Saturday, December 15, 2012

Viking Cruises expands with additional longship order

Viking River Cruises in early December placed an order for 10 additional Viking Longships, bringing the total number of new ships launching in 2013 to 10 and the number launching in 2014 to eight. 

The launch plan will "easily surpass the industry record Viking set in 2012 with the introduction of six new ships in a single season," the cruise line said in a statement announcing the order.

"By the end of 2014, the company will have introduced a total of 24 new ships in a three-year period, a fleet expansion unprecedented in the cruise industry," the statement continued.

The company's chairman, Torstein Hagen, credited the rapid growth of the river cruise segment to travelers being inspired "to experience old destinations in a new way.”

I believe there are also other factors at play.

First and foremost is the single factor that has kept my wife and me from ocean cruising (save for my sole repositioning cruise): the gargantuan size of the ships, which literally carry as many people as the average aircraft carrier. Viking Longships carry 190 passengers.

Second, the itineraries seem to offer a much more leisurely pace. Couple that with the smaller groups disembarking and reboarding and, once again, a more leisurely pace results.

Third, more large cruise lines are catering to families. While we love our children and grandchildren, we've always envisioned a cruise as a sophisticated, adult experience, not a visit to Chuck E. Cheese's. A cruise surrounded by active children, even if they are well-behaved (and -- no surprise here -- many kids today simply aren't) would not be the relaxing, adult experience we're seeking.

While I don't have information on the demographics of Viking's passengers, the line appears to actively court members of the Baby Boom and Greatest generations rather than families with small children.

I think of  a gentleman named Lefty and his wife, whom I met in 2009 in an airline lounge at Chicago's O'Hare Airport (ORD) as we were waiting for our flight to Amsterdam (AMS). He had spent his career as the sales manager for Encyclopedia Britannica during the pre-Internet days when many Boomers grew up with a set of encyclopedias a fixture in their family room. By then long retired, he and his wife were traveling to the Netherlands to take a river cruise from Amsterdam to Bratislava, sans kids.

Viking plans to inaugurate the first eight Viking Longships of 2013 in a first-of-its-kind simultaneous christening ceremony in late March in Amsterdam. The two newest ships, Viking Baldur and Viking Magni, will join the fleet in late August and September, respectively. Both vessels will sail Viking’s 15-day Grand European Tour (Amsterdam-Budapest), with Viking Baldur also sailing the 8-day Rhine Getaway (Amsterdam-Basel) and Viking Magni also sailing the 8-day Danube Waltz (Passau-Budapest). The eight new ships in 2014 will also sail Viking’s most popular itineraries in Europe.

Viking Longships employ design, technology, and amenities that reflect guest preferences and current travel trends, the company said.

The new ships include two Explorer Suites, which Viking calls “the largest river cruise suites in Europe.” At 445 square feet, they are definitely generous, eclipsing even many land-based hotel rooms. Each suite features a separate living room, bedroom and private wraparound veranda, and offers a 270-degree view.

The ships also include seven two-room Veranda Suites with a full-size veranda in the living room and a French balcony in the bedroom, 39 Veranda Staterooms with full-size verandas, and 22 French Balcony Staterooms.

The indoor/outdoor Aquavit Terrace allows guests to experience a panoramic view of the riverscape in any type of weather, thanks to retractable floor-to-ceiling glass doors, which also allow guests to dine al fresco when weather permits, according to the company.

The new ships will feature luxury in-cabin amenities that include heated bathroom floors and mirrors, Sony HD TVs, and premium bath products.

Sustainability upgrades include solar panels, an on-board organic herb garden, and energy-efficient hybrid engines that also reduce vibrations and provide a smoother ride than conventional engines.

The new ships will be built at the Neptun Yard in Germany, which is part of the Meyer Neptun group. 

The ships are scheduled to sail four of Viking's most popular European itineraries. More details are available at VikingRiverCruises.com.

Visit my main page at TheTravelPro.us for more news, reviews, and personal observations on the world of upmarket travel.

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