Did You Honestly Ever Think a Viking River Cruise Ship Would Sail into La Crosse, Wisconsin?

Melinda Crow


Photo courtesy of Viking

LA CROSSE, WISCONSIN-- Though plans for a Viking River cruise ship sailing the rivers of America were first announced in 2015, it seemed like an impossibility. Even though Viking caters to a mostly North American clientele onboard its river and ocean-going cruise ships, managing to bring their brand of cruising to the rivers here was a challenge that not everyone was certain the company could tackle.

Viking's history

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.

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 a U.S. company, Edison Chouest Offshore (ECO), which is currently building the first ship in Louisiana.

About La Crosse

The itinerary shown on the Viking website, notes La Crosse has Norwegian history. That makes it an ideal stop for the cruise line with deep Norwegian roots.

The day's adventure in port reads like almost any stop on a Viking River cruise in Europe-- touring landmarks and museums, sampling regional food and beer, with maybe some shopping or cycling thrown in for good measure.

"Explore La Crosse and its numerous sites on the National Register of Historic Places, with a panoramic tour of the city. Its important architectural landmarks, along with the array of engaging statues lining the riverfront, make La Crosse feel like a vast open-air museum. Or, consider an optional journey to Decorah, Iowa. Nestled among beautiful rolling hills unscathed by the leveling march of the glaciers, Decorah is a blend of small-town charm and urban convenience, and at its heart is Vesterheim, the national Norwegian American museum and heritage center, the largest museum in the United States dedicated to one single immigrant group. While in town, enjoy the friendliest shopping experience you have ever had in Decorah’s many boutiques and have a delicious lunch in one of the several local restaurants. Decorah is also home to the “second-best brewery in the world”—Toppling Goliath. Sign on for a brewery tour and have an amazing craft-brewed pint with your lunch. Other recreational options abound a tour of the world-renowned Seed Savers Exchange, or on-your-own trout fishing or cycling adventures on the city’s justly famous biking trails."

The Explore La Crosse website explains that the area is part of the Coulee Region Craft Beverage Trail, which lists three brewers, one distillery, and one vintner in La Crosse. Viking cruisers will feel right at home.

The ship

Mississippi has been described as a "longboat on steroids." The ships that 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.

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 that include La Crosse

The northern segments of the new ship's itineraries will operate only during the warmer seasons. The ship will sail between New Orleans and Memphis during the winter. Availability for an 8-day cruise from St. Louis to St. Paul (with a stop in La Crosse) still has availability during the inaugural month of August 2022, but currently only for a Penthouse Suite at the rate of $6,299 per person.

For a wider array of options, you'll probably have to look at 2023 or even 2024, which the company just made available this week.

Other cruise stories you might enjoy on News Break:

Cruises from Long Beach You Can Still Book for 2021

Royal Caribbean Finally Able to Begin Construction on $100 Cruise Terminal in Galveston, Boosting Local Economy

Silversea Bringing Luxury Expedition Cruising to the West Coast in 2022

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