Viking, the kings of European river cruising with more ships and dockside facilities than anyone else, is set to turn its sights on American rivers in a move which will revolutionise destinations.
Viking’s owner Torstein Hagen, who has already taken his line’s name into ocean cruising with great success, is reportedly planning to announce the daring move next month.
He will make it in New Orleans, home of the legendary Mississippi.
According to the invitations seen by some trade journals in America, the chairman will “officially reveal the introduction of modern river cruising in the U.S.”
Viking has already spent millions to get deals for landing stages along the Mississippi. And it has signed up Edison Chouest to build vessels in Louisiana. Vessels sailing US waters must be built in American.
The line is a strong favourite among American passengers in Europe, which will give its plans a huge leg up.
It will also lift the destination among other river cruise passengers, confused for years by the two divergent offerings on the US inland waterways: the mighty and highly picturesque paddle steamers of the American Queen Steamboat Company and the modern fleet of American Cruise Lines.
Soaring mountains, dramatic landscapes, abundant wildlife and frontier spirit of the fascinating West are the key points of American river cruising, which includes quiet towns on the Upper Mississippi, Lower Mississippi, Ohio, Tennessee and Cumberland Rivers.
Both home-grown lines have been working hard to launch new vessels in the past few years, possibly as a blocking move. Viking’s American ambitions have been well signalled, and given the company’s successes it is likely to produce a winner formula.
It’s European fleet of long ships are among Europe’s best and most popular, and four more are due to be released in the next few weeks at a ceremony in Paris.
American Cruise Lines says it is soon to be offering two more exciting new options for sailing the U.S. waterways: 2020 is going to see the continuation of the only modern riverboats in the U.S.
American Queen Steamboat Company is set to launch its fourth river ship, the American Countess, and it has completed tests before a launch in April.
The American Countess will move to New Orleans ahead of a christening on March 31.
Her build was an engineering feat. She was lengthened and completely overhauled to create a four-deck, 120-foot paddle wheeler with 123 cabins.
Following the christening, the American Countess will start her maiden voyage on April 5, sailing from New Orleans to Memphis on the “Antebellum South” itinerary – two days before the tentative date for Viking’s announcement.
American Cruise Lines would seem at first sight to be most vulnerable, as their ships will probably be most easily compared to Viking’s.
They are sailing a new class of modern riverboats: American Jazz and American Melody join American Harmony (launched last year) and the American Song which debuted in 2018.
“Our fleet has grown substantially in recent years, and with more ships under construction, we are not slowing down anytime soon,” said Charles B. Robertson, President and CEO of the Line.
“The modern riverboats have been received wonderfully and we look forward to continued expansion on both the Columbia and the Mississippi River systems.”
The launch of the new fleets comes in response to increasing demand for modern sailing options, the line claims.
American’s ships are technologically advanced, boasting the newest safety and navigation equipment – and are also the most environmentally friendly small-ships on U.S. rivers. They have the highest emissions standards and have tiny carbon footprint.
They also have a brand new look and feel compared the traditional paddle wheelers. The focus is on the views, with three times the glass as other U.S riverboats, and feature multi-storey glass atriums.
The cabins and suites are also bigger, and offer spacious single-suites for solo cruisers…all with private balconies. The brand new riverboats also have large lounge areas, sun decks and various dining options with grand dining rooms and intimate casual cafes.
The new river boats intend to make bow landings whenever possible, with a (patent-pending) opening bow and retractable gangway. But if you’re a fan of the all-American style of river cruising, then the new ships will still offer culturally enriching American experiences, both on board and ashore.
The American Queen Steamboat Company has a more secure differentiated product – Viking is unlikely to build paddle-steamers.
The company’s traditional vessels sail the Mississippi, Columbia and other historic U.S. rivers. Their cruises are highly inclusive and provide strong value.
American Queen Steamboat Company claims to “re-create the same sense of wonder, excitement and inspirations with all the convenience and comfort of modern luxury aboard two of the largest and most elegant riverboats in the world, the American Queen and the American Empress.”
In 2017, the line introduced the American Duchess.
American Cruise Lines offer over 35 itineraries from Alaska to Florida, visiting over 25 U.S. states. Sailings can be as short as 5 days, right up to 22 days. The rivers most explored are New England, Southeast, Pacific Northwest and Mississippi River.
Every cruise features and all-American style menu and compliment the region they’re travelling through with seasonal produce. Theme cruising is also a highlight, from music cruises, Civil War, Mark Twain, Tulip Festival, Lobsterbake and Crabfest cruises.