When the American Queen returned to the Mississippi River in 2012 — the only riverboat offering overnight trips at the time — there was a cry of joy. This week, cities up and down the river and cruise aficionados alike delighted again when Viking River Cruises announced plans to bring their own distinctively upscale style of river cruises to the storied waterway in 2017.

Viking, which sells itself as a purveyor of exotic cultures on PBS and elsewhere, will join two other companies in offering a variety of overnight cruises on the river. The American Queen Steamboat Company’s American Queen is a restored historic paddle-wheeler. American Cruise Lines offers trips on the Queen of the Mississippi and is adding a newly built riverboat, the American Eagle, to its Mississippi fleet this year. Both modern boats have paddle wheels turning at the stern.

Demand for river cruises — which use smaller boats and offer itineraries more focused on destination than supersized oceangoing cruise ships — has exploded in the past few years. In 2014, 30 new river cruise vessels launched, according to cruisecritic.com, and Viking alone will add 12 to its fleet in 2015, the company has announced. It plans to launch its Mississippi service with two boats in 2017 and add four later.

I took a trip on the American Queen the year it returned to service and am thrilled that all these boats will be plying the Mississippi. (Read my 2012 story.). I was enchanted with the boat in all its Victorian splendor. But what I appreciated the most was the lazy pace, the gorgeous bluffs as we eased our way south from St. Paul, the rich marshes where great blue herons fished for dinner. Who cares if Dubuque isn’t as exotic as Budapest?


Send your questions or tips to travel editor Kerri Westenberg at travel@startribune.com, and follow her on twitter @kerriwestenberg.