Viking set to make a big splash in the U.S. with the Mississippi

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The Viking Mississippi will be more like a small ocean vessel than a traditional river ship.
The Viking Mississippi will be more like a small ocean vessel than a traditional river ship.

Viking’s long-awaited entry into the domestic river cruise market will bring not only a new player but also a whole new type of sailing experience.

To be built in Louisiana and set to launch in August 2022, the Viking Mississippi is the company’s first U.S. river ship and will be the largest ship plying its storied namesake.

The ship is more like a small ocean vessel than a traditional river ship. Viking said the Mississippi will have 193 staterooms, all outside-facing, that can accommodate 386 guests. That’s about double the capacity of the modern riverboat series of ships introduced in 2018 by American Cruise Lines, which also sails four traditional paddlewheelers.

The look of Viking's first U.S. ship

The only other domestic river company, the American Queen Steamboat Co., sails only paddlewheelers.

The Viking Mississippi will have some of the largest staterooms in the industry, with seven cabin categories ranging from 268 to 1,024 square feet, all with private balconies, Viking said.

While much larger than its European river ships, which are limited by bridge heights and narrow locks, Viking said the Viking Mississippi features the same “clean Scandinavian design as well as public spaces that are familiar to guests but that have been reimagined for Mississippi River voyages.”

Because of its larger size, it also includes some features of Viking’s ocean ships, including an Explorers’ Lounge with floor-to-ceiling windows that open to the Bow, an outdoor seating area at the front of the ship.

Other amenities include an infinity plunge pool, indoor and outdoor dining options on the sun deck, a “living room” and main dining area on the first deck and a promenade deck on the lower level that will enable guests to walk the entire perimeter of the ship, Viking said.

Viking has been quietly working to enter the U.S. domestic market for years. It had been scheduled to unveil the product to a VIP audience on April 7 in New Orleans, but like most travel, that was canceled due to the Covid-19 outbreak. The company instead released a video announcement from its chairman, Torstein Hagen.

“At a time when many of us are at home, looking for inspiration to travel in the future, I am pleased to introduce a new, modern way to explore this great river,” Hagen said. “Our guests are curious travelers, and they continue to tell us that the Mississippi is the river they most want to sail with us. 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.”

American Cruise Lines CEO Charles B. Robertson and American Queen Steamboat Co. CEO John Waggoner have each said there is plenty of room for a new player on U.S. rivers, which in recent years have seen booming demand.

“Each player brings something different to the table,” Robertson said. “[Viking is] introducing a 400-passenger ship more than two years from now. I expect to be adding four more ships before then. ... I like the smaller boats for everything we do.”

Hagen noted in his video announcement that Viking’s ships would be nothing like a traditional paddlewheeler. 

“There was a little ding there,” Robertson said. “We love our paddlewheelers. It’s just one more element in that product diversity. They offer a different experience, and people still love them.”

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