Global cruise giant Viking Cruises is moving further into the North American market with plans for the increasingly popular Great Lakes and U.S. rivers.
Best known for river cruises, Switzerland-based Viking with a fleet of 79 vessels last week said it was building two expedition ships, which will both serve the Antarctic. The first — the 665’x77’, 378-passenger Viking Octantis being built in Norway by Fincantieri’s Vard – also begins sailing the Great Lakes in April 2022, visiting Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin and Canada’s Ontario province. The second expedition vessel, Viking Polaris, is due in August 2022 and will sail both polar regions.
“The Great Lakes are a phenomenal destination in the world,” and they are underserved by cruise lines, Viking chairman Torstein Hagen said in announcing the new vessels.
Stephen Burnett, executive director of the Great Lakes Cruising Coalition Inc., based in Kingston, Ontario, recently told WorkBoat that he was getting calls from many expedition ship owners who want to sail the lakes. Warren, R.I.-based Blount Small Ship Adventures has been cruising the lakes since the ‘80s, American Queen Steamboat Co.’s sister brand Victory Cruise Lines and Pearl Seas Cruises, which shares ownership with American Cruise Lines, both have Great Lakes itineraries.
Viking also appears to be firming up plans to enter the growing U.S. river market, a move seven years in the making.
In early December, Davenport, Iowa approved a deal that gives Viking a 20-year lease for docking space with two 10-year extensions beginning in 2022. Viking would pay up to $25,000 for site enhancements. The approval notes Viking has received “its necessary permitting to navigate on U.S. waterways.”
In November, the Burlington, Iowa, city council OK’d a two-year docking deal with Viking starting in 2022. A tourism official told the council that Viking planned “on purchasing more boats and will eventually dock daily,” public records show.
U.S. coastal and inland river overnight cruising has boomed in recent years with U.S.-based lines such as American Queen and American Cruise Lines building or refurbishing vessels for the voyages.
When Viking first talked about the U.S. market it said it would build vessels similar to its Longships used in Europe rather than the more traditional paddlewheelers.
A year and a half ago a Viking representative told the Dubuque, Iowa, city council that Edison Chouest Offshore (ECO) would be building and owning the vessels and chartering them to Viking. By 2027 the line would have six vessels carrying 103,431 passengers on the Mississippi River, according to a chart shown to the council. Galliano, La.-based ECO then told WorkBoat, “We are not building a river cruise vessel at this time.”
Viking earlier had said that the vessels, costing $90 million to $100 million each, would be built at U.S. yards, crewed by U.S. citizens, owned by an investment management firm and time-chartered to Viking “in full compliance with maritime laws.”
A Viking spokesman did not respond to questions about the current status of its U.S. river cruise plans.