Torstein Hagen, founder and chairman of Viking River Cruises // © 2015 Viking River Cruises
At the end of March, Viking Cruises christened 12 new river ships in Europe, which brings the total for the Viking fleet to 60 vessels. Ten of the newbuilds are full-sized Longships, carrying up to 190 passengers, with two smaller vessels slated for the shallow Elbe River.
Founder and chairman Torstein Hagen announced that the company currently has orders for six new river ships next year, a huge number for any other line, but a slowdown for Viking, which launched 18 new ships in 2013. However, Viking has the option to build up to 18 additional vessels if there is such a demand.
Hagen said the company is splitting its growth between river and seagoing cruises with the launch of Viking’s first ocean ship, the 930-passenger Viking Star, which debuts this spring. His decision is based on the strong positive reaction to Viking Star (which is nearly sold out for this year), a slight slowing of demand on the river cruise side and the drastic drop in business for Viking’s six ships in Russia and the Ukraine, three of which have been laid up.
Hagen has said publicly that his goal is at least 10 seagoing ships and, eventually, 100 river vessels. At least six of these will be built for the Mississippi River, where the company hopes to begin sailing by the end of 2017.
Viking is bringing some of its huge advertising strength to seagoing cruises as well, which may have an impact on river cruise demand. The company’s extensive advertising and sponsorship of the PBS blockbuster “Downton Abbey” has stimulated river cruising across the board.