Eight giant ships from around the world participated in the Parade of Sail Thursday afternoon, kicking off the four-day Tall Ships Duluth 2016 festival that is expected to draw hundreds of thousands of spectators to the northern Minnesota city.

The gathered in the waters of Lake Superior, then sailed under the city's famous lift bridge into the harbor and to their docking stations, where they will be parked through Sunday.

This will be the first Tall Ships Duluth festival since 2013.

Absent from the lineup is the Draken Harald Hårfagre, the Norwegian Viking ship that was forced to drop out of what's being billed as the "Greatest Spectacle on Lake Superior" when it could not pay the fee to have a pilot guide it through the Great Lakes. The ship was forced to turn back after participating in a Tall Ships events earlier this month in Green Bay and Chicago.

Still, the fleet of ships of yore in Duluth includes the marquee attraction, El Galeón Andalusia, a replica of a 16th to 17th century galleon and the only one in the world that sails in present days. The ships sailed on trade routes between Spain, America and the Philippines. The roster also includes the U.S. Brig Niagara, a replica of a War of 1812 vessel.

Festival organizers are hoping to draw 300,000 people over the four-day festival, and they may be close. Tickets that allow eventgoers to sail aboard the vessels have sold out. Online and phone sales of daily passes at $12 to $25 allowing for festival admission and onboard tours of the ships were cut off Thursday, but a ticket representative said some might be available on site.

Festival officials warned visitors to allow plenty of extra time for travel and "plan your arrival as soon as possible and, if departing Sunday, to leave as late as possible.

A section of I-35 between Pine City and Hinckley is down to a single lane in each direction due to construction.

Tim Harlow • 612-673-7768