THUNDER BAY, ONT. — The evolving cruise ship enterprise that kicked off this year in Thunder Bay has so far been a success. The refurbishing of the Pool Six dock to make it visitor-friendly has paid off with good reports coming from the cruise lines and the passengers.
“With all those challenges that have existed globally as the industry emerges from COVID, we are pleased with the feedback we’re hearing from guests and from the companies themselves about Thunder Bay,” said Paul Pepe, manager of tourism Thunder Bay.”
Pepe says they have approached the new venture “understanding that they have to be very nimble,” while making tweaks between each (cruise ship) visit. He credits the cruise lines as being excellent to work with.
“Given the post-COVID industry recovery, we’re pleased with things. Some of the issues with air transportation and air connectivity that are occurring globally, are not a Thunder Bay problem or an Ontario problem. That’s a global problem. Apart from the air connectivity glitches, I think everything’s been very smooth sailing, and we’re seeing it grow with every passing visit. We connect with our support partners and the businesses and find out how we can improve that. How can we expand and improve the experience even more? So we’re also always looking at the future with it and always making sure that we’re communicating with our partners to maximize benefits to the community.”
Development on the cruise ship dock will continue with a pedestrian trail along with the next stage of capital improvements that include some minor improvements to the dock and some paving.
Pepe says the upgrades to the facility this year have been very well received by Viking Cruise Lines which called the dock a “very functional and very practical” facility for them.
“We’re able to accommodate motor coaches and shuttles but also the vessel servicing equipment, the conveyors for the luggage. We’re very fortunate to have Maintair Aviation Services here in Thunder Bay which is handling all the passenger check-in and all the luggage handling. They’ve made a world of difference to the ease at which the vessels have been able to turn around and have all their support needs met. It’s really great that we have a company in town that has that kind of expertise that’s able to be adaptable to servicing the gridlines.”
South of the border, Two Harbors, Minn., will be hosting the Festival of Sail Lake Superior Tall Ships 2022, which will get underway today and continue through Sunday.
Pepe says there are many reasons why an event of this nature is unlikely to happen in Thunder Bay.
“It’s something we do keep an eye on and it comes down to a couple of things. The event organizers with the tall ships generally limit the number of ports so that they’re not competing for market share with each other,” he said “So they try to keep the ports far enough apart from one another so that the events don’t compete and don’t sort of cannibalize one another.”
Timing is another challenge in bringing a tall ship event to Thunder Bay.
“Getting the ships into a place may sometimes conflict with other uses, particularly the issue of the cruise ships,” said Pepe. “Bear in mind it’s not just one stop that all these tall ships are planning for. Lining them up around the entire Great Lakes doesn’t always work with the availability of the dock but it is something we do keep an ear to the ground for.
“A future opportunity to host something like that would also have a significant visitor impact.”
Craig Samborski, the president of Draw Events responsible for this week’s event in Two Harbors says, historically, the tall ship event has had a $15 million economic impact whenever it’s been held before.
“From hotels, motels, bars, restaurants, and retail — aside from ticket sales for the event — that’s just with people and the average spending they do when they come to visit the event,” said Samborski. “I do know that the hotels in Two Harbors have been sold out since the day after we put this event on sale last November. I would say there’s probably a lot of people staying in Duluth because it’s so close by and I’ve heard that there are people who are staying up in the Iron Range area.”
Due to harbour construction in the Duluth, Minn., port, the event has been moved to Two Harbors which is accessible with a three-hour drive from Thunder Bay. The event provides a rare chance to observe, step aboard, and even set sail on some of the grandest ships of yore with ship tours, day sails, educational programming, food and beverage, entertainment and fun for the entire family.
“We’ve had a tough time getting through COVID and it’s been a rough couple of years,” says Janelle Jones, CEO of the Two Harbors Chamber of Commerce and executive director of Lovin’ Lake County, a destination marketing organization. “I’m really excited for the local businesses who can use a little extra shot in the arm. And, you know, this will far exceed any best day we’ve ever had before on the North Shore.”
Jones says they’ve been seeing more and more people from Thunder Bay and they’re pretty excited about that.
The festival will feature a dozen tall ships in the harbour and plenty of activities including more than 100 food and merchandise vendors, two beer gardens and a variety of performers.
“And the world’s largest rubber duck will be there too,” Samborski said. “Make no mistake about it, this isn’t your ordinary rubber duck.”
Weighing in at 31,500 pounds, the 61-feet high, 69-feet wide and 79-feet long duck is kept inflated by three high-intensity blowers and will make its appearance afloat with the tall ships.
Among the ships expected to anchor at the harbour festival are the Schooner Inland Seas, St. Lawrence II, the Schooner Charlie, the Nao Trinidad, the U.S. Brig Niagara, the Pride of Baltimore II, the Schooner Inland Seas, and the Abbey Road.
Sandi Krasowski, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Chronicle-Journal