The cruise ship Viking Mississippi has made its first appearance in St. Paul, docking at Lambert’s Landing in Lowertown for voyages along the Great River. It is the most advanced modern cruise ship to appear on the Upper Mississippi to date.
The all-new vessel represents the second theater in boutique Viking Cruises’ 2022 invasion of the Midwest. This summer, the cruise line began its ambitious explorations of the Great Lakes, including a stop at Duluth, aboard the expedition ship Viking Octantis.
I was lucky enough to join a new seven-day Viking Great Lakes cruise this summer, so Octantis was my point of reference during a Viking Mississippi press tour on Saturday as passengers boarded for the first 14-day voyage from St. Paul to New Orleans. From the moment I stepped on board, the ship felt familiar, with Scandinavian design flourishes, layout and features carried over from the Viking fleet.
But the Viking Mississippi is a completely different type of cruiser. While the Octantis is an Arctic-class seagoing expedition vessel, the Mississippi looks and feels like a riverboat, paying homage to the classic river cruisers of the past – although there is no smoke stack or paddle wheel on this diesel-electric vessel. The Viking Mississippi has exactly the same number of passengers as the Octantis (368), but is a whopping 32% shorter at 450 feet. The difference is mostly explained by the absence of scientific equipment and facilities – there are no submarines or Zodiac boats for the river voyage.
Instead of science and adventure, Mississippi’s design emphasizes relaxation, expansive river views, socializing, and most of all, music. For a ship that will frequent New Orleans, Memphis, St. Louis and, yes, Minnesota, Viking has rightly decided to pay homage to the sounds of the American interior.
Moving into the first deck common room, the centerpiece of the room is a vintage-style record player for guests to use, with vintage vinyl of Little Richard, Louis Armstrong and Dolly Parton on display.
A nearby grand piano and drum set looked ready for live jazz. Woodwork in the walls and ceiling alludes to guitar strings. And while the vast book collection at Octantis was curated by themes of exploration and discovery, the books on Viking Mississippi are all about music (I’ve browsed titles on Prince, Dylan, and again, Dolly).
Dining options range from the restaurant, a more formal space with light fixtures resembling indigenous canoes, to the full-service buffet at the River Cafe, which will focus on American cuisine, including special menus for the various ports.
Another Viking standard is the Norwegian dessert corner Mamsens, named after Viking boss Torstein Hagen’s mother.
In the indoor and outdoor dining rooms, I noticed another big difference from Octantis: a predominance of four-person tables instead of two-plate ones. This speaks to river cruises’ emphasis on socializing on board versus off-board adventures. Viking knows well that traditional cruise passengers are likely to be willing to meet and mingle. (However, in line with the rest of Viking’s fleet, there is no casino on this riverboat.)
The trip did not include any of the 193 cabins, which were changed. But I noticed that the ship resembled a modern low-rise apartment from the shore – thanks mainly to three and a half decks of sliding glass doors that open onto private outdoor verandas.
There are no portholes here, and as with the Octantis, the 75-foot-wide Mississippi offers no windowless staterooms.
I was disappointed that the full-service Nordic spa from Octantis doesn’t carry over to Mississippi, but it’s a killer feature worth packing a bathing suit for: a infinity plunge pool that spans the entire aft width of the sun terrace on the fifth deck.
As new passengers (including a couple from Australia) boarded the ship for its first 14-day voyage from St. Paul to New Orleans, reporters overheard a man insisting that the cruise end in St. Louis. While Viking Mississippi offers week-long voyages to and from the Gateway City, the man may be in for a surprise on Oct. 1 when his ship calls in the Big Easy.