ESCANABA, Mich. (WZMQ) – On Monday, American Queen Voyages (AQV) made its final trip to Escanaba.
The Ocean Voyager docked in Little Bay de Noc for the last of 33 trips, combined with the Ocean Navigator.
During each stop, passengers were introduced to Escanaba on bus tours of some of the city’s highlights. The tours were guided by residents who know Escanaba best, like Mark Cowman.
“It’s been fabulous showing people who have come from all over the world our little section of the Midwest,” Cowman said. “A lot of people came into it not knowing anything about the area. Between stopping here and Mackinac Island and Sault Ste. Marie, they just fell in love with the area. It’s always awesome to share the U.P. with people, it really is.”
Cowman says it was a pleasant experience for both tourists and locals.
“I think it’s really been an uplifting thing for the town, kind of a shot in the arm for everybody,” he said. “We all kind of feel like the U.P. sometimes doesn’t get the notoriety it should. People in Escanaba can have a feeling of pride knowing that people really wanted to come here and really enjoyed it at the end of the day.”
Escanaba Downtown Development Authority Director Craig Woerpel says hosting the cruise line was beneficial for the city.
“To have 33 ships come into port here has been phenomenal,” he said. “[The passengers] started telling me that this was more fun than Mackinac Island. They said that we’re more friendly, genuine, small-town. It shows that we have something to offer and we’re not just a small town on the Great Lakes.”
According to Woerpel, it was also a learning experience.
“The passengers were more enclosed than we thought, although you can see them walk Ludington Street,” he explained. “For the most part, they stayed with the buses themselves. Beyond the stops, it was very difficult to get them to go through the downtown. However, when I was on the buses talking to them, they were asking about housing, places to stay, so you know that many of them are thinking about coming back to this area.”
Some of the crew members have even had the chance to enjoy Escanaba throughout the summer.
“Every time we come to Escanaba we have a nice walk because it’s very nice and old,” said the Ocean Voyager’s butcher, Frazer. “A very quiet place. People around here are very helpful. Every time we ask what is where, they explain very well.”
“All the people are very nice,” said Dissen, a baker on the Ocean Voyager. “Nice shopping.”
Many passengers—who came from much larger cities across the country—said they liked the experience of spending the day in a smaller city.
“This is a nice surprise going to small towns, we love doing that,” said John Pittman of Texas. “This is what America’s all about, small town.”
“It’s a whole different vibe, it really is,” Thelma Pittman added.
“We think it’s a beautiful little town and that you’re lucky to live here,” said Cindy Glaze of Florida.
“It’s small and quaint and has a lot of history,” Chuck Glaze said.
“I love Escanaba!” said Connie Garrett of Virginia. “It’s a wonderful town and I appreciate the hospitality that’s been extended to us.”
In June, American Queen Voyages announced it would be “refocusing” its “core” operation—river cruises.
“Our customers consistently tell us our U.S. River itineraries are exceptional and demonstrate this by returning again and again,” AQV President Cindy D’Aoust said in a statement released by the company. “All of our focus is being put into updating and enhancing our popular river product with strategic partnerships and an elevated culinary program, which we know have been very well received.”
That change brings AQV’s entire Great Lakes route to an end. The Ocean Voyager and Ocean Navigator will be sold at the end of the year.
While the Voyager and Navigator will not return to Escanaba, Woerpel believes American Queen Voyages’ interest and success in the city bode well for future tourism.
“We’re hoping that even though the company itself won’t be working on the Great Lakes next year, that maybe a new cruise ship will be able to pick it up,” he said. “It’s got to put Escanaba to be able to get that kind of reaction from the passengers for other cruise ships to look where they might be able to expand to. It shows that we can play a part in a major industry like the cruise lines.”
Click here for a look inside the Ocean Navigator.