Following its booming success in the river cruise market, Viking River Cruises has begun a massive expansion of its fleet. Just last week on March 21st, Viking christened four of the six new longboats to be introduced this year. The line also plans to launch an additional six boats in 2013, and it has an option with the shipyard to construct yet another six vessels for 2014.
The christening took place in Amsterdam, one of Viking’s European ports of departure. While the original plan was to have all four longboats – Viking Odin, Viking Idun, Viking Freya, and Viking Njord – dockside for the scheduled event, only the Odin and Idun were ready in time from the shipyard to be there. The line requested design improvements during construction that delayed the second pair of vessels – still at the Neptun Werft shipyard in Rostock, Germany – which were christened remotely via video feed.
Of this year’s six introductions, the remaining Viking Aegir and Viking Embla will be christened and launched later in 2012.
The four chosen godmothers reflect in some ways the personality of the river cruise line. As a key sponsor of PBS Masterpiece shows – including the breakout hit, Downton Abbey – Viking appropriately selected Masterpiece executive producer Rebecca Eaton, godmother to Viking Freya, and British actress Joanna Lumley, the famous Patsy character from Absolutely Fabulous and godmother to Viking Odin.
Juxtaposing the entertainment industry, Dr. Lisa Randall, theoretical physicist and professor at Harvard, might at first seem like a curious choice as the godmother to Viking Idun. However, Torstein Hagen, the line’s Chairman and CEO, himself studied nuclear physics. And Gail Wiswedel, godmother to Viking Njord, was chosen to honor her significance to Viking as the line’s most-cruised customer with more than 10 sailings.
The classic ceremony – complete with live violin and opera music leading to a crescendo of fireworks and waterworks – acted as a delightful sendoff to these new vessels.
The christening was followed by a two-night mini-cruise onboard the brand new Viking Odin. For those used to ocean cruising and ships of ever increasing size, these riverboats by necessity are small – picture a harbor cruise boat lengthened like a limousine. Yet, in regards to design and appointments, these intimate longboats exhibit all their larger ocean cruising cousins have to offer. In fact, this new class of riverboats was designed by Yran & Storbraaten, the firm behind cruise ships for Seabourn and Disney.
Cabins range in size from the 135 sq. ft. french balcony stateroom to the 445 sq. ft. Explorer Suite. Choosing instead a standard stateroom with only a window increases the space to 150 sq. ft. while the veranda stateroom affords a space of 205 sq. ft. The 275 sq. ft. veranda suites are laid out essentially as a veranda stateroom configured as a living room joined with a french balcony stateroom with a larger bathroom.
Smaller accommodations are well made up for by the smart use of funneled floor plans with a desk and bank of plentiful drawers set at an angle to allow easier entry into the cabin. Even the bathroom divides the shower compartment at an angle to maximize usable space.
The well lit interior design of the cabins is very clean and features soft-close fogged-glass closet and bathroom sliding doors. The beds are very comfortable with a plush duvet and pillows. Without a doubt, the first change to be made to these ships over time will be the replacement of the severely uncomfortable chair in the room – truly the only complaint of the cabins.
The staterooms also feature heated bathroom floors, refrigerators, safes, 26-inch interactive flat panel televisions, and beds with ample suitcase storage below.
The design of most riverboats follows a very similar layout of staterooms towards the rear and the restaurant and lounge towards the front separated by the central atrium. What sets this ship apart is the attention to detail given to the flow within the space and the exceptional interior design. Throughout the vessel, light colors abound, floor-to-ceiling glass panels surround, and floral accents of greenery adorn.
The two-deck central atrium is flanked by short stretches of promenade deck and features a curved grand staircase. Among the surrounding reception and concierge desks, small shop and library, and internet terminals, are nooks of comfortable couches and chairs. And just between the atrium and observation lounge are two convenient coffee stations.
The observation lounge serves several purposes. In this social space, you will find the riverboat’s drink bar, piano entertainment, lectures, and seating and views for all. Immediately in front is the all-weather Aquavit Terrace with indoor/outdoor seating and a removable glass partition as well as lunch buffet service – lunch is also available in the full-service dining room.
The top sun deck serves as a great place to veg and recline on a deck chair and watch the nearby landscape glide by. This deck has plentiful shade structures and some amusements with shuffleboard and a giant chess board as well as a few miniature golf holes. The telescoping bridge deck is also up here with its fascinating ability to squat as clearances require.
Dining and Entertainment
The culinary experience onboard a Viking River cruise is top-notch – somewhere between the quality of premium and luxury cruise lines. Breakfasts are served in the dining room buffet-style with an omelette station and a selection of eggs, sausages and bacon, meats and cheeses, and pastries. The excellent orange juice is served well-chilled.
Full-service lunch is also offered in the dining room as well as al fresco at the Aquavit Terrace – assortments here include mouth-watering salads, sandwiches, and soup, occasional carving station, breads, and amazing desserts.
Dinner is where Viking River really shines. About five appetizers, three entrées, and three or so desserts every night are plated in creative compositions, showcasing recipes of explosive flavor.
On the menu, exotic dishes like reindeer are offered alongside the more traditional fish, chicken, and beef. Meals are paired with a great red and white house wine included in the cruise fare – just as bottled water, house beers, and soft drinks are complimentary onboard.
The only caveat to the dining experience is the very noisy dining room, but the line is looking into replacing the ceiling tiles with more acoustically friendly ones in the future.
As far as entertainment is concerned, the river cruising focus is more off-board than it is onboard. Still, there is a great pianist onboard as well as lecture opportunities. So entertainment may be scarce on a riverboat, but so too is motion sickness.
Shore Excursions and Service
Viking River prides itself on its excellent shore excursions and commitment to service as it should. Excursions, often within walking distance from where the riverboat has docked, are programmed to not only maximize passengers’ time in but also their intimate experience of these historic ports.
For instance, the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Kinderdijk, famous for its historic windmills, was all of a two minute walk from the riverboat. Also, many of these tours last the entire day and will include a lunch at a great local eatery. De Kas in Amsterdam was a tour restaurant located in a former greenhouse and dedicated to sustainable organic cuisine. It was a delicious meal.
Each cabin is outfitted with a charging station for two radio audio devices which passengers take with them to more clearly hear their guides while ashore. These devices have become very common among tour operators and the reception quality can be hit or miss. The ones Viking offer are somewhat better – especially as devices you hold onto and charge yourself during the sailing – but a quick lesson once onboard on how to tune in to your particular guide’s frequency would go a long way to avoid the need for a crash course during every tour.
Service onboard is also excellent. Although it was a bit spotty on this mini-cruise, surely it’s just a result of the crew adjusting to a brand new vessel. It was quite clear that once the remaining wrinkles are ironed out, the friendly and helpful staff will be in full swing under the leadership of the already fantastic cruise director and concierge.
The River Appeal
In conclusion and without regurgitating the entire brochure, suffice it to say river cruising is a delightfully unique form of travel. It is indeed an intimate experience for those who most value high quality excursion opportunities right in the heart of historical destinations.
To view more photos from the christening and of the Viking Odin, click here.