The leader in river cruises in Asia and Europe is expanding into the U.S. by developing a homeport in New Orleans.
Yesterday, Viking Cruises Chairman Torstein Hagen and Governor Bobby Jindal of Louisana announced New Orleans’ selection as the homeport for the first North American river cruise itineraries of Viking, starting in late 2017.
The Mississippi River voyages will sail from docking facilities near New Orleans’ French Quarter - at Bienville Street Wharf, next to the Steamboat Natchez paddle wheel. Cafe du Monde is a few minutes distance. Unlike the mainstream cruise ships, Viking's smaller boats won’t need expansive infrastructure. The port of New Orleans plans to build a lot to allow service trucks’ access and a bus terminal to drop off cruisers.
According to the Governor, the new service would result in the creation of more than 400 new direct jobs for vessel crews and Louisiana-based operations, with an average salary of $40,000, plus benefits. The Louisiana Economic Development estimates the project would result in 368 additional indirect jobs, for a total of over 780 new jobs in state’s Southeast Region.
Viking customers are expected to travel to the city of New Orleans from Europe and across the U.S., and bring new business to restaurants, hotels, museums and other city attractions, expanding sales for local merchants. More than 90% of sales created by the project would come from out-of-state customers.
Six new boats, all to be built in U.S. shipyards, will debut in a 3-year period, with the first one coming in 2017. They will cost around $100 million each and will accommodate up to 380 passengers. According to President and CEO of the Port of New Orleans Gary La Grange, the new ships will be constructed in the sleek European style of Viking, as opposed to paddlewheels. They will be owned by the Los Angeles-based Tennenbaum Capital Partners, an alternative investment management company, and time-chartered to Viking.
Itineraries will take Viking’s passengers along the Mississippi River, with port stops in St. Louis, St. Paul, Minnesota and Memphis, Tennessee. La Grange said that by having New Orleans as a homeport, Viking Cruises would be in a position to expand along tributaries such as Ohio and could go as far up as Pittsburgh.
Over the past few years, Viking River Cruises has been aggressively building and adding to its fleet dozens of river ships. The line is also moving into the ocean market with the 928-passenger Viking Star, debuting in April with innovations like Star’s cantilevered infinity pool and the snow grotto in the spa allowing guests to follow the centuries-old Nordic tradition and go from snowflakes to sauna.
Viking coming to the Mississippi means a big boost for the United States’ river cruises. Viking River Cruises will join American Queen Steamboat Company and American Cruise Lines, two lines that already operate on the Mississippi River and its tributaries.