Bill Steele is delighted to see the first cruise ship of the 2022 season dock in Port Colborne on Sunday and head for the Welland Canal.
“I’m going downstairs to say hello to the captain,” the mayor of Port Colborne said, adding that he will bring city hats with him to hand out.
The Viking Octantis is expected to arrive in the city and dock at the canal’s east pier around 1 p.m. But it depends on the traffic on the channel.
The 358-passenger cruise ship, built to operate in the Great Lakes, Arctic and Antarctica, was scheduled to leave its Toronto berth around 10 p.m. Saturday.
It’s on an eight-day trip from Toronto to Milwaukee; her inaugural cruise on the lakes.
Steele said the cruise ship arrived a little earlier than expected, but he’s happy to welcome her to Port Colborne, which is working on plans for a waterfront center along West Street that will act as a reception area. .
The area, once work is done on Piers 18A and 18B by the St. Lawrence Seaway Management Corp., will be the dock for the largest cruise ships. The little ones will dock on West Street, just south of Sugarloaf Street.
Steele said the city is working with the Seaway to repair the western canal wall and surrounding area.
Until this is completed, larger cruise ships will dock on the east side of the canal at Snider Dock, which can accommodate larger ships.
“I’m sure there will be a lot of people there to see it. It’s amazing where people are coming from…there’s a huge following of these types of ships from all over North America,” Steele said.
The mayor said the city will work to capture that crowd as well as cruise ship passengers in the coming years and get them to visit local retailers.
“The first year is a learning year for us.”
He knows that the first group of passengers from the Viking Octantis will be heading for Niagara Falls and Niagara-on-the-Lake when the ship reaches the canal on Sunday.
“These are two of the biggest tourist attractions.”
He said the town, which has beaches, a network of trails and the Lighthouse Theatre, among other attractions, needs to create an atmosphere to lure passengers ashore.
Port Colborne entrepreneurs could create excursions — bike tours, trips to golf courses or fishing charters, for example — something the city can take to cruise lines next year and sell to passengers .
“We need people to start offering things. Not every passenger wants to go back to Niagara Falls or Niagara-on-the-Lake,” Steele said.