Burlington sees extended stay from American Countess cruise ship as Viking again postpones maiden voyage

Viking Mississippi's maiden voyage and its inaugural Iowa docking have been delayed again due to work remaining on the five-deck, 193-room cruise ship.

The new ship now is expected to pull up alongside the Port of Burlington on Aug. 29, but that could change.

"Due to circumstances beyond our control, construction of the Viking Mississippi has been delayed," Viking said in a statement posted to its website on July 20. "Therefore, select early departures of Viking Mississippi's first season have been canceled."

This is the second postponement of the river cruise ship's docking in Burlington — the first of three stops it will make on its way upriver from Louisiana.

Initially, the ship had been scheduled to dock in southeast Iowa on July 18, but supply-chain issues pushed back the finishing touches needed on the new ship, and its first docking was rescheduled for Aug. 15.

Some of the work that caused the initial delay remains to be completed.

"This is a brand-new boat that has been built just for Viking, just for the Mississippi River, and they have very, very, very high standards," Greater Burlington Partnership President and CEO Della Schmidt said. "They are the No. 1 river cruise line in the world, and they want their boat to be exactly a certain way, and until it is, it's not taking passengers."

When the ship does dock in Burlington, it and its nearly 400 passengers will be met with "pomp and circumstance," Schmidt said.

Chris Gram, program director of the Greater Burlington Convention and Visitors Bureau, and Michael Dear, executive director of the Convention and Visitors Bureau, are organizing a welcome ceremony to take place the morning of the inaugural docking.

"We're encouraging anybody who's available, anybody who's free and interested to come down to the dock and be a part of that experience, to be a part of the crowd, to be a part of the Greater Burlington welcoming committee, if you will," Gram said.

Gram said the ceremony will be similar to a ribbon-cutting involving city and Viking officials. Attendees also will be able to gather with Viking Mississippi passengers for a photo in front of the ship.

Further details remain in flux due to the fluidity of the cruise line's schedule, but Gram estimated the ceremony will begin at about 7:45 a.m. on Aug. 29. That will change if the docking date changes.

Even if construction on the ship is completed in time for its currently scheduled departure date, river conditions could cause further complications.

More: Iowa river towns buzz with excitement as Viking cruise ship prepares for summer excursions

'The tour guides did an amazing job': American Countess passengers get extended stay in Burlington

The consequences of weather- and river-related unpredictability on the river cruise industry were on display last week with the arrival and continued presence of the American Countess.

The American Queen Voyages ship had been scheduled to arrive in Burlington early Sunday, but river conditions brought on by storms and mechanical issues delayed its docking by several hours and kept it there until Wednesday.

The unexpected turn of events meant volunteers and Burlington organizers had to accommodate the needs of the ship's passengers during their extended stay.

"It was awesome because of the tour guides we have and because of the folks downtown, particularly at the Heritage Museum," Gram said, referring to Colton Neely, the Des Moines County Historical Society's new executive director, and new assistant director Tim Blackwell, both of whom started July 12. "Colton and Tim did an incredible job of getting their staff to put on a great show for the visitors, and the tour guides did an amazing job of upending their schedules."

Countess passengers who had arrived on Sunday traveled by bus Tuesday to St. Louis, where another wave of passengers was picked up and taken to Burlington.

"Both sets of passengers got the full experience," Gram said.

While Viking passengers will be able to choose among five themed excursions throughout Des Moines and Lee counties, as well as one in Nauvoo, Illinois, American passengers are immersed in Burlington's history with a visit to the Des Moines County Heritage Center and its nine galleries, as well as a live cabaret show at the Bart Howard Lounge, and the downtown area with "hop-on hop-off" tours.

"They have three or four coaches, depending on the ship and how many passengers they've got, that loops around downtown Burlington passing by or stopping at different sites, and they do it in 20-minute intervals," Gram said of American Queen.

"There are five different spots downtown. The coaches will stop and let passengers off or let passengers load the bus, so passengers can get on or off wherever they are downtown and just kind of walk around, experience the sites, do some shopping, and catch the next coach 20 minutes or 40 minutes later and then come back to the Port."

Downtown businesses see more shoppers on docking days, Gram said, explaining the same rang true even last year when there were only three modest American Queen dockings as the cruise industry remained slowed by the pandemic.

More: Mississippi Viking cruises delayed by supply chain issues; additional tour guides needed in Burlington

The Greater Burlington Partnership anticipates that Viking stops will further boost the local economy.

"We know that these guests spend money while they are in town and leave a significant economic impact on our tourism and retail businesses," Schmidt said.

Dear and Gram said they still are seeking tour guides to help out on docking days.

Tour guides are paid $15 per hour and should expect to work from 7:30 a.m. to anywhere between 1:30 and 4:30 p.m. on docking days.

"Everybody that's doing the tours for the first time this year — the few who have been out on trainings and the ones who were out on boat dockings this last week, are blown away by how great an experience it is," Gram said.

Those interested in becoming a tour guide may contact Gram at (319) 752-8731 or cgram@greaterburlington.com.

Michaele Niehaus covers business, development, environment and agriculture for The Hawk Eye. She can be reached at mniehaus@thehawkeye.com.

This article originally appeared on The Hawk Eye: Viking Mississippi delays maiden voyage; Burlington docking postponed