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'They're beautiful vessels and we're lucky to have them here': Cruise ship season sailing into Windsor-Essex

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The 2024 Great Lakes cruising season in Windsor-Essex is shaping up to be busy, with 30 cruise ships and luxury liners scheduled to dock in Windsor and Leamington.

According to Brad Manor, the operations manager of the Windsor Shipping Agency, May looks to be the busiest month with nine cruise ships slated to dock in the area, while July and September will also be busy.

“Each ship carries between 250 and 300 passengers and they go ashore and find things to do ashore,” Manor explained. “They're coming aboard to see our sites and hopefully spend their hard earned cash.”

Manor said he works as a liaison for foreign-owned cruise ships, helping them schedule dock space in Windsor and Leamington, “I'm their local representative. I make the arrangements for anything they may need to take on board. I handle their customs paperwork and all the details.”

According to Manor, there’s room to grow, with the region capable of handling more cruise ships and their passengers.

“They're beautiful vessels and we're lucky to have them here,” Manor said. “Other ports on the Great Lakes see upwards of 100 [ships]. I think Windsor should be included in that.”

He added, “Keep them coming as far as I'm concerned.”

A Viking Cruise ship on the Detroit River, seen from Windsor on April 28, 2024. (Chris Campbell/CTV News Windsor)

Officials with the multi-state coalition Cruise the Great Lakes are forecasting nearly 600 port visits across the five Great Lakes in 2024, bringing over 20,000 individual passengers—roughly double that of a decade ago.

Cruise the Great Lakes anticipates the regional economic impact generated by cruising all of the Great Lakes will surpass U.S. $200 million in 2024, driven by the upward trend in passenger numbers, port visits, shore-side spending, and the growing domestic and international appeal of Great Lakes cruises.

Local tourism officials suggest the industry gained steam in the region after the pandemic, noting only a handful of cruise ships docked in Windsor-Essex before 2020, compared to the current level of cruise ship traffic today.

“What's great about the growing cruise ships, or coming back cruise ship is it's a new way for people to experience the region and explore,” said Jason Toner, director of communications for Tourism Windsor-Essex Pelee Island (TWEPI.) “It's a great asset for us in terms of new volume into the region.”

“Oftentimes, they'll skip the Detroit port and come over here or vice versa, depending on what their flow is and what their excursions are. So, in the fall, we always get the Hamburg coming in with some German tourists as well which is great to see,” said Toner. “So it always varies and those numbers have been rebounding since obviously COVID-19 impacted the travel, but we're happy to see those 30 dockings and continue to see that grow in the future years too.”

Toner told CTV News, “It's not a cheap experience to jump on these cruise ships and explore the lakes and they're really looking for things to do when they get off the boat. So if it's exploring downtown, we welcome them with downtown maps, downtown dining guides, getting them into the shops. If it's going out on excursions, we have tour buses coming over there and exploring.”

“Our goal is to get them out and get them to spend when they're here,” Toner said. “Windsor is that kind of hidden gem and when you get here you don't realize how much is here. So we always like to educate and get them out more.”

Toner added, “We're known as a road trip market, so people driving down into the market and spending a day or spending a weekend. We have great convention business with meetings and businesses at Caesars Windsor our premier convention center space, but the cruise ships is a whole other aspect of visitors that we don't normally get.”

“That's a bonus to the region of thousands each year, getting out and spending money,” said Toner.

 

— With files from AM800/Rusty Thomson

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