Photo courtesy of Viking
LAROSE, LOUISIANA--Shipbuilders in this tiny unincorporated town are busy making travel history. According to sources, the town is the location of the first-ever Viking River cruise ship to be built and to sail a U.S. river. The website Cruisemappers.com shows the ship's current location the Larose North American Shipbuilding (NAS) facility, owned by Edison Chouest Offshore (ECO).
Hurdles to operating exclusively in U.S. waters
The challenge for any cruise line hoping to cruise U.S. rivers is the Passenger Vessel Safety Act (PVSA) which restricts the transportation of passengers exclusively between two U.S. ports to vessels smaller than 5 tons unless those ships are owned by U.S. citizens and (this is the big one) built in the U.S. The ship must also operate under all applicable U.S. laws (not those of another country), including employment laws.
Viking will operate its U.S. river fleet under charter from Edison Chouest Offshore (ECO), an American company, which is currently building the first ship in Larose.
Viking was founded in 1997 and provides destination-focused journeys on rivers, oceans, and lakes around the world. Designed for experienced travelers with interests in science, history, culture, and cuisine, Chairman Torstein Hagen often says Viking offers guests The Thinking Person's Cruise® in contrast to mainstream cruises.
The company has spent most of its 24 years in operation expanding it fleet, which now includes 76 owned and chartered river ships, five ocean-going ships. Ships under construction in addition to the Mississippi, include three ocean ships, a purpose-built river ship for Vietnam, and two expedition ships.
Plans to cruise American rivers were first announced by Viking in 2015, so this has been a long time in the making. Avid cruisers are eagerly snapping up the available staterooms, which first went on sale last year. This week, the company announced that sailings in 2024 were now available.
According to the company's website, ECO operates offshore service and support vessels for the majority of the deepwater drilling operations in the Gulf of Mexico, operates two ports-- Port Fourchon, Louisiana, and Port Acu Brazil, as well five shipbuilding facilities.
The majority of ECO vessels are designed, engineered, and built at Chouest-affiliated shipyards. North American Shipbuilding (NAS) was founded in Larose, Louisiana, in 1974 and has built more specialized offshore service vessels than any other shipyard in the world. Designing and constructing vessels for ECO has garnered many notable achievements for NAS, including the construction of the first U.S. Antarctic icebreaking research vessel, the first dynamically positioned vessel in the U.S. fleet, and the world's first floating production system installation vessel.
In 2022, the shipyard in Larose can add building the first of what is expected to be a handful of U.S. river ships operated by the famous Viking cruise line.
Mississippi has been described as a "longboat on steroids." The ships Viking cruises on European rivers are long, fairly narrow, and flat, with wheelhouses that can be lowered hydraulically to squeeze the ship below bridges.
Renderings of the U.S.-built ship show the 5-story-high ship as somewhat of a blend of the company's longboats and its ocean-going vessels-- with popular features from each. The ship will carry 386 passengers in 193 all-outside staterooms. Its European river ships average 190 passengers and the Viking Ocean ships carry 930 passengers.
According to Viking:
"The new state-of-the-art Viking Mississippi is inspired by Viking's award-winning river and ocean ships and will feature clean Scandinavian design, as well as public spaces that are familiar to guests but that have been reimagined for Mississippi River voyages. Purpose-built for the Mississippi and currently under construction in Louisiana, the five-deck ship's cutting-edge design, expansive windows, and comfortable amenities will make it the most modern cruise ship in the region."
Staterooms will range in size from 268 square feet (which is fairly large for a cruise ship cabin) to suites of 1,024 square feet. All staterooms feature a private veranda or French balcony, king-size bed with luxury linens, large flat-screen interactive TV, mini-bar, large glass-enclosed shower, heated bathroom floor (which Viking is famous for) and 24-hour room service.
Similar to Viking's ocean ships, Viking Mississippi will have a glass-backed pool experience at the aft, allowing guests to take a dip while fully surrounded by their destination. The ship will also feature a full Promenade deck on Deck 1, allowing guests to circle the ship to fully enjoy the surroundings as the ship is underway.
Viking cruise fares include one excursion per port, WiFi onboard, beer and wine with lunch and dinner, specialty dining at no additional charge, and self-service launderettes. The line is famous for its onboard guest lecturers and cultural education. Cruises will sail between New Orleans and St. Paul, MN beginning in August 2022.
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