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First of the season's cruise ships arrives in Muskegon

WZZM-TV • May 24, 2019 at 9:00 AM

MUSKEGON — Thursday marked the start of the cruise ship season on the Great Lakes, with the first ship arriving in Muskegon.

The Victory I cruise ship tied up in Muskegon at around 7 a.m. The 300-foot ship departed early Thursday evening.

The ship just started a nine-night Great Lakes cruise that began in Chicago and ends in Toronto.

The number of cruise ships on the Great Lakes has expanded in recent years.

"We knew our guests wanted to see more of America," said Sarah Neelis, manager of hotel operations for the American Queen Steamboat Co. and Victory Cruise Lines. "We decided to venture out on the Great Lakes."

The Victory I is a small, agile, intimate ship able to take passengers into small ports on the Great Lakes.

"We have a capacity of 202 guests on board with 101 staterooms," Neelis said.

This is the fourth year that Muskegon has been a port of call for Great Lakes cruise ships.

The ship passengers had the opportunity to explore the Lake Michigan shoreline throughout the day by visiting Muskegon's historical district, the USS Silversides Submarine Museum and the LST 393.

This year, three different cruise ships together will make 13 visits to Muskegon.

"All summer long you will see the Pearl Mist and the Victory Cruise lines, and then at the end of season in September and October we have a new ship, the Le Champlain," said Bob Lukens of Visit Muskegon.

"Hosting the cruise ships in Muskegon is exciting because it brings attention to our deep water harbor,” said Cindy Larsen, president of the Muskegon Lakeshore Chamber of Commerce. “The economic impact of the port has been estimated to be $300 million annually. Thousands of people travel to this community by cruise ship, the high-speed Lake Express Ferry, a sailing yacht, or motor cruiser. Vessels of all sizes and shapes are here to see the beautiful vistas of Muskegon Lake and Lake Michigan."

Muskegon business and tourism leaders worked to secure cruise ship visits beginning in 2015 when the Pearl Mist was diverted from Holland to Muskegon because Holland's dock wasn't available.

Business owners in downtown Muskegon say they appreciate the day-long visits from cruise ship passengers. They spend money on souvenirs and small gifts.

"We enjoy talking to them, asking them where they're from, and hearing about their adventures and their travels," said Courtney Leibrandt, owner of Vintage Redefined on West Western Avenue. "They're usually having a good time.”

The Muskegon Lakeshore Chamber of Commerce and tourism leaders are working to bring even more ships to town next year. They say talks are underway with three more cruise lines in hopes the number of cruise ship visitors doubles in the coming years.

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