Want to experience luxury travel without leaving the United States? A new 5-star rail trip in the American West and a cruise on America’s greatest river aboard a brand-new ship might be just what you’re looking for.

Little by little, the world is returning to international travel — but not all at once. Not everyone is convinced that the Covid-19 pandemic is fully behind us. For others, the unfolding tragedy in Ukraine is reason to keep the passport in the desk drawer.

Still, more than two years of being barred from many of the world’s most popular destinations have left a lot of people longing for a taste of the good travel life. Somewhere. Anywhere.

If this describes you, the folks at Rocky Mountaineer and Viking River Cruises want to come to your rescue — with a 5-star rail trip through the American Southwest and a cruise on America’s greatest river aboard a brand-new luxury cruise ship.

Rocky Mountaineer, the Canadian outfit that offers those gorgeous — and gorgeously luxurious — train trips across the breadth of Canada is now in the United States, offering short, scenic rail cruses in the Rocky Mountains.

The base trip is a 2-day east-west rail run between Denver and Moab UT, with an overnight stop in Glenwood Springs CO, famed for its hot springs.

This route features Moab’s famed red rock country in southeastern Utah, an otherworldly landscape of multi-layered sandstone, shaped and smoothed over millions of years by the winds and the Colorado River.

It’s some of the most spectacular scenery in the world. But the star of this trip just might be the train that carries you through it.

Rocky Mountaineer trains feature wide windows that curve into the ceiling of the domed passenger cars, allowing you an almost unrestricted view of the passing countryside. If that view isn’t enough for you, there’s an open-air deck at the rear of the train. and these are single-level trains, so no struggling up a narrow, winding set of stairs.

Extremely attentive staff bring your gourmet meals, drinks and snacks to your seat. Each passenger car has two full-time hosts per car to narrate your journey and attend to you with a level of service that has won multiple awards from the likes of Forbes, USA Today, National Geographic and the World Travel Awards, which dubbed Rocky Mountaineer “the world’s leading travel experience by train.”

Moreover, this all comes with RM’s Silverleaf class trains, the most affordable of their three service classes.

Viking Mississippi sailing from New Orleans (Artist’s illustration)

Starting this summer, Viking will be offering cruises aboard a brand-new ultra-modern vessel, purpose-built to sail the river first known to Native Americans as “the Father of Waters.”

Multiple itineraries will cover nearly the entire river, from St. Paul MN near its origins to New Orleans, the port city that gave the Mississippi its fame.

This has been in the works ever since Viking opened its Los Angeles sales office in 2000, but the company abruptly suspended the plans a few years later. Now, with the cruise industry struggling to recover from the Covid-19 pandemic, they’re back — and this time, it looks like it’s going to happen.

The company is opening this riverboat gamble with four 8-day itineraries — two between Memphis and New Orleans, one from St. Louis to St. Paul, and an 8-day circle cruise that begins and ends in New Orleans.

The godfather of the schedule is a 15-day southerly run from St. Paul to New Orleans.

All this is made possible by the Viking Mississippi, a first of its kind river cruise ship, with a max capacity of 368 passengers. Its 193 staterooms come in four categories — Standard, French Balcony, Veranda and Suites, any of which appear to be roomier than what you’ll find on most typical river cruisers.

Something else you won’t typically find on other river cruise vessels — an infinity pool.

Viking Mississippi’s 2022 cruise schedule opens in August between St. Paul and New Orleans. All but a handful of its priciest cabins have already sold out for the year. But Viking is so heartened by this early response that it’s already scheduling Mississippi cruise into 2024.

While Viking may be new to the Mississippi, it’s anything but new to river cruising. The company began river cruising in Europe in 1997 with four ships bought from Russia and bought up KD River Cruises a few years later to become a major player in the European river cruise market.

Since then, it’s added to its feet at a stunning pace. It currently boasts 76 river cruisers, the largest fleet of its kind. Indeed, Viking has sold off or retired more river vessels than many of its rivals have sailing.

There’s another group of travelers who might this new cruise program especially appealing. If you’ve ever wanted to do a Mississippi River cruise but weren’t really feeling that whole antebellum steamboat vibe, this just might be for you.

And any veteran cruiser will tell you, there’s nothing like that new ship smell…

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