Viking's aggressive move comes as oceangoing lines continue to ratchet down growth, while river lines kick into high gear. Just this past weekend, Uniworld -- one of Viking's river-cruising brethren -- launched its S.S. Antoinette, whose covered pool, movie theater and convertible balconies make it one of the most innovative river ships afloat.
The four new ships -- Viking Freya, Viking Idun, Viking Njord and Viking Odin -- will launch at the beginning of the 2012 river cruise season in time to start sailing by the end of March. They'll inaugurate the line's Longship class of vessels, designed by maritime architects Yran & Storbraaten (known for creating Disney Dream and Seabourn's ships) and named after Norse gods.
The four ships will sail Viking's most popular routes -- the 10-day "Tulips & Windmills" cruise, 8-day "Romantic Danube," 15-day "Grand European Tour" and 8-day "Danube Waltz" -- to satisfy increasing demand for berths.
What kinds of amenities and innovations can you expect? Here's what the line has revealed:
Each ship will be 443 feet long and feature 95 cabins.
The line will introduce its Explorer Suites. There will be two per ship, and they'll each measure 445 square feet and feature a separate living room, bedroom, bathroom and private, wraparound verandah. The seven 270-square-foot Veranda Suites on each ship will offer full-size verandahs in the living rooms and French balconies in the bedrooms.
Seventy-five percent of cabins will feature verandahs or French balconies, including 39 205-square-foot Veranda Staterooms with full-size verandahs.
The Aquavit Terrace brings a new lounge concept to the line. The all-weather indoor/outdoor space features retractable floor-to-ceiling glass doors for alfresco relaxation on nice days and climate-controlled views on inclement days.
Passengers will have several dining options with the addition of alfresco areas with grills on the Upper Deck.
And, with green cruising becoming a big trend these days, Viking will offer energy-efficient hybrid engines, solar panels and an organic herb garden on the Longships.
So what won't you find onboard? Viking has opted not to take away from cabin space to offer a spa or cinema. Instead, it will offer spa and health club packages at luxury hotels in select destinations and provide the option to transform the ship's lounges into theaters with multiple viewing screens and surround sound. (This could be a dig at S.S. Antoinette, which boasts a 22-seat cinema and glassed-in pool and spa.)
If you think adding four ships in one year is ambitious, the line actually plans on adding 10 total through 2014 as part of its expansion program. But, if anyone can do it, Viking can -- the line was the first and only river cruise line to debut four ships in one year back in 2001.
--by Erica Silverstein, Features Editor