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Cruise ships coming to Port of Indiana-Burns Harbor?

Indiana Dunes Tourism is trying to bring Great Lakes cruise ships like The Pearl Mist to the Port of Indiana-Burns Harbor.

Cruising on the Great Lakes has been taking off in recent years, with three different cruise lines offering weeklong cruises, such as from Chicago to Montreal, Halifax to Buffalo and Milwaukee to Toronto.

As many as eight cruise ship companies are expected to sail on the Great Lakes within the next few years as global instability has left many wanting to cruise closer to home, and people seek out more affordable cruise options.

Indiana Dunes Tourism is working to get a piece of that action.

The Chesterton-based tourism agency, which promotes the Indiana Dunes and other attractions in Porter County, is looking to bring massive cruise ships to the Port of Indiana-Burns Harbor. About 150 to 350 people would deboard a few times a week and take bus tours to see the Indiana Dunes National Park, heavy industry and other sites in Northwest Indiana.

"Indiana Dunes Tourism aims to have Indiana added to the list of Great Lakes cruise stops in the near future," Indiana Dunes Tourism Assistant Director Christine Livingston said. "Who knew that cruising Lake Michigan was a thing? Turns out that Great Lakes cruising is big business. There are already three cruise lines carrying hundreds of passengers regularly to ports and cities such as Chicago, Detroit, Milwaukee, Green Bay, Montreal.

"Indiana Dunes Tourism and the Northwest Indiana Forum believe that Northwest Indiana has compelling enough attractions to jump into this arena."

The deepwater Port of Indiana-Burns Harbor on Lake Michigan would welcome cruise ships to dock there, Ports of Indiana spokeswoman Alicia Thomas said.

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"While a few folks on the Great Lakes and in the Region are starting to explore this possibility, we are letting the local tourism board drive this initiative," she said. "We have told them that we will make space available at the port if they are successful."

Indiana Dunes Tourism has been working with the port, the Northwest Indiana Forum, the Indiana Dunes National and State Parks, the Indiana Office of Tourism, the Great Lakes Cruising Coalition, the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Governors and Premiers and local industry to come up with local tours cruise planners would want to add, Livingston said. 

The Indiana Dunes National Park likely would merit a stop for many cruise ships, and industry tours have proven popular in Detroit. 

"We are just beginning to work with a team to develop tours and offerings," Livingston said. "Northwest Indiana is unique and interesting. We plan to showcase the Indiana Dunes and surrounding areas and its unique juxtaposition to modern industry. Tour themes and partners are already in development."

The visitors will stay on the cruise ships overnight and not at local hotels and likely not dine at local restaurants, because they pay from $3,000 to $12,000 for all-inclusive tours that include meals on the ship, Livingston said. But the cruise ship stops would benefit the bus tour operators and expose more people to the Region, potentially resulting in return trips.

"This effort is in its infancy, but we have already generated plenty of interest and are optimistic that we can get Indiana in the Great Lakes cruising game within the next two years," she said.

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Business Reporter

Joseph S. Pete is a Lisagor Award-winning business reporter who covers steel, industry, unions, the ports, retail, banking and more. The Indiana University grad has been with The Times since 2013 and blogs about craft beer, culture and the military.