(2:30 p.m. EDT) It's spend, spend, spend in the world of river cruising at the moment. Avalon, Uniworld and AMAWATERWAYS are all busy building and launching new ships this year and now, Viking has joined the fray with the announcement of a massive $250 million new-build and upgrade programme.
Eight new ships will be launched over the next three years, bringing the total of Viking's fleet to 26, reinforcing its position as the world's largest river cruise line.
The first to launch will be Viking Prestige, on the Danube in 2011, while at the same time, Viking Emerald will debut in China to replace Viking Century Sun on the Yangtze. More European ships will be rolled out in 2012 and 2013.
Viking's last big splash was the 189-passenger Viking Legend in 2009 and Viking Prestige will be a sister ship to this. So what can we expect that's new? Viking sells itself on its environmental credentials and Prestige will offer the same hybrid propulsion as Legend, which means a smoother, quieter, more fuel-efficient ride.
We're also promised French balconies on the top two decks and the largest suites on the Danube. Interiors on the new ship will be by Norwegian maritime architects Yran & Storbraaten, who have also worked on Holland America's Eurodam, Silversea's Silver Whisper and Seabourn Odyssey, so expect understated luxury.
On the Yangtze, where ship designers have more space to play with (there are no low bridges and ships can be built with more decks), we will see some changes. The 264-passenger Viking Emerald will have 840-square-foot presidential suites with separate sitting and sleeping areas, two flat-screen televisions, panoramic windows and a private wrap-around balcony, while staterooms will be 269 square feet, with private balconies. (As a comparison in square footage, a deluxe verandah cabin on Celebrity's Solstice-class ships is 194 square feet, so we're talking big here.)
Two ships in the fleet are also due for a complete refurbishment: Viking Pakhomov, which sails in Russia, and Viking Schumann, which was purpose built for the Elbe. All the public areas on both will be refurbished and Viking Schumann's cabins will be fitted with proper beds, rather than the current Pullman-and-sofabed arrangement.
Not that this rather primitive cabin layout seems to bother Viking fans as it stands; the Elbe is virtually sold out for 2010 and the company's Rhine programme is filling up fast. River cruising, without question, is on a roll.
--By Sue Bryant, Cruise Critic Contributing Editor
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Viking River Embarks on New Ship Spree
May 27, 2010