The Mississippi River will become a luxurious thoroughfare in 2022. The high-end, Switzerland-based cruise line Viking will send a new, 386-seat ship from St. Paul down to New Orleans, on roughly the same scale as an ocean liner. Thus, the monumental Viking Mississippi will introduce Minnesotans to a freshwater form of coastal glamour.
But it won’t be entirely new. For years, riverboats have swanned the full length of the Mississippi on two-week voyages. The American Queen Steamboat Company and American Cruise Lines launch massive steamboat descendants, around 200-400 feet long with about 100-200 rooms. Liners like the American Queen and the American Melody appeal with old-world opulence: up to six levels of fully furnished bedrooms, velvet-and-mahogany galleries, chandeliered dining chambers, cabaret stages, plus sun decks, cafés, bars, and onboard historians. Trips often range from $5,000 to $20,000.
For shorter cruises, double-decker riverboats dot the Mississippi and Minnesota’s most sprawling lakes. Per trip, these public options can ferry up to 100 or so passengers in non-COVID times, who embark on candlelit dates, family excursions, and corporate outings. Rest assured, any antique Southern Gothic aesthetics—twin chimneys or a churning paddlewheel—bely modern navigational technology. And while the pandemic has curtailed capacity, socially distanced dining tables are up for afternoon- and evening-long reservations.
Among options on the Mississippi, Padelford Riverboats does sunsets and Southern-style buffets. Paradise Charter Cruises, which also services Lake Minnetonka, offers private charters and pushes out the old-timey Minneapolis Queen on narrated tours. St. Croix River Cruises hosts three-level parties on the St. Croix River, and Vista Fleet unmoors from Duluth, for cocktails and pizza on Lake Superior.