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Viking River Cruises set a record this year, christening four new vessels at one time on a gorgeous sunny day in Amsterdam. Two of the ships were christened in the yard; construction took longer than planned because Viking kept adding new distinguishing features.
Overall, Richard Marnell, Viking’s senior vice president of marketing, said North American demand for river cruising has grown more than three times the rate of ocean cruising. Viking is certainly contributing to the dramatic growth with both numbers and quality. The new 443-foot, 190-passenger Longships — Viking Odin, Viking Idun, Viking Njord and Viking Freya — have garnered the company such strong praise that it is following up on the six debuting this year (Viking Embla and Viking Aegir will be inaugurated later in 2012) with six more in 2013. By the end of next year, Viking will have invested more than $400 million in its fleet development program over three years and the company has an option for six more vessels in 2014, as well.
The company has named the Longship class after the Vikings’ models of technical perfection: the original rapierlike longships were so cutting edge that modern scholars had doubted the accounts of them until the 1997 discovery of the Roskilde Longship. The company’s version is an updated design for the 21st century. Chairman Torstein Hagen refers to the ships as “a quantum leap” that has finally brought river cruising to levels of the best seagoing ships.
The new Longships are designed by Yran & Storbraaten, known for luxury vessels, including Seabourn’s recent newbuilds. Viking’s Longships bear a resemblance to the elegant, airy look of the Seabourn ships, with the same extensive use of glass and light as well as charming touches such as the little gardens at the foot of the central staircases and an organic herb garden on the sun deck.
Part of the cutting-edge design is the new stateroom configuration Viking is patenting. The constraints on ship size can’t be changed because of the need for passage through the locks of Europe’s rivers. But, by designing the corridor to one side, rather than straight down the middle, and by swiveling a set of rooms sideways, Viking has created two, 445-square-foot Explorer Suites with wraparound verandas and a separate living room and bedroom, along with seven two-room 270-square-foot Veranda Suites with both a French balcony and a step-out balcony. In addition, the Longships have 39 Veranda Staterooms with full-size verandas and 22 French Balcony staterooms with floor-to-ceiling, sliding-glass doors. The rooms are even more beautiful than artist’s renderings indicated. Bathrooms have heated tile floors and premium amenities, and staterooms boast luxurious bedding and high-definition, flat-screen televisions.
One of the most popular features is the new Aquavit Terrace, an indoor/outdoor area at the bow that offers casual dining and has a retractable floor-to-ceiling glass door. Passengers also favored the continuation of Viking’s specially built, fuel-efficient hybrid engines, responsible for a smooth, quiet ride. The new breed of ships also has solar panels.
Meals are open seating and, although the dining room is the center of attention, the lounge lunches are excellent and well patronized. All meals include teas and coffees, also available self-service whenever guests choose. Starting this year, passengers have complimentary wine, beer and soft drinks with lunch and dinner onboard, wherever the venue.
Forty-four percent of Viking passengers have graduate degrees, and they are being nourished by onboard lecturers and concerts on the ships as well as with privileged access to cultural centers like the Lobkowicz Palace in Prague.
The Viking Longships will be sailing some of the line’s most popular itineraries for 2013: Grand European Tour, Romantic Danube, Danube Waltz, Tulips & Windmills. There are still some staterooms available in late fall 2012 and on holiday sailings.