Viking Cruise Liners Eagerly Check Out Duluth – Duluth News Tribune

DULUTH — After a nearly decade-long hiatus, it’s new for the Port of Duluth-Superior to welcome cruise ships. The experience is just as unique for guests disembarking to spend a day in the Twin Ports.

“People didn’t realize how wonderful the Great Lakes were,” said Marlene Schloss of St. Cloud, standing in the great hall of the St. Louis County Depot Monday morning.

“We knew that,” Schloss continued, “that’s why we cruise. They’re from California, Arizona, all these places, and they had no idea it was so beautiful here.”

Schloss and her husband, Phil, were among more than 200 Viking Octantis passengers scheduled for an excursion to Depot while the 665-foot cruise ship docked in Duluth on Monday. The ship makes several stops in Duluth this season, and Monday’s passengers found even more to wait for at the Depot than their predecessors.

Passengers disembark from one of the Viking Octantis tenders behind the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center.

Steve Kuchera/Duluth News Tribune

Mary Tennis, executive director of the Depot, said it became clear that Viking passengers had “a huge interest, not just in the train ride and the train museum, but just in Duluth in general”.

The county-owned venue has decided to make the most of this interest by planning “Dock at the Depot” events to coincide with local cruise ship stops. On Monday, Octantis passengers were due to arrive by bus in two waves.

A dozen local vendors selling crafts, gifts, and food were posted in the west wing of the Depot. To accommodate passenger schedules, exhibits from the Duluth Art Institute and the St. Louis County Historical Society were also available for viewing beginning at 9 a.m. rather than the depot’s usual opening time of 10 a.m. hours.

Buses that brought cruise ship passengers to the depot wait outside
Buses that brought cruise ship passengers to the depot await them outside on Monday.

Jed Carlson / Upper Telegram

Stacey DeRoche, the Depot’s events and marketing coordinator, said the response from vendors was “instant” when approached about the series. “More than 30 suppliers contacted me,” she said.

To accommodate as many vendors as possible, “we’re going to mix it up a bit” from event to event, DeRoche said. The pop-up markets will take place five more times this year, with the last of the season scheduled for September 19.

Sarah Herrick-Smisek, co-owner of DLH Clothing, said that as a Lincoln Park company, “we really struggled” to figure out how to communicate with cruise ship passengers disembarking at DECC. The Depot event provided that opportunity.

“We were really interested in this event to see what we can do,” Herrick-Smisek said shortly before the first cruise passengers arrived. “We’re a company that really likes to represent our city, so we want to show it.”

Porter Jerry McGee helps cruise ship passengers board the North Shore Scenic Railroad
Porter Jerry McGee helps cruise ship passengers board the North Shore Scenic Railroad.

Jed Carlson / Upper Telegram

Passengers on Viking’s ‘Undiscover Great Lakes’ cruise stop in Duluth on day three of their eight-day voyage from Thunder Bay to Milwaukee.

They have several options for shore excursions in the Twin Ports area, ranging from kayaking Agate Bay to a visit to Glensheen. The North Shore Scenic Railroad excursion is a hot ticket; this week, more than half of the ship’s passengers chose to hop on a train in the morning or afternoon of their day in Duluth.

With tickets starting at $6,495, the cruise as a whole is proving popular. The Octantis has a maximum capacity of 378 passengers and, according to Viking’s website, four of the remaining five “undiscovered” trips to the Great Lakes this season are sold out. (Some passengers, like the Schloss, are redeeming credits they held on cruises canceled by COVID.)

In a competitive vacation market, Viking positions its voyages as “more destination-focused and culturally immersive” compared to, say, a “Margaritaville at Sea” cruise.

A Frost River bag purchased at the Depot’s pop-up event would fit perfectly with the Viking Octantis, described as “an expedition vessel built specifically to explore the world’s most remote destinations.”

Cruise ship in port.
The Viking Octantis is in Duluth Harbor. This was the ship’s second visit to Duluth this year. The first was May 30.

Steve Kuchera/Duluth News Tribune

Ship’s amenities include a science lab; a library organized in collaboration with the Scott Polar Research Institute; and an auditorium advertised as “the world’s most advanced place to learn at sea”. Where another cruise ship might have a martini bar, the Octantis has an “Aquavit Terrace”.

In other words, Octantis passengers didn’t buy tickets to turn off their brains. “This is the most engaged tour group I’ve seen in 10 years,” said North Shore Scenic Railroad station manager Josh Miller.

“They have a full weather station on board. They’re taking water samples,” marveled Ken Buehler, executive director of the Lake Superior Railroad Museum and one of the tour guides recounting the bus tours preceding the arrival of the groups at the Depot.

“They have questions, they’re interested in history, they want to know more about Duluth,” Buehler said. “It’s incredible.”

Passengers have seen the story for themselves: according to the DECC, the average age of cruise passengers is 70. Phil Schloss marveled at his return to the Depot, which he knew as a “beautifully functional station” when he lived in Duluth in the 1960s.

“I used to have business trips to Minneapolis-St. Paul,” Schloss said. “So I would come here, take the train, get off and come back that night.”

Cruise ship passengers are reflected as they wait to board the North Shore Scenic Railroad
Cruise ship passengers are reflected as they wait to board the North Shore Scenic Railroad.

Jed Carlson / Upper Telegram

According to the DECC, 95% of cruise passengers heading to Duluth this summer are from the United States, but visitors on Monday said the cruise revealed their own continent in a new light.

“We wanted to enjoy the Great Lakes. We haven’t really traveled here much,” said Sonia Woodbury of Salt Lake City. She said she was amazed at the size of Lake Superior. “I knew it,” she laughed, “but I didn’t realize it until I was on (the lake). It feels like you’re on the ocean.”

It was clear from the attire of the passengers that they knew they were not on a Caribbean cruise. Rather than Hawaiian shirts and flip-flops, many passengers opted for high-traction shoes, weatherproof hats, KN95 masks and expedition vests.

That said, a vacation is a vacation. One woman wore a shirt with glittering pearls arranged to imagine a few servings of wine and the statement, “At my age, I need glasses”.

Tour guide with sign.
A guide waits for a group of Viking Octantis passengers behind the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center.

Steve Kuchera/Duluth News Tribune

Whether passengers are thirsty (a beer and chocolate walking tour was another excursion option), they are not hungry. Robert Lillegard of Duluth’s Best Bread offered some of his company’s most tempting baked goods, but he wasn’t particularly surprised that visitors were already stuffed.

“I’ve been on a cruise ship, and you have breakfast, lunch, dinner, a second breakfast. It’s like ‘Lord of the Rings,'” Lillegard said, referring to the habit of fictional hobbits to double first. Meal of the day.

Duluth has been planning to roll out the red carpet for cruise passengers for years, and guests on Monday said they recognize the effort.

“People here are very friendly,” said Lois Vanderwood, of Franklin, North Carolina. “Getting off the ship and all those people who welcome you: you feel at home. »

“It couldn’t be friendlier, all the people are waving at us,” agreed Lauri MacNeel of Cincinnati. “It was really impressive, to see such a warm welcome at the entrance to the port.”

Ted Yablonski, left, chats with Lake Superior Railroad Museum Foundation Executive Director Ken Buehler,
Ted Yablonski, left, chats with Ken Buehler, CEO of the Lake Superior Railroad Museum Foundation.

Jed Carlson / Upper Telegram

Superior Roux’s Paul Lukens and Jeremy Wilson were keeping their New Orleans-inspired fare warm for passengers on the 11 a.m. train, some of whom may be looking for lunch when they return. Meanwhile, the chiefs were talking about the Twin Ports.

“We had a few people asking about the area, saying they like the cool weather because they’re from Florida,” Lukens said. “It’s hot for us, it’s cool for them. It’s a good mix.”

If you want to experience the Depot like a cruise passenger, vendor pop-ups are free and open to the public. The remaining dates this year are July 25, August 8, August 22, September 5 and September 19. For more information, see experiencethedepot.org.

Rick McGarrey of Buenos Aires, Argentina leans out of a locomotive at the Lake Superior Railroad Museum
Rick McGarrey of Buenos Aires, Argentina leans out of a locomotive at the Lake Superior Railroad Museum. McGarrey was in town on the cruise ship.

Jed Carlson / Upper Telegram

Cruise ship passengers Cathy and Lenny Tout of Panama City, Florida look inside a locomotive at the Lake Superior Railroad Museum
Cruise ship passengers Cathy and Lenny Tout, of Panama City, Florida, look inside a locomotive on Monday.

Jed Carlson / Upper Telegram

Ken Srigley, of Greeneville, Tennessee, steps down from an exhibit at the Lake Superior Railroad Museum
Ken Srigley, of Greeneville, Tennessee, descends from an exhibit at the Lake Superior Railroad Museum Monday morning.

Jed Carlson / Upper Telegram

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