More cruise ships are coming to Milwaukee, but getting one for the DNC is a challenge

Port yet to receive any formal interest for stop during convention

The Pearl Mist arrived Friday morning at the dock east of the Lake Express ferry terminal.

Before and after the Democratic National Committee selected Milwaukee to host its 2020 convention, officials at Port Milwaukee were reaching out to cruise ship operators about bringing one of their vessels to the city during the event.

The Pearl Mist docked in Milwaukee last year.

So far, the port has received no formal interest from operators for visits during the mid-July 2020 period of the convention, said Adam Schlicht, director of Port Milwaukee. He said the port is open to a cruise ship making a stop in Milwaukee during the event or for an extended stay to add hotel rooms for some of the 50,000 people the convention is expected to bring to the city.

“The port is open to all possibilities,” Schlicht said. “We will do a first come, first serve approach as we receive any inquiries specific to the DNC.”

Cruise ships could dock at either Pier Wisconsin at Discovery World or at the South Shore Ferry dock (used by the Lake Express ferry). The cruise ships traveling on the Great Lakes are limited in size by the Saint Lawrence Seaway and typically carry 200 to 400 passengers per itinerary, Schlicht said.

The challenge in bringing a cruise ship to Milwaukee for the DNC is that cruise operators set schedules a year to three years in advance. Other cruises that will stop in Milwaukee in 2020 are already booking passengers.

Absent a cruise ship visit during the DNC, Port Milwaukee is still seeing an increase in cruise activity. More than 10 cruise ships are scheduled to make stops in the city in 2019 and Schlicht said the 2020 forecast is looking good as well. Last year, the port had fewer than four cruise stops and in most prior years only had a few as well. In 2018, the Pear Mist and Grande Mariner ships docked in Milwaukee at the same time. The Hamburg docked in Milwaukee in 2017, and in 2018.

Schlicht said the increase is the result of strategically targeting cruise companies since he took over as port director last year.

“We knew that we had a lot of potential (as a cruise ship destination). We knew that we had capacity and room to grow,” he said.

Port Milwaukee benefits from the close proximity of its docks to downtown, Bay View and Walker’s Point, allowing visitors to quickly access dining and entertainment options in the city. In the past, Milwaukee was typically an 8-hour stop for many cruise ships, but Schlicht said operators are increasingly starting or ending trips in the city, which means more opportunities for hotels and restaurants in the region.

“We are really excited that Milwaukee has positioned itself as a turnaround port,” he said.

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Arthur Thomas
Arthur covers manufacturing for BizTimes. He previously was managing editor at The Waukesha Freeman. He is a graduate of Carroll University and did graduate coursework at Marquette. A native of southeastern Wisconsin, he is also a nationally certified gymnastics judge and enjoys golf on the weekends.