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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.

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