Cruise Reviews by Cruise Critic
Established in 1997, Viking Cruises is the world's largest river cruise line, with some 60 river ships sailing the waterways of Europe, Russia and the Ukraine, Egypt, China, Vietnam and Cambodia. Viking has also unveiled plans for a new ocean-going cruise arm. Called Viking Oceans, it debuts in May 2015 when it unveils the 48,000-ton, 928-passenger Viking Star, the first of three newbuilds thus far agreed with Italy's Fincantieri shipyard. From the river perspective, Viking is on the most aggressive new-build kick in the industry. Its ambitious Longships design has resulted in the addition of more than 40 near-clones the the fleet since 2012. Viking is led by cruise entrepreneur Torstein Hagen, who worked for Royal Viking Line before starting up his own venture. Previously, Hagan was CEO at Royal Viking Line and has served as a member of the board of directors for Holland America Line and Kloster Cruise, Ltd. He also served as a partner in management consulting firm McKinsey & Company. Viking changed its name from Viking River Cruises to the simpler Viking Cruises in 2013 to reflect the creation of its new ocean-going line.
Viking River's fleet is the largest in the river industry -- it operates some 60 ships and is undergoing a seemingly endless expansion. All of the vessels are geared to the English-speaking market. The line has been introducing new ships almost every year for more than a decade, the bulk of which have been in Europe. Building on the launch of the eco-friendly Viking Legend in 2009 and the 188-passenger Viking Prestige, which debuted in 2011, the line kicked off a period of rapid expansion in 2012 with the introduction of six new-builds. The original ship design for these sextuplets, called the "Longship class," has been cloned -- or only slightly altered -- over 40 times since then. The ships were designed by maritime architects Yran & Storbraaten, known for creating interiors for Disney Dream and Seabourn's Odyssey-class ships. All ships from 2011 onwards have energy-efficient hybrid engines, using less fuel and offering a smoother and quieter ride. Europe itineraries, by and large, are focused on the Rhine, Main and Danube rivers, along with France's Rhone and Seine. It also offers cruises on Portugal's Duoro. Viking will introduce a new, Bordeaux-centric Europe itinerary in 2014. In Russia, the company has also invested considerable money into regularly refurbishing its older ships. Beyond mainstream Europe, Viking Emerald, which launched in 2011, cruises China's Yangtze River. The 256-passenger ship has a pair of 840-square-foot presidential suites with separate sitting and sleeping areas, two flat-screen TVs, panoramic windows and a private wrap-around balcony. Standard accommodations aren't any slouch either -- they provide 269 square feet of living space (on river ships most passenger cabins are significantly smaller than on ocean-going vessels) and all have private balconies. Viking also charters a number of ships for itineraries in Egypt and Southeast Asia. These include Royal Lily and Royal Lotus (the Nile), Prince Abbas (Egypt's Lake Nasser), RV Tonle (Mekong River) and Viking Mandalay (Irrawaddy River, Burma).
Viking Cruises Fleet
With two lines, one providing river voyages and the other featuring ocean cruises, similarities onboard ships in Viking's two fleets are numerous.
Viking River's Longships, the largest and most contemporary class of ships on Europe's rivers, were created specifically for river cruising. Sleekly Scandinavian in design, these 190-passenger vessels feature all-outside cabins, two-room suites, real balconies and several dining venues whose cuisines range from formal to light-fare. The Aquavit Terrace, a special feature of the Longships design, functions as an indoor/outdoor restaurant and lounge. Alfresco dining -- rarely available on river lines -- is so popular with travelers that Viking has added more dining settings.
Viking's earlier classes of river ships feature all the comforts of home and then some. Many have French verandahs, lounges with panoramic views, well-furnished sundecks and cozy libraries off the aft. Here, again, all cabins have windows to the outside, private bathrooms, TVs, telephones and safes.
Viking River also operates ships in Asia (along the Yangtze and through the Mekong Delta), Egypt, and Russia.
The Viking Longships, in addition to following the "green" theme of Viking Legend and Prestige, also have larger suites -- two Explorer suites each offer 445 square feet of space and feature 270-degree views with a private wraparound balcony, while Veranda suites each feature two full rooms with a balcony off the living room and a French balcony in the bedroom. They each show off a new lounge -- the Aquavit Terrace -- where a portion of the floor-to-ceiling windows can be rolled aside to create an indoor/outdoor seating area.
On all Viking River cruises, onboard entertainment is designed to help passengers understand the cultures and regions visited. Expect to find lectures, local musicians and themed dinners with regional specialties.
In its main restaurants, Viking ships offer open seating for all meals, which means you can sit where you like. Breakfast is usually a buffet, while lunch is a combo buffet and off-the-menu meal. Dinner is a more formal, multicourse extravaganza. During the day, diners can find light fare in each ship's lounge (or, on the Longships, the Aquavit Terrace). Soft drinks, beer and wine are served complimentary at dinner.
Viking offers a range of shore excursions. In every port there's at least one complimentary choice and a selection of more in-depth outings for extra fees.
Viking's new ocean cruise line, which debuts in May 2015 with the introduction of the Viking Star, will offer something of a hybrid experience. Like the river fleet, the ship will feel airy and spacious, with the simplicity of Scandinavian design. The big difference is that the 48,000-ton, 928-passenger ship, the first of two on order at Fincantieri's Marghera shipyard, near Venice, will feature more amenities than its river brethren. These include a lavish spa, multiple dining venues, and a variety of bars and lounges. All cabins will have balconies and, sizewise, its standards are about 20 percent larger than the norm. One unique new twist: The ship's main dining venue will have a wall of windows that can be opened in good weather to create a semi-alfresco experience.
Passengers are generally English-speaking, well-traveled cruise veterans in the 55-plus bracket, although China and Southeast Asia attracts some younger travelers.
Viking offers some 30 itineraries lasting anywhere from one to three weeks. The destination-intensive itineraries give passengers maximized sightseeing opportunities, with English-speaking guides, motorcoach tours and guided visits to treasured landmarks.
In Europe, cruises sail on some of the Continent's most scenic waterways, including the Rhine, which flows through Switzerland, France, Germany and Holland; and the Main and Danube Rivers, which cross through Germany, Austria, Slovakia and Hungary. Other itineraries feature trips on the Elbe in eastern Germany and the Czech Republic with stops in Berlin and Prague; the Rhone, Saone and Seine Rivers in France; the Neva and Volga in Russia (with stopovers in St Petersburg and Moscow); and the Dnieper in the Ukraine, where passengers explore Cossack traditions and take tours of palaces and monasteries in Kiev and Odessa.
In China, cruisetours, which combine land and river components, feature visits to places such as Beijing, the Terra Cotta Warriors, the Three Gorges, Lesser Gorges and Three Gorges Dam. All cruisetours are fully escorted from airport arrival to departure by English-speaking guides. The company's Western management oversees all aspects of the trip, and local offices in Beijing and Chongqing ensure in-country management as well. Onboard Chinese meals are designed by Martin Yan and alternate with Western menus.
Viking's cruise along the Mekong River through Vietnam and Cambodia includes overnights in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City. There are also visits to ancient Khmer monuments, temples of Angkor Wat and the floating markets.
From the U.S., the company also offers Nile River and Lake Nasser itineraries in Egypt on chartered ships, and Viking has announced it will become the first European river cruise company to enter the Mississippi River cruise market in America. The company is expected to use a modified Viking Longship design, similar in style to the ships that sail Europe's rivers but different in dimension and passenger capacity. Unlike the two river boats currently sailing the Mississippi (American Queen and Queen of the Mississippi), the Viking ship will not have a paddlewheel.