Ellie Sowick had never been to the Midwest until she boarded the new Viking Mississippi cruise ship this past weekend, for an eight-day journey from St. Louis to St. Paul.
The 66-year-old Massachusetts woman and her twin sister Sue Spingler docked in Davenport (River Heritage Park) Tuesday morning, for Viking River Cruises’ second only four-hour stop in the Quad Cities so far. They had been on a European Viking cruise on the Danube in 2019 and love everything about the luxury line.
“They really have great staff; they have great boats, as you can see,” Sowick said. “You make friends with people on board.”
They first heard about Viking’s Mississippi River plans while on the Danube, and the sisters booked the trip two years ago, before the new five-level boat was even built. It accommodates 386 passengers and 148 crew members. The European Viking ships can take 190 passengers each.
“The boats are beautiful, the staff is beautiful,” Sowick said. “They’re very accommodating. We had a great experience on our first Viking trip up the Danube in Germany, so I wanted to do another.”
Spingler lives in Fargo, N.D., and they enjoy traveling together. There’s an outdoor walking track on the ship, and six times around equals a mile. Sowick (who’s retired from working in public school food service) said the ship ride is very smooth.
Spingler, who works as a freelance writer, said the ship is luxurious and first-class.
“The people here to assist and help are absolutely wonderful, attentive,” she said. “You have a pleasant experience from the minute you get on to the minute you get off. It’s really wonderful.”
“In North Dakota, I’ve been to the headwaters of the Mississippi, but I’ve never been to this end,” Spingler said. “This is wonderful.” She called the QC area “absolutely beautiful.”
“You cruise the river and to me, that’s heaven,” she said. “You sit on the bow and watch the world go by. You watch the river traffic, it’s marvelous. You sit there with a nice cold drink in your hand, someone comes by to take the empty and asks if you’d like another. What could be better?”
After 25 years, first time on the Mighty Mississippi
As Viking’s first vessel to operate on the Mississippi River, the Viking Mississippi brings modern river cruising to the Mississippi River and represents a major commitment to tourism and economic development in many communities.
Hosting 386 guests in 193 all outside staterooms, the new state-of-the-art Viking Mississippi is inspired by Viking’s award-winning river and ocean ships and features elegant, light and airy Scandinavian design, as well as public spaces that are familiar to guests but reimagined for Mississippi River voyages, according to the company.
Purpose-built for the Mississippi, the five-deck ship’s cutting-edge design, expansive windows and comfortable amenities will make it the largest and most modern ship in the region. The Viking ship made its Davenport debut on Sept. 7, 2022, and opened Sept. 13 to local media tours.
“This is a watershed moment for the Quad Cities regional destination,” said Dave Herrell, president/CEO, Visit Quad Cities. “Viking’s arrival in the Quad Cities is exciting and an important opportunity to activate our world-renowned Mississippi River. We are honored to serve Viking’s customers and are aligned with Viking to deliver an unforgettable Quad Cities experience. Their customers will participate in group tours and we are confident that they will walk away impressed with what the QC has to offer.”
Herrell continues, ”Our philosophy is that visitors are potential new residents and/or investors so we plan to roll out the red carpet and create memories for Viking’s passengers during their stay. Plus, the world-wide brand visibility our region will receive is immeasurable. We are looking forward to providing that unique Midwestern hospitality and are incredibly grateful to the City of Davenport for their strategic riverfront investment to make River Heritage Park the first impression where Viking’s customers will disembark.”
Almost 50 stops from national cruise lines will be welcomed to the Quad Cities this year. Cruise lines have scheduled visits in the QC until early November. The river cruise schedule is subject to change at any time. Please note: There are no public tours given of the vessels.
Viking Mississippi has been designed as an environmentally considerate vessel and is equipped with a variety of measures to maximize energy efficiency and emissions—including a diesel-electric hybrid system of small load-sharing generators, electric-driven hydraulic units and pump jet thrusters and a highly advanced exhaust scrubbing system to significantly reduce sound and emissions, the company said.
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. With more than 250 awards to its name, Viking has been rated the #1 River Cruise Line and #1 Ocean Cruise Line by Condé Nast Traveler in the publication’s 2021 Readers’ Choice Awards.
Norwegian style, local touches
Though one of the main cruise ship companies is called Norwegian, Viking may be the true Norwegian, since its founder and chairman is Torstein Hagen (born 1943) a Norwegian billionaire businessman. There is a large amount of Norwegian immigrants in Minnesota, which is one reason Viking launched the Mississippi River cruises this year.
The ship goes on a number of river itineraries, ranging from the entire length (starting at $13,000 per person), to upper and lower sections of the Mississippi. The eight-day St. Louis to St. Paul cruise starts at $4,500.
Viking puts an emphasis on history, arts and culture, and passengers must be at least 18 years old. Their target demographic is age 55 and up.
The ship hosts guest lecturers to speak about the region and its history, including a daily 15-minute port talk.
There is often live music most evenings (featuring local artists from each stop), and there is a record player with vinyl albums passengers can put on in the main lounge, which also boasts a large library of books.
One of the core design principles of the ship is music, since the Mississippi River has produced many iconic musicians over the years. Viking wanted to pay homage to that, and design elements reflect guitar and boating features.
The main restaurant serves breakfast, lunch and dinner, and beer and wine are included in the all-inclusive package. Cocktails and other liquor are available for added fees.
The Hagen family matriarch’s nickname is Mamsen, and that’s the name of one cafe on the ship (Mamsen’s, on the fifth deck). Named after Ragnhild “Mamsen” Hagen, it was designed to evoke the pleasures of Norwegian culture, as well as authentic Scandinavian fare. It serves some of her original recipes.
There is outdoor dining on the top level, which also features an infinity plunge pool (long and narrow, less than two feet in depth). Art and rotating photos on the ship reflect the Mississippi River and some regional artists.
There are many local touches on board to make it feel more regional. One stairway includes a large image with an entire chapter from Mark Twain’s “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.” Another has a colorful map of the Lower Mississippi, created in 1944 by Dr. Harold Fisk.
Viking provides buses to go to local attractions, here including the Figge Art Museum, Putnam Museum, the John Deere Pavilion, Deere-Wiman House, and Cinnamon Ridge Farms in Donahue, Iowa. The excursions are the same for each QC stop.
All of the rooms feature outdoor views and most have a sitting area. The cover on each bed has a Norwegian saying, translated as: “Only one who wanders finds new paths.”
For more information on the Viking Mississippi cruises, click HERE. To see a photo gallery of the ship, click below.