'It's beautiful': Octantis cruise ship draws admirers in Detroit on its first Great Lakes voyage

Charles E. Ramirez
The Detroit News

Detroit — A Viking arrived in Motown on Tuesday.

But instead of a Norse warrior bent on plunder, this one is a cruise ship with tourists on an expedition on the Great Lakes. 

It's called the Octantis and it belongs to Viking Cruises' fleet. And the ship, on its inaugural voyage through the St. Lawrence Seaway, stopped in Detroit for its first port of call in Michigan on the way up the Detroit River. The ship was nearly sold out with more than 300 guests onboard, a company representative said. 

A few Metro Detroiters even came to the riverside to see the Octantis as she took a break from her course.

Steve Lovett, 46, of Royal Oak was among them.  

"It's the first time we've had a modern, giant cruise ship in this area, so I just had to see it for myself," Lovett said. "I never thought the day would come when we'd see a luxury ship like this here."

Lovett, who owns a real estate investment company, is a boating and ship enthusiast and said he's been following news about Viking's Cruises on the Great Lakes for some time. He has taken the company's virtual tours of the vessel and has been following the Octantis' GPS signal online since it disembarked on its inaugural voyage.

"It has a lot of features you don't find on Caribbean cruise ships or smaller vessels," he said. He mentioned its special hull that can cut through ice and fin stabilizers that keep passengers comfortable regardless of water conditions.

The Viking cruise ship Octantis heads up the Detroit River for a scheduled stop in Detroit, Tuesday, May 3, 2022.

"She's supposed to be one of the best, most comfortable sailing ships, plus one of the toughest, most durable ships and it's in this beautiful package." 

He also said he's read the company is building a sister ship to the Octantis, called the Polaris, which is scheduled to set sail next year.

Lovett isn't sure when he will book his Viking Great Lakes cruise, he said. "I've checked and it's fully booked for the summer months."

Stephen Lovett, Royal Oak, takes a picture of the Viking cruise ship Octantis, docked in Detroit, Tuesday, May 3, 2022.

Known for its trips on European rivers, the cruise line company announced in 2020 that it would offer trips on the Great Lakes. At the time of the announcement, the ship was still under construction and when finished it would host 378 guests in 189 staterooms.

Barbara Wynder of Detroit made a special trip Tuesday morning to see the vessel docked on the river.

"Have you ever seen something like this before in your life," she asked, standing near the river's bank Tuesday morning. "To see a large cruise ship at the Port of Detroit?"

Wynder

"Do you know what this means to little kids?" said Wynder, a retired attorney and business owner who is board president for the Chandler Park Academy charter schools in Harper Woods. "Our kids should be out here to see this!"

She said a friend who is into ship watching on the Detroit River posted the Octantis would be docking in the city Tuesday on the internet. 

"When I saw that, I said 'I have to see this,'" Wynder said.

She said it was exciting to see the vessel on the river and wished she could get a closer look at her.

"I am impressed with (the ship's) magnitude, its size and how it got here," she said. "Do you know that It had to go through eight (canal) locks before it got to Point Pelee?"

Wynder said after seeing the Octantis, she doesn't think that she'll take a Viking Cruise on the Great Lakes, but is interested in one of the company's trips in Europe, such as a voyage on the Danube.

The voyage the Octantis is on began in Toronto and took travelers to Niagara Falls, Point Pelee and Detroit. Next stops after Detroit: Alpena and Mackinac Island, with the trip ending in Milwaukee. Prices for voyages on the ship begin at $5,995.

The Viking cruise ship Octantis docks in Detroit, Tuesday, May 3, 2022.

Like Wynder, Marty Pelker, 63, of Dearborn was excited for the ship's arrival in Detroit. He and his wife, Anita, made a special trip to see the Octantis at the dock Tuesday morning. "She knows how much fun I have around ships."

Pelker said he thinks it's great the cruise line makes a stop in Detroit. "It's gorgeous," he said. "When was the last time you saw something like this in Detroit? It's awesome."

Pelker

Viking Cruises are educational cruises and their trips aim to tell a story, he said, and now is a good time to Detroit's story.

"We've got so much to offer, it's great the world wants to see it, especially now the area is doing something positive downtown and with the riverwalk and we're reopening ourselves back up," Pelker said.

He added Viking Cruises' passengers are typically world travelers and he hopes they'll come to Detroit and spend some money, helping boost the area's economy. Perhaps, he said, someone on the cruise will see something here and want to invest in Metro Detroit.

On Tuesday, the ship was moored on the Detroit River at the Nicholson Terminal & Dock Company near West Jefferson and West Grand Boulevard.

By 7:30 a.m., she was securely docked next to an old building with a big blue "Boblo Island Detroit Dock" sign painted on its sides facing the water. A large fence surrounded the terminal and access to the dock was restricted.

On the shore to the north of the ship, construction workers were busy moving dirt and erecting structures for what appears will be a park in the near future. A pavilion with a cement foundation is already standing.

The Viking ship docked at the Nicholson Terminal instead of the Detroit Wayne County Port Authority’s public dock, which was built to give Great Lakes cruise ships and other vessels “the ability to dock in downtown Detroit,” according to the Port Authority’s website.

The Port Authority was notified late last week the new Viking ship would dock elsewhere, said Kyle Burleson, director of port operations, but he did not know why.

“We believe that it can use our facility,” he said. “We've worked with Viking, their ships' agent which handles all the shoreside logistics, as well as the pilots.”

A Viking representative could not speak specifically on the ship's docking.

The Port Authority performed tests to make sure there was enough water at the dock for the ship to be docked there. Officials hope the ship will use the dock later this summer, Burleson said.

Where a ship docks though “is ultimately up to the captain of the vessel,” he said, adding that “a vessel that size getting into our dock would be a little bit tricky. I think they were just more comfortable going to a freight dock where they know that large ships pull up all the time.”

The Port Authority’s dock, which cost $12 million to build and opened in 2011, was designed for what was previously the largest cruise ship on the Great Lakes: the 472-foot Hamburg. The new Viking ship is 665 feet long. 

“We'll certainly work with them to make sure they have all the information they need to help them understand that it's perfectly adequate for them,” Burleson said.

The Port Authority dock has 50 other cruise ships coming in this summer, Burleson said.

Young

Kenneth Young, 41, of Detroit said he had the day off Tuesday, saw on the internet that the ship was docking in Detroit and wanted to see it for himself.

"I'm used to seeing small boats and freighters on the river, but then I heard about this and wanted to come see it," the school bus driver said. "I didn't think it would be this big. It's a lot bigger than I expected. Wow. It's beautiful."

He said he's never been on a cruise."The only thing I've been on is the Boblo Boat and that was years ago," Young said.

However, he said he might consider boarding one of Viking's vessels someday.

"I looked up the prices and I'm going to have to save up for a few years," he said with a laugh.

Staff writer Kalea Hall contributed.