Cruise ship Viking Mississippi docks in downtown St. Paul

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Dozens of gawkers came out to see a 368-passenger luxury cruise ship docked on the Mississippi River at Lambert’s Landing in downtown St. Paul on Saturday.

The Viking Mississippi, custom built to cruise the mighty river, arrived early Saturday and was expected to depart for its eight-day cruise to St. Louis by 10 p.m.

The Swiss-based Viking River Cruises expected as many as 300 passengers from around the world to board the five-deck, 450-feet-long, 75-feet wide vessel on Saturday. It’s the first luxury liner in downtown St. Paul in roughly decade.

Paul and Laura Gagnon of Minneapolis drove to St. Paul to see just how big the ship was.

“I never thought a cruise line would come up here,” Paul Gagnon said. “We were looking at it wondering could it go any further up the Mississippi, but it looked this was about as far as it can go.”

Barbara Bezat of St. Paul pulled over to the side of the road when she saw the cruise ship docked and then walked down to see it. “Now I know why my friends do cruises,” she said.

Kevin Laukkonen and his wife, Jane Gough, packed up their electric bikes and drove down from Coon Rapids to see the cruise ship as part of a bike ride they wanted to take Saturday since they have been on cruises and are boat owners.

Looking at the Viking Mississippi, Jane Gough said, “It’s neat to see your own hometown from a different perspective.”

“It’s good to see all this activity on the waterfront,” Kevin Laukkonen said.

Gough said she also really liked that something was built just for people to see the central part of the United States.

Teresa Mitchell drove up from Apple Valley to look at and photograph the cruise ship.

She said she used to work in downtown St. Paul and watched the big river boats on the Mississippi but had to come to see how a cruise ship could be docked in downtown.

“It’s so huge,” she said. “It’s amazing. I love it. It’s just like the ships in the ocean.”

Mitchell said she likes to also photograph the tall ships during the Festival of Sail on Lake Superior. This year’s festival at Two Harbors closed Aug. 7.

Even though she admires the tall ships and large boats, she said she wouldn’t take a cruise because she’s afraid of the water.

Over the course of eight days, the “America’s Heartland” cruise will make stops with guided city tours in Red Wing; LaCrosse, Wis.; Dubuque, Iowa; the Quad Cities; Burlington, Iowa; Hannibal, Mo., and St. Louis.

The ship returns to St. Paul from St. Louis on Sept. 17, and then heads out the same day from Lambert’s Landing on the 15-day “America’s Great River” cruise to New Orleans, which is sold out. Another sold-out departure from St. Paul is scheduled in mid-October.

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