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Future Great Lakes cruise seasons likely to extend further into October

Dennis Jarvis
Wikimedia Commons

People may start enjoying a Great Lakes cruise as late as mid-October as climate change extends itineraries for the coming years.

In years past, the Great Lakes cruise season ended the first week of October. But warmer conditions in the fall are shifting the calendar.

"And what's happening is that with climate change, cruise lines are looking at earlier deployments in the Great Lakes and then staying a little bit later," said Stephen Burnett, executive director of the Great Lakes Cruise Association. Burnett said cruise lines usually book routes 36 months in advance.

During the height of the pandemic, Great Lakes cruises shut down longer than other industries in the region because Canadian ports were closed. According to the Passenger Vessel Services Act, cruises on the Great Lake are required to stop at ports in both Canada and the U.S.

This cruise season was the first on Great Lakes in the past two years. Burnett said business has been “remarkable” because of people’s increased urge to get out after lockdowns.

According to Sault Area Historic Sites, around 40 cruise ships have docked on the Michigan side of Sault St. Marie this season and more are expected next year. Each ship has carried roughly 150 people.

"We're setting up more things here so that we can be more like the southern destinations when you get on a cruise ship. Having people greet them, making sure you have somebody that can give them answers," said Linda Hoath with the Sault Area Conventions and Visitor’s Bureau

On the operations side of the cruise industry, Burnett said the industry continues to struggle with maintaining an experienced workforce.

Rick Brewer is a general assignment reporter covering central and northern Michigan for WCMU Public Radio.