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Viking River Cruises expands its fleet

Photo by Bob Hoelscher

In March, I attended the first of two major 2013 events that marked the continued growth of Viking River Cruises. Viking, the largest operator of river cruises for the English-speaking market, seems to do everything in a big way — in this case, christening 10 brand-new vessels.

Viking isn’t shy about adding new capacity to this booming market, as it plans to top its current record by adding a full dozen additional vessels in 2014, giving it a total fleet of 48 ships. Even the Longships themselves are big, or more accurately, long at 443 feet each.

Each new vessel, handsomely decorated in Scandinavian modern decor with top-quality furniture, comfortably accommodates a maximum of 190 guests and offers all of the features travelers have come to expect from a top-notch operator. Passengers can look forward to complimentary shore excursions, wines and beers to accompany fine dining, excellent service, free Wi-Fi Internet connections and just about as many amenities as can possibly be accommodated onboard. The Aquavit Terrace indoor/outdoor viewing area at the bow of each ship is a particularly nice touch.

I was assigned to Viking Aegir, but all the ships I inspected in Amsterdam were basically identical, with only minor variations in decor. However, only four of the 10 vessels being christened by 10 different celebrity “godmothers” were on site, along with two other Longships christened previously; the other six were still under construction and nearing completion in the shipyard at Bremerhaven, Germany, with deliveries scheduled between April and August.

Consequently, christenings, both locally and across the continent, were accomplished by “remote control” as all 10 champagne bottles were released to break against the ships’ bows electronically.

The entire four-day event was first class all the way, including both Amsterdam sightseeing excursions and a day cruise to the charming Dutch community of Hoorn. I particularly enjoyed a guided tour of the fascinating Museum Het Schip, a social housing project dating from the early 20th century and a lecture on the history of the Vikings by Neil Oliver of the BBC.

One feature of Viking’s patented Longship design that merits a bit of explanation is that in order to provide spacious staterooms with real verandas on the starboard side of the vessels on the two primary passenger decks, the staterooms on the opposite side that have “French balconies,” balconies with full-length sliding glass doors that open to the outside air, are necessarily quite compact, at about 120 square feet. Consequently, guests booking these staterooms need to be prepared in advance for particularly cozy quarters, although the space has been designed about as well as possible.