A brand-new cruise ship is slated to float into St. Paul on Saturday to pick up passengers for its maiden Mississippi River tour.
Viking, a luxury cruise line headquartered in Switzerland, is debuting an 8-day trip from St. Paul to St. Louis dubbed the “America’s Heartland” tour.
“It’s a huge deal for St. Paul,” said Terry Mattson, president and CEO of the capital city’s convention and visitors bureau. “I think people will be really blown away by this ship. We’ve never seen anything quite like it here.”
Construction delays on Viking’s new boat — fittingly named the Viking Mississippi — caused the company to cancel a few river tours scheduled for earlier in the summer. The 386-passenger ship will return to St. Paul in mid-September to embark on its inaugural 15-day cruise to New Orleans.
Tourism officials say it’s been years — perhaps more than a decade — since a cruise ship last anchored in St. Paul.
Viking negotiated a contract with the city to dock at Lambert’s Landing, a riverfront park near downtown that was once among the busiest steamboat ports in the United States. Mattson said St. Paul’s agreement with Viking was “years in the making,” and local leaders have lauded it as a small component of their grand vision to better connect the city with its under-utilized riverfront.
At 450 feet long, the Viking Mississippi was the first major cruise ship to be built in the United States in about two decades, according to one of the company’s promotional videos.
Tickets for the 15-day cruise are going for $13,000 or more, while the cheapest rooms for a shorter St. Paul-to-St. Louis leg costs $4,500. All cruises with Minnesota stops are sold out for this year, but tickets are still available for 2023 and 2024.
Guests may pay more to spend an extra day or two in St. Paul before or after their cruise. Rebecca Pfeiffer, owner of Experience the Twin Cities, said her company is preparing tours for visitors flying in Thursday and Friday. Outings include a trip to the Minneapolis Institute of Art and Minneapolis Sculpture garden, a visit to Fort Snelling and a “Panoramic Twin Cities” tour that will take tourists to Minnehaha Falls, the Guthrie Theater and the St. Paul Cathedral.
The Viking Mississippi’s first passengers will hail mostly from other parts of the country, Pfeiffer said.
“We’re ready to welcome them,” she said. “Can you just imagine a beautiful ship coming and docking here in St. Paul? It’s going to be amazing.”
The full-length Mississippi River cruise will have 11 stops on the way to New Orleans, including one in Red Wing, where visitors can visit the National Eagle Center in nearby Wabasha or take a scenic cruise across Lake Pepin.
The ship will also stop in La Crosse, Wis.; Dubuque, Iowa; Quad Cities, Iowa; Burlington, Iowa; Hannibal, Mo.; St. Louis, Mo.; Memphis, Tenn.; Vicksburg, Ms.; Natchez, Miss. and Baton Rouge, La.
It’s not Viking’s first foray into the Midwest. Earlier this year, the company launched a Great Lakes cruise that includes a stop in Duluth. Next on their list? A 71-day, $50,000 cruise from Duluth to Antarctica starting September 2023.