Fast-growing Viking‘s long-awaited move into North America river cruising has finally begun.
The river cruise giant on Saturday quietly launched its first sailing on the Mississippi River — a seven-night voyage from St. Paul, Minnesota, to St. Louis that will include calls at river towns in four states.
The trip is taking place on the 386-passenger Viking Mississippi, a new five-deck ship that the company has had custom-built to operate on the Mississippi River and its tributaries.
The date for the vessel’s first voyage had been in flux in recent months due to delays in its construction, with several initial sailings canceled, and the line didn’t put out an announcement about its startup over the weekend. The ship originally was scheduled to debut in June.
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Rendering of Viking Mississippi’s River Cafe. ROTTET STUDIOS/VIKING
Built over the past two years at a shipyard in Louisiana, Viking Mississippi is a modern-style vessel, featuring the same streamlined Scandinavian design that’s found on Viking ships in other regions of the world. That makes it different from many river cruise vessels on the Mississippi River, which often have a traditional steamboat design with big paddle wheels, fluted stacks and gingerbread-ornamented wheelhouses.
Mississippi River cruising has been making a major comeback over the past decade after years of decline. Connecticut-based American Cruise Lines entered the Mississippi River cruise market in 2012 with one vessel and now has five on the river. Three are modern in design and two are traditional paddle wheelers. The company is in the midst of adding more.
Florida-based American Queen Voyages has added two traditional Mississippi River paddle wheelers to its fleet since 2017, tripling the number of vessels it has on the Mississippi River and its tributaries. The company has long operated the best-known Mississippi River vessel, the 436-passenger American Queen.
Viking has been eyeing an expansion into Mississippi River cruising for many years. The company currently dominates the market for river cruises in Europe aimed at North Americans. It’s also a significant player in river cruises in Asia and on the Nile in Egypt (where it just began a significant expansion with a stylish new ship). But it has never offered voyages on rivers in North America — the home of the majority of its customers.
Viking Mississippi is one of 16 new vessels that have recently joined or will soon join the Viking fleet. Unlike some cruise brands, Viking continued to expand its fleet rapidly during the COVID-19-related industry downturn.
Viking now operates 80 river ships around the world, as well as seven traditional ocean ships and a recently unveiled expedition-style ocean ship.
Viking CEO Torstein Hagen founded the company in 1997 with four river vessels. As recently as 2012, it operated just 29 ships. The privately owned brand, which now has 10,000 employees, has been one of the fastest-growing cruise operators in history.
Rendering of Viking Mississippi’s Forward Explorer’s Suite on Deck 5. ROTTET STUDIOS/VIKING
Many of the features on Viking’s new Mississippi vessel will be familiar to Viking fans. The ship has a two-deck-high Explorers’ Lounge at its front offering sweeping views through walls of glass. That’s a signature of Viking’s ocean ships.
Viking Mississippi also has one of Viking’s signature Aquavit Terrace dining spaces serving food in a casual setting. Another eatery, River Cafe, serves the same Norwegian specialties found at the Mamsen’s area of Viking ocean ships, plus other cuisines.
Other notable features include an outdoor seating area at the front of the vessel called The Bow and a sun terrace at the back of the ship with an infinity plunge pool (something found on Viking’s ocean ships, too).
Additional public areas include The Living Room, an interior sitting and entertainment area that is the central hub for passengers. It’s near The Restaurant, the main eatery that serves up regional cuisine as well as classic dishes.
Seven categories of cabins on Viking Mississippi range from 268 square feet to 1,024 square feet in size — the latter being among the biggest cabins on any Mississippi River vessel. All have outdoor views and feature either a walk-out balcony or a French balcony.
In addition to sailings between St. Paul and St. Louis, Viking Mississippi will operate three other itineraries during its initial year: seven-night trips between New Orleans and Memphis, seven-night trips that sail round-trip out of New Orleans, and a 14-night itinerary that goes all the way from New Orleans to St. Paul.
Port stops include such Mississippi river destinations as Baton Rouge, Louisiana; Natchez and Vicksburg, Mississippi; Hannibal, Missouri; and Dubuque, Iowa.
Fares start at $3,999 per person for a seven-night voyage.
In keeping with Viking’s no-nickel-and-diming philosophy, fares include a complimentary shore excursion in every port as well as all onboard meals, port charges and taxes, beer and wine with lunch and dinner, and onboard Wi-Fi access.
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FEATURED IMAGE BY ROTTET STUDIOS/VIKING.