Viking River Cruises welcomes another 16 Viking Longships to the fleet – and we’re there to tell the tale

Viking Odin arrives in Hoorn. Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

Viking Odin arrives in Hoorn. Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

March of 2012 seems so very long ago.

Two years ago, I flew to Amsterdam to bear witness as Viking River Cruises christened the first of four ships that would not only change the face of river cruising, but also raise the visibility of the industry as a whole into the public consciousness.

Of course, those first four ships turned into six. Then 10. Then 12. Then 14. On January 1 of this year, there were 16 Viking Longships in service on the waterways of Europe, sailing up and down famous rivers like the Danube, Rhine and Main.

Meyer Werft chairman Bernard Meyer gives his heartelt words to Torstein Hagen. Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

Meyer Werft chairman Bernard Meyer gives his heartelt words to Torstein Hagen at last year’s christening ceremonies in Amsterdam. Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

Last March, I travelled again to Amsterdam – this time to see Viking River Cruises earn a Guinness World Record for the most ships christened on a single day by a single company. It was a spectacular day, and the euphoria that Viking Chairman Torstein Hagen felt as he accepted the award was palpable. He started Viking in 1997 with literally nothing – a handful of loans and a few ex-Russian ships.

The road to that cold day in Amsterdam last year has been long and filled with obstacles, but Torstein Hagen and his team at Viking have succeeded in ways that few could have imagined.

A KLM Airbus A330-200 waits at the gate at Vancouver International Airport for the return flight to Amsterdam Schiphol airport. Photo © 2012 Aaron Saunders

A KLM Airbus A330-200 waits at the gate at Vancouver International Airport for the return flight to Amsterdam Schiphol airport. Photo © 2012 Aaron Saunders

Today, I’m flying back to Amsterdam on KLM – but unlike the past two years, I’ll only be passing through Schiphol Airport as I connect to an Air France flight to Marseille. But I won’t be staying long in the city on the French Riviera either – because this year, Viking has moved the party to the gorgeous city of Avignon.

Here, Viking will christen an amazing 16 ships in a single day. Of those, 14 are brand-new vessels, while two – Viking Baldur and Viking Magniwere launched last year, but never officially welcomed into the fleet.

Avignon's striking Palace of the Popes is one of Europe's best-preserved Medieval sites. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia / Creative Commons

Avignon’s striking Palace of the Popes is one of Europe’s best-preserved Medieval sites. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia / Creative Commons

In Avignon, we’ll be reporting live from onboard Viking Heimdal, one of the brand-new “Class of 2014” Viking Longships to enter service. The new ships will be christened in what will most assuredly be a spectacular ceremony on Tuesday the 18th of March.

But rather than concluding there, that’s when things really kick into high gear.

From Avignon, we’ll fly to Bordeaux, France for a sneak-peek at Viking’s new Chateaux, Rivers & Wine itinerary aboard Viking Forseti. Two days later, we’re off to Porto, Portugal for a look at the brand-new Viking Hemming and a taste of this famous city along the Douro River, noted for its port wine production.

The full itinerary, both here and onboard:

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When I sailed aboard Viking Baldur this past December, on a beautiful Christmas voyage along the Rhine. Christmas is my favorite time of year to take a river cruise, but I found myself entranced not only by the French, German and Dutch towns we visited, but with the constant tweaks Viking has made to the Longships over the intervening two years.

Viking Baldur, December 2013. Note the change in carpeting, wall fabrics, seating, and lighting sources over previous ships. I love this design! Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

Viking Baldur, December 2013. Note the change in carpeting, wall fabrics, seating, and lighting sources over previous ships. I love this design! Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

Subtle yet important, they reveal two very noteworthy things: one – these vessels are far from the cookie-cutter clones many people may assume they are. But secondly – and most crucially, in my opinion – it shows that Viking is continually tweaking the product based on feedback from crews and customers. You can bet we’ll be bringing you all the latest additions to this next round of Viking Longships, along with an assessment of how the new Viking Hemming and Viking Torgil measure up on the Douro.

It’s hard to believe that only two years have passed since the first Viking Longship set sail. When I listen to executives from other lines speak about Viking – even oceangoing cruise lines – I hear disbelief, even incredulity, that the line can launch so many ships and still keep the product consistent. But there’s also a touch of envy there; a bit of ‘why-the-hell-didn’t-we-do-this?’

Viking Star, in the flesh. This builder's model gave us a great impression of this 928-guest ship. Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

Next year may be even bigger for Viking, as they take delivery of Viking Star and launch their new Viking Ocean Cruises product in the Mediterranean and Northern Europe. Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

Viking’s success has been good for the river cruise industry as a whole, though. The travellers I meet through the year are curious not just about the Longships, but about other river cruise lines, too. The truth is that everyone stands to benefit from Viking’s continued success.

Now, with 14 new ships on the table, new itineraries in France, new pre-and-post cruise packages, and brand-new Longship-inspired vessels in Portugal, Viking has really begun to spread their collective wings.

The next week is an ambitious journey. It involves 16 ships, eight flights, seven days, three vessels, two countries – and the ever-unfolding vision of one man with some very grand ideas.

Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

Our Live Voyage Report from the 2014 Viking Longships Christening Ceremonies begins tomorrow from Avignon, France! Be sure to follow along on twitter by following @deckchairblog or the hashtag #LiveVoyageReport.

 

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