By KEVIN McGill
Feb. 24, 2015 3:41 PM EST
NEW ORLEANS (AP) — European river cruise giant Viking announced Tuesday that it will make its first North American home port in New Orleans, with Mississippi River cruises expected in 2017.
The move means hundreds of jobs and a boost to the city’s tourism industry, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal said at a news conference with Viking River Cruises officials.
The company, which runs tours in Europe and Asia and has expanded rapidly in the past few years, plans to build six boats over three years — each capable of hosting up to 300 passengers for the new American cruises.
In New Orleans, the boats will dock near the French Quarter. Cruises will head north to Memphis, St. Louis and St. Paul, Minnesota, depending on the season.
“New Orleans is on a roll, and this investment is yet another example of the continued growth across industries in our city,” New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu said in a news release.
River cruising in general has exploded in popularity in recent years, offering a more traditional way to experience cruising than the mass-market megaships that carry thousands of people and are loaded with attractions such as rides and Broadway shows. Some travelers say river ships are a welcome throwback to an earlier era of cruising.
River cruising is also more destination-oriented, with boats navigating narrow waterways to port cities that massive ships could never reach.
Carolyn Spencer Brown, editor-in-chief of CruiseCritic.com, called Viking’s move “terrific news.”
“As we’ve seen in Europe, especially, when Viking enters a market, it truly helps to broaden awareness,” she said. “The Mississippi River is one of the most magical and charming rivers to explore, so we’re looking forward to seeing more and more travelers experiencing one of America’s most intriguing cruise regions.”
Associated Press writer Beth Harpaz in New York contributed to this report.