Smooth sailing for cruise ships in Muskegon after 2-year hiatus

All aboard! After a two-year hiatus, cruise ships are back in Muskegon. 

“We have three lines and four different ships calling on Muskegon this year,” says Bob Lukens, Muskegon County community development director. “The Pearl Seas vessel Pearl Mist, the first cruise ship we received back in 2015; American Queen Voyages’ Ocean Navigator; and Ponant Lines’ Le Bellot and Le Dumont D'Urville.”

These ships use the Heritage Landing Cruise Ship Dock, downtown at 7th Street and Shoreline Drive. While it’s been a few years since the cruises were able to sail the Great Lakes, so far it’s been a successful summer. 

“This year, the first year back after a two-year hiatus, has been remarkably smooth as we weren’t exactly sure what to expect,” Lukens says. “But the Great Lakes cruise lines are rebounding quickly, and I think the industry will continue to grow.”

Passengers enjoy visit to city

The ships do most of the sailing between ports after dinner, allowing their guests time to explore and enjoy each port during the day.

“The passengers really find our residents, servers, and staff very welcoming and find Muskegon an interesting place to visit,” Lukens shares. “The history in this area runs deep, and we have excellent museums and docents to explain that history to them. From an economic perspective, the museums, food and beverage establishments, and suppliers realize extra revenues when the cruise ships are in port.”

Cruise ship passengers describe Muskegon as one of the friendliest ports. 
Susan Crain, a Muskegon resident who has been a passenger on the Pearl Mist cruise, says that not only was their experience on the ship wonderful, but it was also great to see others enjoying Muskegon as much as they do. 

“(Our trip) was absolutely delightful,” she says. “It was a lovely ship, the food was spectacular, and the ports of call were marvelous.”

Crain says that she and her husband always enjoyed boating locally but wanted to explore the Great Lakes by boat better without having to navigate it themselves. While her favorite port was Little Current, Ontario, she says that Muskegon was by far the friendliest port. 

“We were able to take a plane and fly over all of the little islands up [in Little Current],” Crain says. “But it’s funny, even though I’m from this area, Muskegon was the most friendly, welcoming port of all the places. And everyone we met onboard said the same thing. We often convinced others to stay in Muskegon instead of driving to other local areas.” 

Visitors are impressed

Lukens echoes those sentiments. 

“The crews of the ships love Muskegon, again because of the services our community provides,” he says. “Cruise ship passengers—most of whom have never seen or experienced the Great Lakes—are always amazed at the beauty of our area, its cleanliness, the Heritage Landing docking facility, and the walkability and history of the area. The people of Muskegon County, who are always very welcoming to them, leave the biggest impression on most passengers.”
Three cruise lines and four different ships are calling on Muskegon this year.
As for the future of cruise ship visits to Muskegon, Lukens explains that they will have to be mindful of capacity limits, as Muskegon currently has only one dock, plus a back-up dock in the event of double booking or large festival at the Landing. 

“Staffing at our dock has also become more difficult, and due to the seasonal, part-time nature of dock security, it is hard to fill positions,” Lukens says. 

The hope is that now that the cruise lines can plan further out, Muskegon will continue to be a port of call and the area will enjoy more visitors as the cruises expand.

The Great Lakes Cruises have 10 cruise lines, eight cruise paths (the five Great Lakes, St. Lawrence Seaway, New England, and Great Lakes Attractions), and trips ranging from eight days to 16 days long. 

Read more articles by Kelsey Sanders.