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First cruise ship in more than a decade visits top of Lake Superior

Rolling out the red carpet for Viking Octantis and storytelling on Battle Island with tea and bannock
Northwest Ontario's cruise season has officially begun, and for the first time in over a decade, lines are including the top of Lake Superior, beyond Silver Islet, in itineraries.

On May 28 Viking Octantis settled in the big water beyond the archipelago of islands near Rossport, within the Lake Superior National Marine Conservation Area. More than 150 passengers and crew were shuttled to nearby Battle Island.

The group explored the island and learned from volunteers about its recent history and rare plant life. The visitors were also treated to storytelling by Indigenous interpreters while sitting around a bonfire and nibbling bannock with tea.

Members of the Friends of Battle Island prepared the island for the influx of visitors.

Rugged but beautiful

'Just in this one day, it's more visitors than we might get in a whole season,' said Andre Nicol, president of the organization. 'It’s rugged but beautiful, and I guess that’s what they’re looking for on these expedition-type cruises — that unique experience that you don’t get every day.'

Ontario’s Superior Country, a nonprofit destination marketing organization based in Red Rock, coordinates the cruise visitor experiences. In summer 2022, a group representing six cruise lines took a familiarization tour of the area through a partnership with the Great Lakes Cruise Association and Destination Northern Ontario.

Superior Country assisted with that and then in the fall took a Viking representative on a tour up the north shore.

Partnering with Parks Canada on cruise readiness

'We wanted to be prepared, and we wanted our communities to be prepared. So we partnered with Parks Canada to complete a Cruise Market Readiness Plan in December. And here we are welcoming our first cruise ship in May,' Superior Country Executive Director Dan Bevilacqua said.

'The Great Lakes is the last "un-cruised" region of the world,' according to Stephen Burnett, executive director of the Great Lakes Cruise Association. 'Given that cruising has become a significant pillar of the travel industry, the emergence of quality cruising on the Great Lakes has an exceptional future.'

More visits to Battle Island

Viking Octantis and Hapag-Lloyd Cruises' Hanseatic Inspiration will make a total of four more visits to Battle Island throughout June and July. Superior Country has already been notified by cruise lines of their intention to visit the area, known as the Lake Superior North Shore Inside Passage, in summer and fall 2024 and 2025.