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Ontario's Killarney kicks off new itinerary-planners' series by Lakeshore Excursions

Canada House at Killarney Mountain Lodge will provide passenger amenities like a fish fry and local entertainment and is the site of the future dedicated cruise tender dock
Cruise ships may not be sailing in the Great Lakes now but future bookings are robust as more expedition lines discover a region abundant with new destinations and big-name draws.

One of the 'new' spots is Ontario's Killarney, a gem tucked into the northern part of scenic Georgian Bay in the northeast corner of Lake Huron. Killarney is a popular tourist destination that's enjoyed hefty investment in recent years. Passenger ships haven't called since the 1940s, but that's about to change.

Hapag-Lloyd Cruises, Viking and more

Hapag-Lloyd Cruises' Hanseatic Inspiration is booked in 2021 and Viking Expedition Cruises in 2022, along with another noted expedition line that hasn't published its plans yet.

Killarney stars in the first of a by-invitation-only webinar series crafted by the veteran operator Lakeshore Excursions. The series goes live Sept. 22.

'Our goal is to introduce new destinations, new excursions and new ideas. We're doing these webinars from an itinerary planner's perspective,' explained Bruce O'Hare, a founding partner of Lakeshore Excursions. Each webinar — kept to a crisp 15 minutes or less — covers logistics, marine operations, weather, excursion details and more.

One of the oldest settlements in northern Ontario, the fishing village of Killarney has now become a world-class recreational boating draw. It offers historic village sites and new attractions like the sumptuous Killarney Mountain Lodge, where cruise ship tenders will land.

Hiking, kayaking, canoeing in pristine wilderness

Nearby Killarney Provincial Park unfurls rugged beauty and glorious vistas on hikes led by First Nations guides and park staff. George Island is home to bears, deer, moose and beaver ponds, which may be seen from a wilderness trail. Yet another hiking option skirts Georgian Bay and its pink granite shoreline on route to a historic lighthouse. Helicopter tours with views of spectacular geography, including an inland fjord, are available directly from Killarney Mountain Lodge. Canoeing and kayaking are provided for, too.

All excursions give the option to return to Killarney Mountain Lodge for a fish fry featuring the freshly caught local white fish at an outdoor fire pit or on the patio of Canada House, the world's largest log conference center.

Big welcome at Killarney Mountain Lodge

Holden Rhodes, whose mother’s side of the family all were born and raised in Killarney going back to the early 1800s, has poured more than $40m into improving the facilities at Killarney Mountain Lodge and the Sportsman’s Inn and building new ones so that more people can enjoy the area for generations to come.

When O'Hare and Stephen Burnett, executive director of the Great Lakes Cruising Coalition/Cruise Ontario presented the idea of hosting cruise ships, 'I jumped all over it,' Rhodes said, because he'd love to welcome folks 'from all around the world who have never experienced our part of the world' and, hopefully, will spread the word about its allure.

Cruise ship tenders can land at the boat docks in Killarney Mountain Lodge's marina, but Rhodes plans to build a dedicated dock for cruise visitors adjacent to Canada House, which will provide passenger amenities like the fish fry and local entertainment.

Next up: Little Current

A new password-protected webinar by Lakeshore Expeditions will be posted at the same time each week for the next several weeks, with Little Current, Ontario, up next, then Lake Superior's North Shore where a new 'Inside Passage' route is being developed. After the ports of Ontario, O'Hare plans to cover US destinations on the Great Lakes.