Thursday, 24 March 2011

Viking orders four river ships with balconies

Viking orders four river ships with balconies

By Michelle Baran
Viking River Cruises has finally caved to the popular balcony trend on river cruise ships. The company unveiled plans this week for four new ships that will feature private balconies and larger staterooms and suites.

The four new ships — the Freya, Idun, Njord and Odin — will be the first of a new class of vessels called Viking Longships. Viking will spend a total of $120 million on the ships, which will sail Europe itineraries in 2012.

"Should we have balconies or not? For a long time I said 'not,'" said Viking CEO Torstein Hagen.

Hagen said he had been hesitant about balconies because they eat into the square footage of cabins.

Hagen noted that by reconfiguring the layout of the ships (shifting the central corridor and adding two suites at the aft of the ship), Viking was able to add balconies without sacrificing stateroom square footage.

"It's clear that many people want to go from ocean cruising to river cruising, and people who have been on ocean cruises want balconies," said Hagen.

The 190-passenger Longships are being designed by maritime architects Yran & Storbraaten and will be 443 feet long, with 95 staterooms each.

Three-quarters of the staterooms on the new ships will feature a balcony, French balcony (doors open to a railing but no patio) or both. The layout is patent pending, according to the company.

The ships will have seven 270-square-foot Veranda suites with full balconies off the living room and French balconies off the bedroom. Thirty-nine Veranda staterooms will each have 205 square feet and full balconies.

There will also be two 445-square-foot Explorer suites at the ship's aft. These suites will have a separate living room, bedroom, bathroom and private wraparound balcony.

In addition to new cabin configurations, the Longships will have an indoor/outdoor Aquavit Terrace at the front of the ship, a feature Viking was able to add by squaring off the nose of the ship rather than having it come to a point.

Viking has improved upon the energy-efficient hybrid engines it installed in the Legend and Prestige, moving from a two- to a four-generator system to decrease vibrations. There will also be solar panels and an organic herb garden on the sun deck.

As for additional amenities, Hagen said, "I caved in on verandas, I did not cave in on a gym or spa."

Rather, Viking will test a "concierge program," partnering with hotels in port cities to offer guests the use of spas and fitness facilities.

The new ships will also have elevators, a feature Hagen said he agreed to "reluctantly."

The four new ships will cost $30 million each, about $5 million more than the Legend, which launched in 2009, and the Prestige, which launches later this year.

The ships are part of a plan Viking laid out last year to invest $250 million in eight new ships and two refurbishments between 2011 and 2013.

The Freya, Idun, Njord and Odin are scheduled to sail the 10-day Tulips & Windmills (roundtrip from Amsterdam), the eight-day Romantic Danube (from Budapest, Hungary, to Nuremberg, Germany) the 15-day Grand European Tour (from Amsterdam to Budapest) and the eight-day Danube Waltz (from Passau, Germany, to Budapest).