, ,

Viking cruise ships will visit Bayfield on Great Lakes tour this summer

The arrival of the Viking Octantis in Port Milwaukee Friday marks the return of Great Lakes cruises

Viking cruise ships
Viking Sea, Octantis and Star near Malta in the Mediterranean Sea. Photo courtesy of Viking

Viking cruise ships are setting sail this summer on the Great Lakes, and the cruise line will be making stops for the first time at the northern Wisconsin tourist city of Bayfield on Lake Superior.

The 665-foot Viking Octantis is billed as the largest modern cruise ship on the Great Lakes, and the vessel will be stopping in the small harbor city of roughly 500 year-round residents as part of eight-day cruises from Milwaukee to Thunder Bay. The ship is the Switzerland-based cruise line’s new expedition vessel that can house 378 guests with a crew of 256 people.

Ted Dougherty, chair of the Bayfield Harbor Commission, said Viking approached the city several years ago about making Bayfield a stop on their Great Lakes tours. COVID-19 halted those plans as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a no sail order during the onset of the pandemic.

Stay informed on the latest news

Sign up for WPR’s email newsletter.

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Now that travel has resumed, Viking Octantis is slated to visit Port Milwaukee on Friday. The vessel’s first scheduled stop in Bayfield is set for May 31.

The Island Queen ferries residents and visitors from Madeline Island to Bayfield. (CC BY)

“If everything goes as well as I hope it will, it’ll be a win-win,” said Dougherty. “It’ll be good for Viking. It’ll be good for the city of Bayfield.”

The cruise ship is expected to make seven visits to Bayfield over the next six months on Tuesdays. Dougherty said that puts city workers and businesses in a better position to accommodate visitors.

“Bayfield is packed in the summer, and so the fact that Viking is cooperating and planning those visits on what is traditionally a slower day of the week makes a lot of sense,” Dougherty said.

The Viking Octantis includes lavish accommodations that include a restaurant, spa, library, auditorium, science lab and several pools. Prices for the Great Lakes cruises range from roughly $7,000 to $14,000.

Cruise ship
A rendering of one of Viking’s expedition ships. Photo courtesy of Viking

The ship, which is roughly the length of two football fields, won’t be able to come into port at Bayfield’s city dock. The vessel will remain offshore, and smaller boats will ferry guests to the mainland to undergo security screening.

“We learned it’s really akin to landing an airplane and going through TSA,” said Dougherty. “We had to work with the Coast Guard to file a facility security plan.”

That plan involves setting up portable fencing and hiring a Duluth contractor to screen guests as they come to shore. The cruise line has agreed to pay the city around $95,000 this year. The money will cover security costs and provide up to $45,000 in new revenue to support the harbor’s infrastructure.

Kati Anderson, marketing director for the Bayfield Chamber of Commerce, said the cruises offer an opportunity to expose the northern Wisconsin city to a new group of tourists.

“The cruise line has set up a number of excursions for their passengers, so people will be able to experience Bayfield on a number of different levels,” Anderson said. “Whether that be going on an excursion into the orchards…or whether they are just able to kind of mull around downtown Bayfield. (That’s) also a really great opportunity for our businesses.”

Devil's Island in the Apostle Islands
chumlee10 (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Dougherty said those day-trip excursions include taking a cruise of the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore with the Apostle Islands Cruise service. He said guests can also charter a sailboat, take a charter bus to go birding at the Northern Great Lakes Visitor Center in Ashland, walk around downtown, or visit the Red Cliff tribe’s reservation.

Chris Prysok offers kayak tours of mainland sea caves outside the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore. He said the Viking cruise stops will be a benefit to area businesses.

“They’ve got their own ship to stay on, so the lodging people aren’t going to benefit as much, but definitely restaurant people will, and the shops will benefit, and the services and the activities,” Prysok said. “That’ll be great for everybody.”

The ship’s arrival in Milwaukee on Friday marks the first return of cruise vessels to the port since the onset of the pandemic, according to port director Adam Tindall-Schlicht.

Heated pool on the Viking Octantis
A Nordic Spa heated pool on the Viking Octantis ship. Photo courtesy of Viking

“Over the pandemic years where cruise activity couldn’t take place, we’ve done a lot of work to foster that reputation as being a turnaround port of choice,” said Tindall-Schlicht. “So as new cruise ships are coming into the Great Lakes market, (we’re) really trying to induce them, welcome them to Milwaukee and other locations in Wisconsin.”

Tindall-Schlicht, who is also president of the Wisconsin Commercial Ports Association, noted that Viking is also introducing a new Mississippi River cruise line that will stop in La Crosse.

Milwaukee’s port director said the Viking Octantis is the first of 33 cruise vessels slated to visit the port, and they expect to see more than 10,000 passengers this year. That’s more than three times the number of cruise passengers who visited in 2019.

Vessels operated by Viking, Vantage Cruise Line, and Pearl Sea Cruises are all expected to call on Port Milwaukee this year. Tindall-Schlicht said he anticipates the ships will provide the port with more than $100,000 in new revenue, as well as generate several million dollars for the local tourism economy.