MUSKEGON, Mich. - Today marks the start of the cruise ship season on the Great Lakes with the first ship arriving in Muskegon today.

The Victory I cruise ship tied up in Muskegon around 7 a.m. on Thursday May, 23. The 300-ft. ship will depart around 6 p.m. 

The ship just started a 9-night Great Lakes cruise that started in Chicago and ends in Toronto. The number of cruise ships on the Great Lakes has expanded in recent years. 

"We knew our guests wanted to see more of America," said Sarah Neelis, Manager of Hotel Operations for American Queen Steamboat Company and Victory Cruise Lines. "We decided to venture out on the Great Lakes."

The Victory I is a small agile intimate ship able to take passengers into small ports on the Great Lakes. 

"We have a capacity of 202 guests on board with 101 staterooms," Neelis said. 

This is the fourth year that Muskegon has been a port of call for Great Lakes cruise ships.

RELATED: GRBJ: New initiative hopes to bolster Great Lakes cruises

The ship passengers will have the opportunity to explore the Lake Michigan shoreline throughout the day by visiting Muskegon's historical district, the USS Silversides Submarine Museum, the LST 393.

This year three different cruise ship together will make 13 visits to Muskegon. 

"All summer long you will see the Pearl Mist, and the Victory Cruise lines, and then at the end of season in September and October we have a new ship the Le Champlain," said Bob Lukens, Visit Muskegon.  

"Hosting the cruise ships in Muskegon is exciting because it brings attention to our deep water harbor. The economic impact of the port has been estimated to be $300 million annually," said Cindy Larsen, President of the Muskegon Lakeshore Chamber of Commerce. 

"Thousands of people travel to this community by cruise ship, the high-speed Lake Express Ferry, a sailing yacht, or motor cruiser. Vessels of all sizes and shapes are here to see the beautiful vistas of Muskegon Lake and Lake Michigan."

Muskegon business and tourism leaders worked to secure cruise ship visits beginning in 2015 when the Pearl Mist was diverted from Holland to Muskegon because Holland's dock wasn't available.

Business owners in downtown appreciate the day long visits from cruise ship passengers. They spend money on souvenirs and small gifts.

"We enjoy talking to them asking them where they're from and hearing about their adventures and their travels," said Courtney Leibrandt, Owner of Vintage Redefined on West Western Ave. "They're usually having a good time," she said.

The Muskegon Lakeshore Chamber of Commerce and tourism leaders are working to bring even more ships to town next year. They say talks are underway with three more cruise lines in hopes the number of cruise ship visitors doubles in the coming years.

To find out more about the Port of Muskegon or to see the 2019 cruise ship schedule visit www.muskegon.org/cruise-ships.

RELATED VIDEO:

â–ºMake it easy to keep up to date with more stories like this. Download the 13 ON YOUR SIDE app now.

Have a news tip? Email news@13onyourside.com, visit our Facebook page or Twitter.