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At a press event in New York, Torstein Hagen, Viking chairman and CEO, discussed the hardships involved with the development of river cruising and river vessel construction, which is constrained in size by both bridges and locks in Europe. This has made it difficult for the lines to add full balconies without making accommodation size too small. Hagen noted that all of Viking’s 23-ship fleet could fit into Royal Caribbean’s Oasis of the Seas, and he explained that the destination-driven river lines are concentrating on delivering passengers to the heart of the ports along the rivers of Europe and elsewhere, but are very aware of the higher-end desires of today’s cruise passengers.
With the majority of river cruise passengers coming from ocean-going cruising, the demand for balconies has become important enough to need a solution, so Viking’s design team solved the problem with out-of-the-box thinking for four Viking Longships to debut in 2012 — the next phase of the line’s announced $250 million fleet development program. Designed by Yran & Storbraaten — the team behind the Disney Dream and Seabourn — the new ships also have made new use of areas at the bow and stern of the ship and opened up a new indoor/outdoor terrace.
Viking Freya, Viking Idun, Viking Njord and Viking Odin have a patent-pending design that shifts the central corridor of the ship one meter to one side rather than a central position and places two 205-square-foot staterooms with verandas on one side and a 270-square-foot suite opposite. Three quarters of the staterooms on the new ships will have a veranda, French balcony or both, and Viking has increased the number of suites onboard to seven in each.
“Innovation has been a hallmark of how Viking River Cruises has grown its business from its inception, with our guests serving as our inspiration,” said Hagen. “For our 2012 newbuilds, we have stretched ourselves creatively and technologically, evaluating every aspect of the guest’s cruising experience and asking ourselves how we can surpass it.”
The new ships are scheduled to sail four of Viking’s most popular European itineraries, including the 10-day Tulips & Windmills, eight-day Romantic Danube, 15-day Grand European Tour and eight-day Danube Waltz; the company will withdraw Viking Danube from service as the new ships debut. Each of the newbuilds will be 443 feet long, with 95 staterooms per ship. Each will cost $30 million, $5 million more than previous ships, and each will have key innovations, including the two Explorer Suites at 445 square feet, each featuring a separate living room, bedroom, bathroom and private wraparound veranda, offering 270-degree views. The seven, 270-square-foot Veranda Suites have full-size verandas in the living room and French balconies in the bedroom; the thirty-nine, 205-square-foot veranda staterooms have full-size verandas. A new all-weather indoor/outdoor Aquavit Terrace brings the outdoor river scenery indoors with retractable floor-to-ceiling glass doors.
Viking’s highest-end accommodations, the two Explorer Suites, are at the stern, where a small lounge was placed in previous vessels. Hagen said Viking’s hybrid propulsion, introduced on Viking Legend, produces such minimal sound and vibration that it made it possible for the company to design accommodations in the space. In addition to the energy-efficient hybrid engines, the new ships will have solar panels and an onboard organic herb garden on the top deck.
In addition to the four new ships for 2012, Viking has announced two newbuilds for 2013 — a number that Hagen said may increase — as well as four new ships for 2014.
The company pays agents commission on everything they sell, with payment 29 days prior to departure; commissions average more than $1,000 per booking. Viking also offers many commissionable upgrades to make the most of each reservation, including a Travel Protection Plan, land extensions and various air programs.
Viking’s all-inclusive pricing includes accommodations, all onboard meals, daily guided shore excursions and port charges in the cruise fare. Agents who have registered at Viking’s travel agent portal can create their own co-branded Viking website, allowing them to give clients access to current Viking information but featuring their own agency name, contact information and logo.
Booking is open for the new Viking Longships, and itinerary details, dates, pricing and travel agent benefits are available on the company’s travel agent portal.