Viking River Cruises’ new ships are designed as expansions on the Longship used in Europe. // © 2016 Viking River Cruises
Feature image (above): The six riverboats planned for the Mississippi will be docked near the French quarter of New Orleans. // © 2016 iStock
Viking River Cruises, which had planned to homeport two newbuilds in New Orleans in 2017, is now projecting its startup on the Mississippi before Mardi Gras in 2018.
“Viking Cruises is actively working with relevant authorities to launch on the Mississippi River, with a projected maiden season that has been adjusted to 2018 in order to accommodate an updated timeline,” the company said in a statement.
Viking chairman Torstein Hagen had previously announced that six riverboats were planned for the Mississippi, spread over three years, and that they would be docked near New Orleans’ French Quarter.
The company’s planned ships will be quite different from the traditional wedding-cake paddlewheelers on the river. They are designed as expansions on the successful Longship design in Europe, with a maximum capacity of 300 passengers. The projected cost is set at $90 million to $100 million per vessel.
Viking’s problem in adding ships to its American river fleet is construction. By law, U.S. river cruise vessels must be built in American shipyards. Viking’s existing ships were either built in the cruise line’s own shipyards or are heavily refurbished vessels from earlier operators; however, Viking’s newbuilds must be constructed in today’s yards. Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal had claimed that the construction of the ships would take place in the state. This led to the assumption that the order would be placed with the Bollinger/Edison Chouest Shipyards, where no major river passenger vessel has been built since the1990s. Hagen actually did not confirm the announcement and has stated that there is no contract yet, although the company has its design ready. Louisiana media has been critical of what they term Jindal’s premature announcement.
Meanwhile, this year there are three ships sailing overnight Mississippi cruises: American Queen Steamboat Company’s 436-passenger American Queen and American Cruise Lines’ 150-passenger American Eagle and 185-passenger America, which replaces the line’s Queen of the Mississippi.