muskegon recently welcomed an approximately 210-passenger cruise ship to the Mart Dock on the east side of Muskegon Lake after the Pearl Seas cruise ship Pearl Mist ran into logistical issues at its scheduled port of call in Holland, where a freighter was blocking the waterway.

Cindy Larsen, president of Muskegon Lakeshore Chamber of Commerce, said part of the reason the cruise ship decided to travel north to the Port of Muskegon was because of prior conversations about attracting the cruise line to the area.

“We were trying to put together a proposal to attract them to come here in 2016, and it was through that dialogue they learned about the advantages of the Muskegon port, the size of the port and the fact it is a deep-water port,” said Larsen.

“It is really interesting how life works — that they ran into some trouble in Holland, were not able to get into the port there, so they recalled their conversations about Muskegon and called us up to see if they could dock here.”

The Pearl Mist, a roughly 335-foot-long, six-deck cruise ship boasts approximately 108 staterooms ranging from 300 to 580 square feet, viewing balconies, a library, fitness area and a glass-enclosed dining area.

Pearl Seas Cruises offers seven- to 14-night cruise options in the Great Lakes, St. Lawrence Seaway, Panama Canal and the Caribbean. As part of its Great Lakes tours, the cruise line makes port in a number of cities, including Chicago, Holland, Mackinac Island and Sault Sainte Marie, Ontario, among others.

“This particular ship went to the Mart Dock, and their staff did an outstanding job in accepting this ship on short notice,” said Larsen. “They were there to assist with security, the ship was fueled up, and it was just a positive experience.”

As passengers disembarked from the cruise ship, the Muskegon Convention and Visitors Bureau and Muskegon Lakeshore Chamber of Commerce staff greeted them with information about the downtown Muskegon area, free passes to local cultural attractions, and even arranged for a trolley to loop through the area.

Jonathan Seyferth, executive director of Downtown Muskegon Now, said the Mart Dock is located within walking distance to a number of attractions, such as the WWII landing ship tank veterans museum known as the U.S.S. LST 393.

“There are a lot of opportunities to experience the cultural assets Muskegon has to offer, and the Great Lakes cruises really focus on the cultural and educational component of the excursion, not necessarily the eating and drinking component — although that is part of it,” said Seyferth.

“They want to know more about the communities they are visiting and have a chance to visit the museums and things of that nature.”

With attractions and museums such as the Lakeshore Museum Center, Muskegon Heritage Museum and the Muskegon Museum of Art, Seyferth said the downtown Muskegon area is a worthwhile stop for lake-going visitors.

“The high concentration of museums within a walkable distance in downtown Muskegon makes it ideal for folks to be able to get off these ships and have those experiences right away,” said Seyferth. “If we were to shuttle them, it would be less than a three-minute drive from the ship in, or if they wanted to walk, that would be an opportunity too.”

The Port of Muskegon also has the capacity to handle multiple ships at once, which is another benefit the community can offer to the cruise industry.

“We have several docks that can handle one ship each, and then Muskegon Lake is large enough where you could have Great Lakes freighters on the same day you have a cruise ship, and it won’t impact the recreational boating activities at all,” said Seyferth.

Currently, the Muskegon Lakeshore Chamber of Commerce, the Muskegon Convention and Visitors Bureau and Downtown Muskegon Now are the critical stakeholders in ongoing discussions with the cruise industry.

Larsen said although the bureau and the chamber are countywide organizations, they were interested in the opportunity due to the economic impact and the number of new visitors drawn to the community.

“Now that the economy is growing stronger, there are a number of Great Lakes cruise ship companies starting to travel on the Great Lakes,” said Larsen. “As a community, we are trying to put together proposals for any or all of those shipping lines to consider Muskegon as a routine port of call.”

With an ideal goal of having at least one cruise ship making port every week with roughly 200 passengers, it would translate to a few thousand additional visitors in Muskegon every year, said Larsen.

“If we can get thousands of people coming into downtown that have never been here before, then that gives them the opportunity to come back again during individual or private travel,” said Larsen. “It is a huge economic impact for a community.”

The organizing partners recently contracted with the Great Lakes Cruising Coalition, a joint American-Canadian cooperative, to secure training on how to welcome and provide a positive experience for cruise-line passengers.

“It is the people, but it is also being able to welcome such a large vessel into your port. There are a lot of logistics associated with ships of that size, and we have the facilities for that. However, it has been a number of years since we have accepted cruise ships,” said Larsen.

“We think the next step is to make sure our public sector and our private sector have proper training to accept cruise ships.”

While officials can’t go into detail about specific potential partners for future cruise ship visits, they indicated Pearl Seas Cruises has already set up a meeting with Muskegon leaders to discuss the logistics of how Muskegon could become a regular port of call.

“Once we continue these conversations with the cruise industry, we hope they will see the assets they have by coming here to Muskegon and docking on a more regular basis at Heritage Landing, which is a county park designed specifically for cruise ships, and at the Mart Dock,” said Seyferth. “Both of those locations are within two blocks of each other within the core of downtown Muskegon.”

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