The Traverse City Cruise Ship Consortium is working to bring more visitors to the Grand Traverse Region aboard ships as a part of the rapidly growing Great Lakes cruise industry. The cruise industry is steadily adding new ships to their fleets that are scaled specifically to navigate through the Great Lakes lock systems.
In other waters, the cruise industry has been criticized for contributing to “overtourism“. Mike Wills, Chair of the Consortium observes, “These are not the 4,000-passenger ships that some European and Caribbean communities are trying to limit because they overwhelm the local tourist infrastructure and destroy the special sense of place that originally drew visitors. Great Lake cruise ships can only carry 200-300 passengers, and when they arrive in Traverse City those folks won’t be driving on our already overcrowded roads. ”
Great Lakes cruising is a fun and unique way to experience the Great Lakes, while also enjoying wonderful shore-based experiences in the communities that are their ports of call.
In order to accept more cruise ships to the Grand Traverse region, it was necessary to go through a fair amount of red tape. Discovery Pier has fulfilled all of the requirements and obtained all of the necessary certifications from the Coast Guard and the Department of Homeland Security to accept more cruise passengers into Traverse City.
Ships of up to 250 feet can pull right up to the Discovery Pier and unload their passengers. Larger ships will have to anchor out in West Bay and discharge their passengers to the Pier by way of tenders (small motor launches).
The Consortium consists of the following five organizations:
- Traverse City Tourism (Visitor’s Center)
- Downtown Development Authority (and Downtown Traverse City Association)
- Traverse City Area Chamber of Commerce
- Leelanau Peninsula Chamber of Commerce
- Discovery Center ~ Great Lakes (on behalf of the Discovery Pier)
The combined support of these organizations enables Traverse City to participate as a member of the Great Lakes Cruising Coalition.
History of Great Lakes Cruising
While traveling the Great Lakes by cruise ship may seem like a novel idea today, it used to be very common way to move across the upper midwest. Great Lakes passenger cruises began in the late 1800s as passenger trips were combined with the transport of freight from the railheads in Buffalo and Duluth. In the early 1900s, lines were constructing passenger-only vessels with the finest appointments.
Most people don’t realize that the Great Lakes are where the seven-day cruise originated. This dates to 1894-1895, when the Northern Steamship Company introduced the seven day cruise on the North West and the North Land. Harry Wolfe, a Great Lakes historian, recalls that at one time there were more people asleep on boats on the Lakes than in all of the oceans of the world.
In 1895, Mark Twain traveling on his “At Home Around the World” tour, boarded the North Land in Cleveland bound for Mackinac Island. Twain wrote “All that has been said of this fine ocean ship on the Great Lakes is not exaggerated. Across Lake Erie to the Detroit River, Lake St Clair and the St Clair River is a most charming trip.”
The Alabama, built in 1909, was one of the more luxurious Great Lakes cruise ships. It was first run by Goodrich Steamship Company. It was a well-known and finely appointed passenger/package freight vessel that ran between Lake Michigan ports. The ship was very heavily built and could run year-round. It was often used as an icebreaker and often helped break out icebound vessels.
The upper decks (cabins) were burned off in 1961 and it was converted to a barge used in to move scrap steel on the Rouge River for the Ford Motor Co. Before the cabins were burned off, some of the exquisite paneling and furniture was removed and installed in Anne Cottage on Mackinac Island.
Thanks to the Marine Historical Society of Detroit for much of the historic background