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One of the world's fastest-growing cruise lines is about to take on the Mississippi River -- and it's a big deal

March 31, 2020
7 min read
Viking Mississippi
One of the world's fastest-growing cruise lines is about to take on the Mississippi River -- and it's a big deal
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Fast-growing cruise company Viking is setting its sights on yet another destination: the Mississippi River.

The 23-year-old brand late Tuesday announced it would begin voyages on North America's longest waterway in August 2022 with a custom-built, five-deck vessel.

To be called Viking Mississippi, the ship will hold 386 passengers and feature the same streamlined Scandinavian design that’s found on Viking's existing vessels.

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The announcement has been widely expected for several years. Viking chairman Torstein Hagen has made no secret of his desire to get into the Mississippi River cruise business.

Viking 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. But it's never offered voyages on rivers in North America -- the home to the majority of its customers.

Viking Mississippi will be five decks high and have room for 386 passengers. (Image courtesy of Viking)

“Our guests are curious travelers, and they continue to tell us that the Mississippi is the river they most want to sail with us," Hagen said in a statement accompanying the announcement. "The Mississippi River is closer to home for many of our guests, and no other waterway has played such an important role in America’s history, commerce and culture.”

The announcement is a huge development in the small world of U.S. river cruising, which currently is dominated by two small companies: American Cruise Lines and the American Queen Steamboat Company. Viking is known for quickly becoming a major force in the niches of cruising that it enters.

The announcement comes as Viking is in the midst of a massive expansion into upscale ocean cruising. The company has grown from one of the smallest players in the market to the biggest in just five years. Launched in 2015, Viking’s ocean division has quickly rolled out six 930-passenger ships. Six more are on order for delivery by 2025.

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Viking also recently announced a move into expedition-style cruising to off-the-beaten-path destinations such as Antarctica and the Arctic.

Still, Viking is perhaps best known for its rapid growth in the river cruise business over the past decade. The period saw it add more than 60 new river vessels in Europe, Asia and Egypt. The line’s current fleet of 73 river ships accounts for about half of all river cruise capacity among lines catering to North Americans.

A deck-top pool is among the features that will be found on Viking's new Mississippi River ship. (Image courtesy of Viking).
A deck-top pool is among the features that will be found on Viking's new Mississippi River ship. (Image courtesy of Viking)

Viking will add another seven new river ships this year -- six in Europe and one in Egypt.

Mississippi River cruising has been making a 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 four on the river. Two are modern in design and two are traditional paddlewheelers. The company plans to add more.

The Indiana-based American Queen Steamboat Company has added two traditional Mississippi River paddlewheelers to its fleet since 2017, bringing its total to three. The company operates the best-known Mississippi River vessel, the American Queen.

Many of the features on Viking's new Mississippi vessel will be familiar to Viking fans. The ship will have 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.

The Explorers' Lounge on Viking Mississippi will offer sweeping views through floor-to-ceiling glass. (Image courtesy of Viking)

Viking Mississippi also will have one of Viking's signature Aquavit Terrace dining spaces serving food in a casual setting. Another eatery, River Cafe, will serve 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 very 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).

Rendering of the Viking Mississippi - Seating area on the Bow in front of the Explorer's Lounge.
A seating area called The Bow will be located at the very front of Viking Mississippi. (Image courtesy of Viking)

Additional public areas will include The Living Room, a stylish interior sitting and entertainment area that will serve as a central hub for passengers. It'll be near The Restaurant, which will be the ship's main eatery with changing menus that highlight regional cuisine as well as classic dishes.

Seven categories of cabins on Viking Mississippi will range from 268 square feet to 1,024 square feet in size. All will have outdoor views and feature either a walk-out balcony or a French balcony.

At the high end, the ship's Explorer's Suites will be among the biggest suites on the Mississippi River.

Explorer's Suite will be the biggest accommodations on Viking Mississippi. (Image courtesy of Viking).
Explorer's Suite will be the biggest accommodations on Viking Mississippi. (Image courtesy of Viking)

Viking is promising lots of onboard enrichment including lectures on the art, history, culture and nature of the places the ship visits as well as performances of regional music.

Four initial itineraries will range from a seven-night trip between New Orleans and Memphis, Tennessee, to a 14-night itinerary that goes all the way from New Orleans to St. Paul, Minnesota.

As is typical for Mississippi River cruises, port stops will include such places as Baton Rouge, Louisiana; Natchez and Vicksburg, Mississippi; Hannibal, Missouri; and Dubuque, Iowa.

Inaugural sailings are available for booking today for past Viking customers. The trips go on sale to the general public on April 15.

Fares start at $3,699 per person for a seven-night voyage.

Related: The best credit cards for booking cruises

In keeping with Viking's no-nickel-and-diming philosophy, fares will 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 Studio