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Stateside Podcast: Muskegon welcomes increase in cruise tourism

The cruise ship Pearl Mist pulls into the port in Muskegon.
Courtesy of Cindy Larsen
The cruise ship Pearl Mist pulls into the port in Muskegon. The increase in the number of passengers taking Great Lakes cruises in recent years has pushed the city to think about development from a different angle.

In the past decade, the popularity of Great Lakes cruises has been steadily increasing. According to Cruise the Great Lakes, a marketing agency for cruises in the region, around 20,000 passengers are expected to set sail on the inland seas this season. The ships hop all around the Great Lakes, stopping in cities like Chicago, Milwaukee, Marquette, and some going all the way round the Mitten to Windsor.

One city that's given a lot of thought on how to capitalize on this new tourism market is Muskegon. The West Michigan city was once a center for industry thanks to its deep water shipping port. That same port now makes it a destination for Great Lakes cruises.

The cruise ships on the Great Lakes are not the behemoth cruise liners you'd see on the ocean. They usually hold about 400 passengers.

"So actually, that is just the perfect size to visiting the various towns and communities because they add to the economy, but they don't overwhelm it in any way," said Cindy Larsen, president of the Muskegon Chamber of Commerce.

Larsen told us that having visitors coming in from Lake Michigan has pushed the city to think about tourism from a different angle. It's pushed them to think about how to make the lakefront more walkable and bike-friendly. It's also highlighted issues with accessibility for many older cruise ship passengers. Larsen said that perspective is helpful in appealing to a market that's bringing real money into the city.

"Muskegon is approaching $1 million in expenditures per season," Larsen noted. "And that's where we want to be. You know, it's got to be worth our while."

Listen to Stateside's full conversation about what Great Lakes cruises have meant for Muskegon's residents and visitors alike.

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Ronia Cabansag is a producer for Stateside. She comes to Michigan Public from Eastern Michigan University, where she earned a BS in Media Studies & Journalism and English Linguistics with a minor in Computer Science.
April Van Buren is a producer for Stateside. She produces interviews for air as well as web and social media content for the show.