Images of the Minnesota State Capitol, Como Conservatory and the Landmark Center flash across the promotional clip as a woman's voice with a British accent describes the final stop on Viking's soon-to-debut Mississippi River cruise: a city "known for its great museums, iconic Cathedral and beautiful period architecture."
The international luxury cruise line is already advertising St. Paul and other cities along the river for its slate of new tours scheduled to launch in August 2022.
"This is a big deal for St. Paul," said Terry Mattson, president and CEO of the city's convention and visitors bureau.
Switzerland-based Viking announced in 2020 that it was building a custom 386-guest vessel to sail the Mississippi, the latest river in the company's exotic lineup, which includes the Danube, the Seine and the Nile. The St. Paul City Council on Wednesday approved a contract allowing ships to dock at Lambert's Landing, a riverfront park near downtown that was once among the busiest steamboat ports in the United States.
Viking's longest Mississippi River option — a 15-day cruise between St. Paul and New Orleans — already has sold out for 2022. Tickets for 2023-24 cruises still are available for $11,300 or more. Travelers also can book eight-day cruises from St. Louis to St. Paul with fares starting at $4,400.
In the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, the cruise industry shut down after several viral outbreaks occurred amid the close quarters of its vessels. The Centers for Disease Control last week said large vessels could start simulated voyages in U.S. waters with the goal of resuming operations in midsummer.
But Mattson said he expects built-up wanderlust, plus Viking's loyal following, will win over tourists eager to explore America's heartland.
"There's no question these will sell out," he said.
St. Paul's agreement with Viking has been years in the making, a small component of a sweeping plan drafted in 2013 aiming to re-envision the city's long-ignored riverfront.
Mary deLaittre, executive director of the Great River Passage Conservancy charged with leading those efforts, said the nonprofit is in the early stages of plans to build a 1.5-mile promenade connecting such St. Paul institutions as the Science Museum and the Union Depot to the water's edge.
"Imagine you get off the cruise ship and enter this new gateway to St. Paul," deLaittre said. The Great River Passage Conservancy is in the process of picking a team to help design the project and a funding strategy, she added.
Viking must pay for increased costs or improvements to the port required to dock its vessels, according to its contract with the city. The cruise line has exclusive permission to use St. Paul's docking facilities through 2026, with an option to renew the agreement through 2029.
The Mississippi River cruises also will visit Red Wing, Minn., where guests can boat across Lake Pepin and visit Wabasha's National Eagle Center. Other stops on the itinerary, which advertises opportunities to explore small-town America, U.S. history and the river's natural features, include Dubuque, Iowa; St. Louis, Memphis and Vicksburg, Miss.
Viking, which also will make its Great Lakes debut in 2022, will start or finish its Mississippi River tours in St. Paul. That means more traffic for Twin Cities attractions and hotels from guests staying over before or after their voyages.
"Everybody in the world knows the Mississippi River, even if they don't know St. Paul," deLaittre said. "This is a great opportunity for us."
Katie Galioto • 612-673-4478