Great Lakes Cruising Follows in the Footsteps of Charles Dickens & Mark Twain
It is April 24, 1842 and Charles Dickens on his grand tour of “North America” cruises across Lake Erie en route to Buffalo. Dickens records in his diary. “She was a fine steamship, four hundred tons burden, named the Constitution, with very few passengers aboard and had bountiful and handsome accommodation”.
Later that century, on July 17, 1895 Mark Twain traveling on his "At home around the world" tour, boards the S.S. Northland in Cleveland bound for Mackinac. Twain wrote "All that has been said of this fine ocean ship on the Great Lakes is not exaggerated. Across Lake Erie to the Detroit River, Lake St Clair and the St Clair River is a most charming trip".
Cruising…perhaps more accurately described as using the Great Lakes for transportation, had been happening long before this, but in 1865 it took on a more formal aspect when Anchor Line, formerly Erie & Western Transportation co, was formed. Then in 1868 Detroit & Cleveland Navigation was founded and not long after in 1883, Canadian Pacific expanded into this business with the building (in Scotland) of the Alberta, the Algoma and the Athabasca.
From this time until the early 1970's Great Lakes cruise and transportation lines emerged, merged, failed and succeeded, much in the same way that we currently see the "big-boys" of the 2000's merging, failing and succeeding elsewhere. Many cruise ships were built and names from the past still resonate on the Harbour walls of Great Lakes ports, where ships such as the Noronic, the Northland, City of Cleveland, Sandbee and the Cape Eternity arrived… decked out in bunting, bands playing and thousand waving from the Harbour walls.
Fast forward to the early 1990's when several commercial ports on the Great Lakes joined together and funded an initiative to revive the long dormant international cruise industry on the same Great Lakes which Dickens and Twain along with thousands others cruised. Founding members of this modern bold initiative were Duluth, Toronto, Oswego, Saugatuck-Douglas, Milwaukee, Chicago, St Joseph, Parry Sound, Owen Sound, Detroit, Toledo, Erie and Little Current.
This initiative has now emerged as the Great Lakes Cruising Coalition (G.L.C.C.) and has been expanded to embrace destinations on both sides of the U.S./Canadian border. Members now represent commercial ports, cities, towns, communities, U.S. States, the Province of Ontario and both the Washington D.C. based Saint Lawrence Seaway Development Corporation and the Canadian based St Lawrence Seaway Management Corporation.
The mission of the G.L.C.C. is to bring back passenger cruising into all of the Great Lakes and to eventually see port calls and shore excursions across the entire system. To achieve this, the board of the G.L.C.C. has empowered an Executive Director to pursue a business plan, which recognizes the need for more shipping inventory and parallel with this, an increase in Tour Operators who are capable of chartering those ships. This process is supported by an enthusiastic and talented membership in the Coalition and bi-annual meetings are held to update members and validate the direction of the plan.
One highlight of the Coalition plan is an annual visit to Seatrade in Miami, which is the premier cruise-only trade show and marketplace for this industry. Coalition members are able to meet owners and operators of cruise companies and discuss charter potential and routing with tour operators at the show. It was significant at the March 2003 Seatrade, that members heard a great deal about the move from international cruising to what is now termed as "Homeland Cruising"…a move which describes the security concerns of the cruise traveler and recognizes the growing popularity of North America with its many exciting and vibrant cruise destinations.
Other Coalition activities include world-wide sourcing of what we term as "Seaway Capable" cruise ships which can safely transit the St Lawrence Seaway locks and comply with the various health and security regulations in the U.S./Canadian Great Lakes region.
Queen Elizabeth and President Eisenhower officially opened the Seaway in 1959 and the locks will allow ships to transit, which are no more than 740 feet in overall length, 78 feet in beam, with a water draft of 26 feet 3 inches and an air draft of 116 feet six inches. This precludes many of the larger high capacity cruise vessels from transiting the locks, but it does leave between 30 and 60 ships world wide which could…if they comply with the regulations…cruise the Great Lakes.
Prior to the terrorist attacks of September 11 2001, Great Lakes cruise inventory was growing at an appreciable rate and earlier that year, American Classic Voyages brought their purpose built replica coastal steamer the Cape May Light in the Great Lakes for an inaugural successful season. This was to be followed by her sister ship the Cape Cod light, but these tragic attacks adversely effected the cruise market causing the liquidation of A.M.C.V. with a subsequent loss of valuable berths.
In 2002, the cruise ship Le Levant, from Compagnie Isles Du Ponnent and Hapag Lloyd's C. Columbus enjoyed a successful Great Lakes season, as did American Canadian Caribbean Line's Niagara Prince and Grand Mariner plus the Nantucket Clipper from Clipper Cruise Line in St Louis. Various other single ship lines also cruise in the Great Lakes/Seaway system including the Canadian Empress out of Kingston Ontario and the Georgian Clipper out of Parry Sound Ontario.
Future activities of the G.L.C.C. include more of the same relentless search for sound commercial relationships between ship owners and tour operator/charterers plus an expansion of the membership to include more ports, cities and locations on the Great Lakes.