CUBA: The ferries are coming

A Balearia ocean-going ferry operating in the Mediterranean.

Carnival is the first US-based cruise line to win approval to sail to Havana, but any one of several sea-going ferries may beat them to the island. The race is on.

Four years ago, I told you that “lifting the US trade embargo against Cuba would open up a whole new class of cruise travel for Americans — ocean-going ferries. The possibilities are mind-blowing.”

Let the mind-blowing begin.

I was about to blog the announcement that United Caribbean Lines planned to start operating cruise ferries between Miami and Havana as early as this coming fall when I found out that they’re just the latest of a string of ferry operators setting sail from Cuba.

As of this writing, Baja Ferries USA, Havana Ferry Partners, CubaKat and Balearia all have preceded United Caribbean in seeking permission to run ferries between Florida and Cuba.

As today’s generation likes to say: It’s on.

Baja Ferries USA is the US subsidiary of the Mexican company that operates ferries between the Baja California peninsula and the Mexican mainland. Balearia is a Spanish shipping firm that already runs ferries between the Spanish mainland the islands in the Mediterranean, as well as between Florida and the Bahamas.
The rest are American start-ups that have yet to put a hull in the water.

Interestingly, while Washington seems to be issuing US-Cuba ferry licenses as fast as they can be printed, it’s the Cuban government that seems to be in no hurry to do the same.

I don’t know if this is a political ploy by Havana or if the Cuban bureaucracy was just caught unprepared for an avalanche of license requests. Either way, the expectation on our side of the Florida Straits is that the go-ahead is coming, and coming soon.

This time next year, if not sooner, travelers may be arriving in Havana harbor in rows of comfortably reclining seats not unlike those of airliners — except that the ferry seats will probably be wider and have a lot more legroom.

For those looking for both comfort and privacy, the larger ferries will come with cabins, available for a surcharge.

Some of the ferry companies plan to use traditional V-hull ocean-going ferries, large enough to carry not only hundreds of passengers, but cars and even 18-wheelers.

Others are talking of making the daily run using high-speed catamarans featuring thin, narrow, wave-piercing twin hulls that permit vessels weighing thousands of tons to cross long stretches of ocean at ludicrous speeds.

At the very least, this means that Americans wanting to visit Cuba will have two cruise options — the full-blown resort-at-sea cruise ship experience with multiple port calls, and the quicker, more direct ferry cruise, with only one destination and fewer frills.

Please note that when it comes to the ferries, I said fewer frills, not none. The larger conventional ferries are likely to feature many of the amenities found on regular cruise ships — bars and restaurants, shopping, even swimming pools and casinos.

And at least one of them is likely to be calling on Havana before Carnival’s new fathom cruise line arrives next year, even though Carnival got Cuba’s go-ahead first.

Greg Gross is the Publisher/Sr. Editor of “I’m Black and I Travel! and owner of the Trips by Greg travel agency.


CRUISE: Carnival to Cuba

Havana harbor at sunset.
Havana harbor at sunset.

Washington gives approval to the world’s largest cruise line to begin sailings between Miami and Havana.

Well, that didn’t take long, did it?

It’s being announced today that the US Treasury and Commerce departments have given Carnival Cruise Lines the go-ahead to begin travel to Cuba, starting in May 2016.

There’s no comment so far, official or otherwise, from the Cuban government. Granma, the official newspaper of the Cuban Communist Party central committee, makes no mention of it. But there’s no way that either Carnival or Washington would go public without already having Havana’s blessing in their back pockets.

This deal is done.

You can read the press release here.

The ink has barely dried on last week’s formal reopening of relations between the United States and Cuba, so you know this has been in the works for a while, behind the scenes.

It all ties in with the launch of Carnival’s newest line, fathom, the voluntourism cruise experience we told you about last month.

For Cuba, this makes sense in ways beyond the obvious.

By opening up to US cruise lines with one of Carnival’s smaller ships, they can treat this as a warm-up — a “soft opening,” as they say in business circles — to prepare for the day when more and larger cruise ships start calling on Havana harbor.

And we know those days are coming.

The Caribbean cruise market is perhaps the most ferociously competitive in the world. Its two biggest competitors by far are Carnival and Royal Caribbean. Both have known for years that this day was coming — and although neither side would say so publicly — both have spent years quietly preparing for it.

There’s a certain swag that comes with being first, so Round One definitely goes to Carnival, but this is not over. You can’t tell me that Royal Caribbean spent the last several years building the largest cruise ships afloat, their Oasis class, without having Cuba as part of their thinking.

Carnival may be first, but you can bet your rent money that the competition won’t be far behind. The rush is coming.

Meanwhile, for those of you wanting to get a glimpse of Cuba before mass-market tourism from the States engulfs the island and forever changes the place, you might want to think about moving up your plans a bit.

Either way…got passport?

Greg Gross is Publisher/Senior Editor of “I’m Black and I Travel! and owner of Trips by Greg LLC, a travel agency specializing in cultural travel and tours.


CRUISE: Voluntourism goes to sea

cruise cruise Adonia
Adonia, flagship of the new fathom cruise line from Carnival.

Carnival launches a boutique cruise line that combines an ocean vacation with cultural immersion and volunteer work for its passengers.

Cruise lines face quandary. Their need for younger travelers is colliding with people’s craving for a more authentic, hands-on travel experience, the kind you don’t get lounging around shipboard bars and sun decks, or crammed into a bus on “canned” sightseeing tours.

For better or worse, that’s the image a lot of millennials — and some older travelers, too — have of cruise vacations. And it doesn’t make them reach for their passports.

Houston — or in this case, Doral, FL, home of industry giant Carnival Cruise Lines — we have a problem.

Various lines are trying varying approaches to attack this. Royal Caribbean is building enormous mega-ships packed with enough onboard amusements to make Las Vegas and Disneyworld equally nervous.

Some, like Oceania, Seabourn and Crystal, are going all-in on all-out luxury, doing their best to replicate 5-star living at sea. Others, like Holland America Line, are making a point to offer shipboard cooking classes and other learning experiences designed to keep passengers engaged instead of amused.

Comes now Carnival with something completely different: fathom — deliberately lower-case, but not necessarily lower key.

And definitely not what one normally associates with the Mickey D’s of cruise lines.

In reality, Carnival is the 800-pound gorilla of the cruise industry, owner of eight different cruise lines in addition to the Carnival flagship brand, each with its own character and personality.

Some of these names you already know — and on some cases, may have already sailed on:

  • AIDA Cruises
  • Costa
  • Cunard
  • Holland America
  • P&O
  • P&O Australia
  • Princess
  • Seabourn

Just this month, Carnival had added a ninth, fathom, which will be sailing the Caribbean out of Miami with a single ship, the Adonia.

In all, Adonia has space for just over 700 passengers, about the size of the original Love Boat.

By comparison, Royal Caribbean’s Oasis of the Seas can accommodate more people than that on one deck.

But by far the biggest different between fathom and a conventional Caribbean cruise may be what happens when you get ashore.

fathom is offering passengers a chance to do work as volunteers for a week in the Dominican Republic. They’re calling this “impact travel:”

“Impact travel with fathom provides the opportunity to build community with like-minded travelers, become immersed in another culture, and work alongside its people to create enduring social impact.

“As a fathom™ traveler, you’ll work alongside established impact partners with strong community connections in the northern Dominican Republic. You’ll work alongside the people of those communities, immersing yourself in their culture, harnessing the power of that human connection to make relevant, lasting contributions.”

Passengers will choose from among three fields in they can volunteer in the DR:

  • Environmental
    Making and distributing clay water filters to communities without safe drinking water, or working on reforesting projects.
  • Education
    Tutoring students in English classes.
  • Economic Development
    Working with two women’s cooperatives, one that cultivates organic cacao plants for the production of chocolate, while the other creates marketable arts and crafts from recycled paper.

“…you’ll come home seven days later knowing that, for the people whose lives you’ve just touched, the world has become a little brighter because of you.”

Voluntourism is going to sea. Even their URL is not the customary .com site. It’s an .org.

It’s not all sweat and service. In between the volunteer work will be time spent on pristine beaches, in restaurants, clubs and shops.

Voluntourism itself is hardly new, and as you’ll see from the link in this paragraph, not without controversy. What’s new here is to have a mass-market cruise line offering passengers the chance to get involved in it. In that sense, the cruise industry truly is sailing into uncharted waters.

If it resonates with younger or socially conscious travelers, however, Carnival just might have found a way to give cruise travel a more positive image — and just maybe get more and younger travelers to go to sea.

On a fathom cruise, then, you’re going to get dirty. You’re going to get sweaty. You may even get tired. You’re also going to meet Dominicans, get to know some of them by name, get a taste of what their lives are like.

In short, you’re going to come away with a feeling for a culture you never would’ve got from the inside of that tour bus.

fathom begins operations in April 2016.

Greg Gross is Publisher/Senior Editor of “I’m Black and I Travel! and owner of Trips by Greg LLC, a travel agency specializing in cultural travel and tours.


TRAVEL: The Road Ahead for 2015

First of two parts

Golicz London

Travel that emphasizes spontaneity, spanning generations and genuine local flavor is what’s trending these days among Americans. Also, economic headaches on the other side of the Atlantic are making Europe a lot more affordable.

You might not recognize the name John Golicz, but if you’ve been to one of the seven Travel & Adventure shows held this winter around the United States, you know his work.

Golicz is the CEO of Unicomm LLC, the company that annually puts on the annual Travel & Adventure Show series across the continental United States, the largest travel trade shows in the country. He makes his living checking the pulse of the American travel industry.

And he took a few minutes this week with IBIT to talk about what’s trending these days with American travelers. Our chat may have been brief, but it was wide-ranging.

One of the biggest trends these days is a passion a genuine experience. Travelers are moving away from the “canned,” pre-packaged trips and looking to “keep it real.”

JG: “Right now, a lot of travelers are looking for experience more than luxury. Baby boomers are very much into cultural mixing right now. It’s all about authenticity, being engaged with the culture of the region more than just staying in a great hotel.

“People like the idea of getting into a new destination and meeting people, eating with the locals. They’re finding pop-ups in people’s home where the serve meals to visitors. You sit down with their families. It’s not free; you’re paying for it, of course. But you’re meeting real people and getting a taste of real life in that place.

“It’s a dynamite experience.”

Something that might be contributing at least indirectly to that quest for true local “flavor” is a willingness to be more spontaneous in their travels than in years past, Golicz says.

Where their elders were more likely carefully pre-plan their travel itineraries well in advance and down to the last detail, millennials armed with smartphones and the hottest in travel and social media apps are turning impulse, last-minute travel in something close to its own niche in the industry.

JG: “The millennials are certainly traveling more at their age than their predecessors did. a lot of their travel is more on-demand. They’re perfectly comfortable just showing up in a train or a plane, open up an app like Hotel tonight to find a room, then booking a ride from Uber to take them there, all without a lot of advanced planning, or any advanced planning at all.”

I’m from that older generation of traveler that likes to have all the trip details nailed down well ahead of time. Even so, I can imagine a certain exhilaration, a certain feeling of urban adventure, in just throwing a few clothes in the backpack duffel, punching in a few codes on a few smartphone apps and seeing where the impulse takes me.

Actually, a lot of us aging Baby Boomers are taking the suitcases out of storage and dusting off those passports. No surprise there. What has been something of a surprise to the travel industry is how many of us are taking our kids and grandkids with us.

It’s happening so often, Golicz says, that it’s now become it own category: multi-generational travel. It’s not just bringing families together around potentially life-changing travel experiences, but it’s also saving them a lot of money.

JG: “It’s really growing fast right — from grandma and grandpa to all the kids and grandkids, rounding everybody up and going somewhere together. Very often, they’re renting homes and villas where everybody can stay together under one room, and it’s very often cheaper than hotel rooms.”

Millennials, boomers, seemingly everybody in between — they’re all traveling. But where are all these going?

Golicz thinks he knows where they should be going. And oddly enough, it’s a destination you might think had grown overly familiar by now: Europe.

The reason is cost. The Old World, he says, is a lot cheaper these days.

JG: “There’s no better time to go to Europe. The value of the euro is almost on a par with the dollar for the first time in nearly a generation. A 4- or 5-star hotel in a European capital is almost than the same level of hotel here in the US, and that’s pretty exciting news.

“Trans-Atlantic airfares are down almost 10 percent. There are more seats flying there than fliers. Also, the fuel savings (due to lower crude oil prices worldwide) are finally hitting the consumers’ tickets. On top of all that, a lot of European economies are going too great, so Europe is a great value right now.”

For first-time visitors to Europe, he also had a suggestion to get the most out of that first visit — a river cruise.

River cruising has been a staple of European travel for decades, but in the last five years, it’s gone ballistic as a half-dozen river cruise lines try to outdo one another in building new ships and adding new itineraries.

Where an ocean cruise line like Royal Caribbean, Carnival, or NCL might make a huge deal out of launching a single giant new cruise vessel, companies like Viking, AMA Waterways or Uniworld might launch a half-dozen new river cruisers on the same day.

And while those same lines are taking new river cruisers to South America and Asia, and are even starting to cast covetous eyes on the Mississippi River here at home, there are still plenty of vessels with that new cruise ship smell, plying the rivers of Europe.

And that’s the first-timers’ advantage, Golicz says, since there’s a shore excursion almost every day.

JG:”Don’t be afraid to try a European river cruise, especially along the Danube. You can cover a lot of Old World Europe in one week. Cities like Prague and Budapest have a lot of charm, and you can take notes along your route on the places you want to come back to and spend more time.”

Okay, that’s great for Europe. But does Golicz have any thoughts on the rest of the world? Yes, he does.

And that’s next.

Greg Gross is the Publisher/Sr. Editor of “I’m Black and I Travel!,” and the owner of the Trips by Greg travel agency.


An ocean of culture

Every four years, the peoples of the Pacific come together for a two-week celebration by and of the peoples of Polynesia, Melanesia and Micronesia — and you’re invited.

Next year, while much of the rest of the world will focus on the Olympics and the World Cup, another gathering of nations that only takes place every four years will be convening from across the Pacific.

Thousands of artists, musicians, dancers, master carvers, weavers, jewelers and seafarers from 27 countries will come together on the island of Guam for the 2016 Festival of Pacific Arts.

Nowhere else could you get a taste, literally and figuratively, of all the cultures of Polynesia, Melanesia and Micronesia at the same time. And only the best of every culture and every island nation get the chance to “represent” at this festival.

This will be only the twelfth such festival ever held since 1972. It’s never been held in the same place twice.

Whatever aspect of Pacific life and culture has ever caught your eye or captivated your interest, you’ll find its masters and its experts here.

This is where you find out that Easter island is about more than just monolithic stone carvings, where you meet the seafarers who still navigate the world’s largest ocean without the need of GPS.

And this being held on Guam, you also may find some reasons to return here once the festival is over — gorgeous white-sand beaches and world-class diving, equally unspoiled and relatively uncrowded.

Here, too, history buffs will find living memories of World War 2. Japan invaded Guam three days after Pearl Harbor. Three years later, US soldiers and Marines took it back in three weeks of vicious fighting that saw Guamanians rise up against their Japanese occupiers.

(If you run into Japanese on the island today, they’re more likely to be tourists and shoppers, the latter group zeroing in on the world’s largest Kmart, which happens to be on Guam. Not kidding. Word is, they shop for the larger clothing sizes they can’t find readily back home.)

22 May — 4 June, 2016


Cultural practitioners from:

  • American Samoa
  • Australia
  • Cook Islands
  • Easter Island
  • Federated States of Micronesia
  • Fiji
  • French Polynesia
  • Guam
  • Hawaii
  • Kiribati
  • Marshall Islands
  • Nauru
  • New Caledonia
  • New Zealand
  • Niue
  • Norfolk Island
  • Northern Mariana Islands
  • Palau
  • Papua New Guinea
  • Pitcairn Islands
  • Samoa
  • Solomon Islands
  • Tokelau
  • Tonga
  • Tuvalu
  • Vanuatu
  • Wallis and Futuna

Puerto Rico — cruise mecca?

If you’re want a hint at what cruise travel to Cuba might be like a few years from now, Royal Caribbean might give you a foretaste next year in Puerto Rico.

You could call this “Go big and leave home.”

Starting in 2016, two vessels of Royal Caribbean’s Oasis class — Allure of the Seas and Oasis of the Seas — will be making regular port calls in Puerto Rico.

Capable of carrying up to 6,00 passengers each, these two behemoths are the largest cruise ships in the world (at least for now).

They will hit the PR ten times next year, part of a concerted drive by Puerto Rican tourism officials to bring more cruise ships to the island. The fact that they brought in nearly 18,000 cruise passengers in one day last month tells you just how concerted that drive is.

I look at this as a kind of preview — and for Royal Caribbean, perhaps a kind of dry run — for what may happen in Cuba once the US trade embargo is gone. The Old Havana cruise port could see that same kind of traffic within a year or two of opening fully to US mass-market tourism.

In San Juan, however, they’re not waiting that long. And for the traveler, the push to bring more cruise ships to Puerto Rico means a new and comfortable introduction to a beautiful and perhaps a bit under-appreciated Caribbean jewel.

If you go, you’ll almost certainly find your way to blue cobblestones and colorful historic homes of Old San Juan, not to mention the massive and imposing Morro Castle.

But don’t pass up a shore excursion that takes you out to the El Yunque rainforest or lets you paddle a kayak in a bioluminescent bay.

And if your ship stays overnight in San Juan, you’ll definitely want to check out the restaurants and nightlife along Ashford Avenue in the Condado district, where the lovely little Condado Lagoon and the mighty Atlantic Ocean are separated by about three blocks.


CUBA: Best if by sea?

Once Cuba fully opens up to US tourism, the best way for both sides to ease into it just might be via cruise ship.

One of the best pieces of advice I ever got was “don’t give advice.” So, quite naturally, I’m going to ignore it.

At long last, the United States and Cuba are moving toward a normalization of relations, which means inevitably an end to the 50-year-old foreign policy anachronism that is the US trade embargo against Havana.

That embargo is the only thing that has barred — or perhaps, protected — the island nation from an annual tsunami of American visitors.

Cuba already makes significant money from visitors from Europe, Canada and Mexico. They come for the tropical beauty, the warm weather, the culture, the history.

Add to that a relatively small but steady stream of adventurous American travelers — currently in excess of about 60,000 a year — willing to flout the US travel restrictions.

All of that, however, would be dwarfed by a torrent of American arrivals unleashed once the embargo was gone. And Cuba’s infrastructure is not ready for it, any more than China was when it opened up to full-on, mass-market Western tourism in the late 1970s and 80s.

In particular, Cuba has a major shortage of hotels, especially the kind of upscale hotel to which a lot of American tourists are accustomed. Further, its infrastructure in general is in need of major upgrade.

(You could, of course, say the same for much of the United States, but that’s a whole different conversation.)

There is one segment of the travel industry, however, that is ready for a wide-open Cuba: the cruise industry. And in the short-run, that could be Cuba’s salvation in the face of eventual mass-market tourism from the United States.

Nature blessed Havana with a great natural harbor. The city already has a cruise ship terminal in Old Havana, Ensenada de Atarés, that can handle up to six ships at once. It receives liners every year from Canada, the UK and Greece.

Think about it. Each ship has its own guestrooms, its own restaurants and public facilities, even onboard entertainment. When cruise passengers arrive in Cuba, they don’t need a hotel. They arrived in it.

What’s more, a cruise ship is floating infrastructure — its own power supply, its own fresh water, its own food, its own everything.

And it can bring people to the island in huge numbers. The smallest of the world’s ten largest cruise ships carry at least 4,000 passengers each. The largest, Royal Caribbean’s Oasis class, top out at well over 6,200.

That would leave Cubans free to focus on shore excursions, local tours and keeping the visiting hordes managed while on land.

Cruise travel to Cuba would bring two steady streams of income — one for the Cuban government, another for the Cuban people.

No cruise ship docks anywhere for free. There are port fees, based on the number of passengers per ship. For the largest vessels, that can mean hundreds or even thousands of dollars per day.

(And if you’ve ever wondered why cruise ships seldom dock anywhere overnight, you now know one of the reasons why.)

But that amount of money would surely pale in comparison with the cash that cruise passengers would be spending once they got ashore.

Result: Lots of visitors go home happy, and leave lots of working capital behind in Cuba. Meanwhile, the country has time to upgrade its infrastructure.

It also would give the Cubans time to decide how they want to reap the financial rewards of mass-market tourism, without losing their national soul to it.

To bring in the biggest, most profitable cruise ships would take some work. The cruise port is 32 feet deep, not enough to handle the mega-ships. Even so, it probably would be faster and easier to dredge the harbor than build tons of new tourist-class hotels.

And all the major US-based cruise lines have plenty of smaller ships that can comfortably dock at Ensenada de Atarés.

So when that glorious day finally arrives and Americans can visit Cuba as freely as the rest of the world, a cruise ship might just be the best way to do it — at least in the beginning.

Greg Gross is the Publisher/Sr. Editor of “I’m Black and I Travel!,” and the owner of the Trips by Greg travel agency.



One of an occasional series

Rwanda’s best known attraction may be its mountain gorillas, but seeing the country’s commitment to “green” urban practices and reconciliation from its 1994 genocide are two good reasons to visit.

Rwanda, one of East Africa’s landlocked nations, is known as “the Switzerland of Africa” — not because it’s mountainous, even though its name means “land of a thousand hills.”

Your first clue may come even before your feet hit the ground. Flying into the capital city, Kigali, don’t be surprised to hear a message warning you to leave any plastic bags you brought with you on the airplane.

Non-biodegradable plastic bags are banned in Rwanda, nationwide.

The official watchword for Rwanda in general and Kigali in particular is “clean and green,” and they’re serious about it. To see just how serious, hit the streets of Kigali on the last Saturday of any month.

That’s Cleaning Day in the capital, officially decreed by Rwandan president Paul Kagame. Everybody has to spend the day cleaning — their homes, the streets, themselves.

And don’t be surprised to see the mayor of Kigali and the president himself out on the streets, joining in.

This effort has turned Kigali into perhaps the most spotless capital in Africa, and one of the cleanest in the world. It’s all part of the city’s master plan, one of the most ambitious in Africa — or maybe anywhere.

On a continent whose communities are too often tortured by mountains of garbage, terrible roads and half-fast development in general, it’s a remarkable sight.

But there’s more going on here than just urban beautification, even more than the ultra-ambitious plans to turn Kigali into a world-class business and tourist destination on a par with Singapore.

Because among the people out there on the Kigali streets, cleaning up their city side-by-side, are orphans of the 1994 Rwandan genocide — and some of those who made them orphans.

Rwanda is relentlessly pursuing an official policy of national reconciliation. The drive to beautify the capital is part of a larger effort to foster a spirit of national unity.

Rwandans aren’t denying nor trying to bury their past. The Kigali Genocide Memorial Centre is poignant proof of that and is a must-see for any visitor. But even as they acknowledge this awful legacy, they seem determined to move beyond it.

In today’s Rwanda, you’re neither Tutsi nor Hutu nor Twa. You’re Rwandan, period.

President Kagame is not without his critics. There are those who chafe at what they perceive as an undemocratic, steamroller-like approach to pushing the country’s ambitious drive toward modernization and development.

Mr. Kagame’s response: Judge me on my results.

If nothing else, the results so far look pretty clean and hopeful.

Greg Gross is the Publisher/Sr. Editor of “I’m Black and I Travel!,” and the owner of the Trips by Greg travel agency.


CRUISE: A Viking Invasion

European river cruise giant Viking will begin cruises on the Mississippi in 2017, and their home port will be New Orleans. It’s a win for the cruise line, the city and for cruise travelers.

IBIT readers have known for two years that Viking River Cruises, the biggest shot-caller in the river cruise industry worldwide, was thinking about invading the long and largely neglected North American market.

Well, they’re not thinking about it anymore. They’re doing it.

Viking River Cruises has announced this week that starting in 2017, it would begin offering cruises for the first time on the “Father of Waters,” the Mississippi River.

It gets better. Viking won’t be transferring older vessels from its existing routes in Europe or elsewhere to sail the Mississippi. It will open this service with six new ships, each worth more than $100 million.

How new are these ships? They haven’t even been built yet. In all, the company is expected to spend about $1 billion on their construction.

For cruise travelers, it gets better still. Viking chairman Torstein Hagen made this announcement from the city the company has chosen as its home port: New Orleans.

For years, ocean cruise lines like Carnival and Royal Caribbean have been embarking cruises downriver into the Gulf of Mexico from the NOLA. Now, travelers will have a choice — downriver to the eastern and western the Caribbean, or upriver into America’s heartland.

And either way, they get to party in New Orleans before or after. Sweet.

This New Orleans Times-Picayune article has the details.

Cruises will leave from docks next to the French Quarter and head upriver at the way to St. Paul MN, with plenty of stops along the way in cities like Memphis TN and St. Louis MO, as well as smaller communities that have called the Mississippi their home for generations. The exact itineraries will be announced later this year.

Even more exciting to IBIT is that the new ships are expected to be sleek, modern designs similar to Viking river cruisers in Europe and elsewhere around the world. Leisure cruising on the Mississippi gets to enter the 21st century.

For a lot of prospective cruise travelers, especially younger Black Americans, that’s huge. No more faux-Antebellum paddlewheel steamboats. More modern amenities, less Mark Twain/neo-Confederate nostalgia.

This looks like a good match. The Mississippi is America’s largest, most important and most storied river. Viking, founded by Hagen back in 1997, is the world’s largest river cruise operator, with 35 ships cruising 20 of the world’s greatest rivers in Europe, Russia, Ukraine and Asia.

Which is why it surprises many when they find out that Viking has had its headquarters in Los Angeles since 2000.

They broke into the ocean cruise game two years ago and are launching upscale sea cruises this year off Scandinavia, in the Mediterranean and Baltic seas. But their focus remains river cruises, and they’ve been building new river vessels at a furious pace for the last three years, mainly to fend off heavy competition from European rivals such as Ama Waterways.

(Homeporting in New Orleans also puts Viking’s new ocean cruise arm within easy reach of Cuba once US-based cruise lines begin making port calls in Havana, a prospect made much more likely now that the US and Cuban governments are finally moving toward normalizing relations.)

And now, the Viking invasion comes to American rivers.

IBIT will keep you up-to-date on itineraries, pricing and sailing dates as soon as they announced — and you’ll be able to book those cruises right here through Trips by Greg LLC.

CRUISE: Going small on the “Father of Waters”

Greg Gross is the Publisher/Sr. Editor of “I’m Black and I Travel!,” and the owner of the Trips by Greg travel agency.


"Wherever you go, go with all your heart." — Confucius