After a summer of delays, an international cruise line will make its first Mississippi River voyage — and first Dubuque stop — within the next week.
Viking Cruises will take its first cruise down the Mississippi River starting on Saturday, Sept. 3, according to a company spokesperson. The sold-out cruise is set to depart that day from St. Paul, Minn., and end its trip on Sept. 10 in St. Louis.
The ship is expected to stop in Dubuque on Tuesday, Sept. 6, according to Keith Rahe, president and CEO of Travel Dubuque.
“We’ve been blessed here in Dubuque as a spot for having these excursion boats,” he said. “I’ve never seen this much excitement for one, actually. It’s a worldwide brand. I think people are very anxious to see it.”
The Viking Mississippi cruise ship was spotted traveling north on the Mississippi past Dubuque and other area communities Wednesday. Rahe said he believed the trip was a “trial run” for the large vessel, which had never traveled on that stretch of the river before.
“People are excited,” Rahe said. “When it went by (Wednesday) night, I heard that the riverwalk was packed. There were a lot of pictures on social media of it on the river.”
Viking Cruises officials did not respond to repeated requests this week for additional information about the cruise ship’s stops in Dubuque.
According to the Viking Cruises website, the vessel traveling the Mississippi River is 450 feet long and consists of five decks. It can accommodate 386 guests in 193 rooms, and the crew is made up of 148 people.
While the cruise now is set to arrive imminently, Rahe told the Telegraph Herald earlier in the week that he did not know when Viking would stop in Dubuque after cruise dates were delayed more than once.
“From what we heard, it’s basically a supply issue,” he said Monday of the delay. “They’re having issues getting the necessary required items that they need to give guests the first-class Viking experience that they typically do in other parts of the world.”
Viking Cruises initially announced that Mississippi River cruises would begin in June. Rahe noted that the ship initially was slated to stop in the city in July, but the date was pushed to August and eventually September.
When asked by the Telegraph Herald about reasons for the delay of the first voyage, a spokesperson with Viking Cruises pointed to a statement on the cruise line’s website.
“Due to circumstances beyond our control, construction of the Viking Mississippi has been delayed,” the statement reads. “Therefore, select early departures of Viking Mississippi’s first season have been cancelled.”
While the cruise ship is expected to arrive in Dubuque next week, the expanded dock to accommodate the ship has not yet been built.
City Council members approved an agreement with Viking Cruises for the expanded dock project in January 2020. Assistant City Engineer Bob Schiesl said this week that the city still needs to obtain the necessary permits from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Iowa Department of Natural Resources for the project.
“The regulatory permitting has taken longer than we had initially anticipated,” he said. “We are optimistic that those permits will hopefully be in place this fall or early spring of 2023 so that we would be able to begin construction of expanding the riverfront docking facility in 2023.”
To accommodate the large boats expected in Dubuque this year, the city completed some emergency dredging along American Trust River’s Edge Plaza, Schiesl said.
However, due to low river levels, the expected Thursday stop for the American Queen cruise did not occur.
“Even with the emergency dredging that we completed last week, with the water levels continuing to be low and forecasted even lower, we are performing some emergency dredging today (Thursday) so that we can ensure Viking and American Queen and American Cruise Line vessels will be able to dock safely,” Schiesl said.
Once the expanded dock project is completed, the dock will be able to accommodate boats 400 feet in length or greater.
City officials previously estimated the project would cost $1.8 million. Schiesl said an updated cost estimate would be determined once permits are obtained and the design is finalized.
However, he noted that the agreement with Viking Cruises outlines that Viking will contribute 50% of the cost to the dock project.
“With their partnership and funding contribution, they will have priority docking rights when they are in town,” Schiesl said.
But for now, Rahe said a ribbon cutting for Viking is planned for 11 a.m. Tuesday at the American Trust River’s Edge Plaza. He said he was not sure exactly how long the boat would be in Dubuque, but it looked to be about four hours.
“It’s significant in regard to the amount of traffic and people it brings in, not just to Dubuque and downtown Dubuque but the entire region, and we appreciate that,” he said. “People are excited about (Viking Cruises). I think it’s just the excitement of having a world-renowned cruise here.”