(the following article was recently published in USA Today)
KOBLENZ, Germany — At the confluence of the Rhine and Mosel rivers in Germany, near the French border, Viking River Cruises on Tuesday debuted its latest river cruise ships, Viking Herja and Viking Hild, just below an imposing fortress dating to the 12th century.
The two vessels, patterned from the same mold that the line introduced in 2012, were christened by a pair of godmothers for the occasion.
Rainy skies gave way to a brief bout of late afternoon sunshine as the event started, just long enough for award-winning British composer and conductor Debbie Wiseman to let loose a ceremonial bottle of Veuve Cliquot Champagne on Viking Herja. It crashed efficiently against the bow of the ship.
Viking Hild’s godmother, Princess Stephanie Löwenstein-Wertheim-Rosenberg, cut the cord to a bottle poised to smash against that vessel, but not a drop was spilled on the first try. A crew member climbed outside the railing to hoist the bottle again, and on the second try the bubbly splashed on cue.
The 190-passenger Viking Herja and Viking Hild are of the “longship” design that Viking unveiled in 2012. The longships feature some of the largest suites on river ships in Europe, as well as cabins with balconies, made possible by offsetting the main corridors. In just six years, 48 Viking longships have been built — an unprecedented number in the history of river cruising (scroll through the carousel below for a deck-by-deck look at a Viking longship).
Viking Hild will begin sailing the Rhine River this spring on a new Paris-to-the-Swiss Alps itinerary. Later this year both new ships will sail Viking’s Danube Waltz and Rhine Getaway itineraries.
This year also marks Viking River Cruises’ 20th anniversary. While best known for its European river cruises, in 2015 the company started a line of ocean cruise ships. The third ship for that line, Viking Sky, launched just last month and an identical fourth ship, Viking Sun, arrives in November. Two more ocean-going ships are on order and will arrive in 2018 and 2019.
“By 2020 we will be the largest small-ship ocean cruise line and we will have the youngest fleet,” Viking’s founder and chairman Torstein Hagen said at a press conference Tuesday aboard Viking Hild. “That is a claim we will be able to make for many years.”
However, no new orders for river ships were announced on Tuesday.
“Our growth has continued, but we’re slowing down on the rivers,” Hagen said.
Hagen did reveal that Viking has acquired an existing river ship in Egypt — the ink was still drying on the deal, he said. Hagen said the ship would be extensively refurbished and will “feel at home” to Viking regulars. The ship was tentatively named Viking Ra, after the ancient Egyptian sun god.
“One thing the Vikings have in common with Egyptians is that we have many gods,” added Hagen. “Maybe we’ll have several ships in Egypt.”