The Tall Ships event came to Duluth for the first time since 2010. I went with my husband and his parents then, and they came up again to see the ships this year. I was really excited to go because I remember having an incredible time in 2010. So many ships, so much history, so much to learn and lots of photo opportunities! Sadly, I was a little disappointed this time around. The boats were still magnificent to see, but shady ticketing practices and no-show boats soured the experience.
250,000 people were expected to attend this event. I have no idea how many actually did, but the crowd was a lot thinner on Sunday afternoon than I expected. It was the last day of the event and the only day the sun showed it’s face for any amount of time.
I think perhaps several of the ships either left early or didn’t show up at all because when we arrived there were only three ships you could actually tour, even though there were supposed to have been 10. There were two others that I saw doing “sail-aways,” which means that no one could tour them, but those who had paid at least $95 could climb aboard and be taken on a sailing tour of the bay and part of Lake Superior. I did not pay for that extra bit (I also did not pay the $200 for the “Gold Pass” allowing people to skip the line. Quite frankly that kind of pass should be given only to those with disabilities and NOT be sold to rich yuppies who think they are allowed to be rude to everyone. I digress).
Only one of the ships that were available to tour on Sunday was new to me; the other two had been there in 2010 (the Pride of Baltimore II and the US Brig Niagara). The new ship was from Norway and is called the SS Sørlandet. The hull of this ship was metal, whereas all the others were wooden. The boat was also much bigger than the others and the oldest Norwegian training vessel. Today she hosts the “Class Afloat” organization which is an educational opportunity for youth.
It was a fun afternoon, I’ll admit, but unless someone comes to visit us who has not been to the Tall Ships event, I probably won’t go again. I’m no sailing buff and don’t even know enough to formulate proper questions while touring the ships, so the only thing I can get out of it is the visual beauty of these vessels (which is not small, mind you). The other reason I probably will not go is their ticketing practices.
They offered two basic types of pass: Multi-Day ($17 online) and Single Day ($6 online). The Single Day passes were a rip-off because they only thing they got you was general admission to the event grounds. You could not go on any of the boats, you could only stand there and admire from the dock. There was no version of the single-day pass that would grant you access to the boats! So, I paid $17 for a “multi-day” pass, which did come with the right to an on-board tour of all the ships, even though I was only visiting 1 day. I find this to be completely ridiculous. Perhaps if all ten boats had been there, and I was really dedicated to seeing all of them, it would be worth it to have a pass that was good for all three days. But after going for just a few hours on Sunday afternoon, and touring all three available boats, I can’t imagine why I would have gone a second, or especially third day. We did everything there was for us to do in 4 hours. I guess the proper way to look at it is that I paid $17 for an on-board tour ticket, and to forget about the “multi-day” thing altogether.
I would be surprised if there were not many, many people who purchased a single-day pass thinking they would be able to get on the boats, because it was not very clear from the ticket descriptions what you were actually getting. They all said, “Dock-side tour,” which, until I carefully read the description of the multi-day pass, I interpreted as “on-board tours of boats which are docked.” Why even say the word “tour” if no actual “tour” is involved? It was very shady. Plus, as I mentioned before, they sold “
Rude Gold” Passes allowing the bearer to skip ahead of everyone in line. This is a deplorable practice and falls into the category, “Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.” It really put a sour taste in my mouth, and very nearly ruined my experience, especially when two such pass holders cut in the middle of our group, separating us for some time. Rude, rude, rude.
Oh well. I still had a good time and even though the ticketing made me mad, it was an amazing thing to be able to see, walk on and touch these beautiful boats.
*An Edit: A recent article from the Duluth News Tribune said nine ships left Duluth today (Monday July 29), which means only one of the 10 did not show up. The one that did not come was supposed to do “sail-aways” so other ships had to pick up the slack. I am not sure but it seems to me that they must have had 6 ships doing sail-aways because Sunday afternoon there were only 3 boats to tour.