By Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer Published May 01, 2024 at 1:00 PM

Milwaukee’s cruise ship season kicks off Wednesday with the arrival from Toronto of Viking Octantis, which called at Port Milwaukee's Heavy Lift Dock on Jones Island today.

This is the third year that Octantis has opened the season here. It first arrived in Milwaukee, which serves as a turnaround and port of call for its cruises on the Great Lakes and beyond, in 2022.

That year, I took a cruise to show you the ship and some of its stops.

Last year, Octantis’ sister ship Polaris also cruised the Great Lakes and called on Milwaukee. Hanseatic Inspiration also made its first stop here in 2023.

Port Milwaukee is expecting 27 visits from seven vessels, carrying an estimated 12,000-plus passengers, between now and mid-October.

In addition to Viking’s Octantis and Polaris, the Port expects the return of Pearl Seas’ Pearl Mist, among others.

“Today marks the official start of the 2024 cruise season and a great day for tourism in Milwaukee,” said Port Milwaukee Director Jackie Q. Carter.

“Each cruise visit results from the hard work between the Port and our local, regional, and global partners. We look forward to warmly welcoming thousands of passengers who will visit our community throughout the season.”

To help promote Milwaukee as a cruise ship destination, Port Milwaukee founded Milwaukee Cruise Collaborative with representatives from across the local hospitality industry to also plan and prepare for more visits by cruise ship passengers.

In 2023, a record nine vessels made 30 calls in Milwaukee, carrying 11,502 passengers.

Those numbers were down slightly over the previous year, when the Port set a record with 13,611 cruise passengers on eight ships making 33 calls.

In addition to the City of Milwaukee Heavy Lift Dock on Jones Island, cruise ships also dock at Pier Wisconsin, adjacent to Discovery World.

Port Milwaukee still has plans to build a dedicated cruise ship terminal on the South Shore.

“The Great Lakes cruise industry is a big contributor to our region’s tourism,” said Mayor Cavalier Johnson. “Cruise passengers continue to see why Milwaukee is a highly desirable destination.

"As we kick off the 2024 cruising season, Port Milwaukee continues to prove its role as an economic engine for the City of Milwaukee and the State of Wisconsin.”

You can keep track of the comings and goings of cruise ships and other vessels using the Port’s online vessel tracker, which you can find here.

In related news, Viking announced today that it has gone public...

Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer

Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.

He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.

With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in episodes of TV's "Party of Five" and "Dawson's Creek," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.

He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.

In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area. He has also won awards from the Milwaukee Press Club.

He has be heard on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories, in that station's most popular podcast.