After waiting two days for his luxury cruise to push north past Vicksburg, Miss., Pennsylvania State University journalism professor R. Thomas Berner learned that Viking Cruises was throwing in the proverbial towel on his two-week Mississippi River adventure to St. Paul.
“We have just been turned around and are headed for the closest port,” said Berner, 78, in an email Thursday from the 386-passenger Viking Mississippi. “The Coast Guard, we were told, has shut down the entire river. We will be bused to Memphis in the morning.”
For Viking Cruises, launching luxury excursions up and down the Mississippi River has been a slog marked by construction and regulatory delays, canceled trips and customers who have taken to Facebook to vent their disappointments.
The muddy Mississippi this week saddled Viking with yet another setback — low water levels that have grounded barges, backed up river traffic for days in both directions and caused Viking to rethink its remaining itineraries.
An effort to reach a Viking spokesperson for comment Friday was not successful.
Employees of St. Paul-area tour companies say they’ve been informed that all Viking cruises on the north end of the Mississippi River have been canceled for the rest of the season, and travel likely limited to the 400 miles of river between New Orleans and Memphis. That amounts to a third of the 1,200 miles between New Orleans and St. Paul.
Viking competitors have wasted no time in marketing themselves as the smart alternative.
In an email Friday, a spokesperson for American Cruise Lines said their five Mississippi River boats — which are half the size of the Viking Mississippi — are all operating according to schedule along the upper and lower sections of the river.
“Looking ahead into the weekend, it is possible that we may experience some itinerary changes but American has been cruising the Mississippi for over a decade and we are well-experienced in addressing occasional changes due to conditions along the river,” said Alexa Paolella, an American Cruise Lines public relations manager.
LACK OF RAINFALL
The lack of rainfall caused Viking last weekend to relocate a scheduled Oct. 1 departure from New Orleans and depart instead from Baton Rouge. Some satisfied customers took to social media to say the international cruise company had accommodated them with free hotel stays, city tours and a shuttle ride to the port.
Problems soon escalated when low river levels created a logjam of tows and barges, including at least eight groundings of barges carrying too much cargo for water conditions, according to the Associated Press. The Viking Mississippi traveled north from Baton Rouge about 150 miles to Vicksburg, Miss., where it halted Tuesday while waiting for the river to reopen.
On Thursday morning, Berner received written word from Viking that his trip to St. Paul was over, and he’d soon be disembarking and taking a bus to Memphis.
A Viking cruise scheduled Oct. 15 from St. Paul to New Orleans has been canceled.