Viking River Cruises has ordered a pair of 888-passenger oceangoing ships to be built in St. Nazaire at the STX France shipyard. According to a statement from the yard, the 750-foot-long vessels will debut in spring 2014 and spring 2015, and they'll sail under the banner of the newly created Viking Ocean Cruises. The contract, which is subject to financing, calls for two ships, but an option for a third ship is also being considered.
Construction is expected to commence in mid-September 2012 for the first vessel and roughly a year later for the second.
STX's statement further reveals that the destination-focused vessels will be based primarily in the Mediterranean, catering mostly to Viking's U.S., British and Australian customers. Representatives from Viking did not respond to e-mail requests for comment by press time.
Little is known about onboard features of Viking's new ocean ships, but given the size, regional deployment and target passenger, we'll wager that they'll compete with Azamara Club Cruises and Oceania Cruises, "deluxe" brands positioned somewhere between Celebrity Cruises and luxury stalwarts like Crystal Cruises and Silversea. Passenger-wise, Viking's new-builds compare with Azamara's 694-passenger duo and Oceania's 684- to 1,258-passenger vessels.
STX spokeswoman Delphine Gledel tells us that the size will be similar to Hapag-Lloyd's under-construction, 39,500-ton Europa 2. Europa 2, an all-suite luxury ship, will carry just 516 passengers; it's due in spring 2013.
Viking's 1,776 new berths represent dramatic growth for a company already in all-out expansion mode. In 2012, Viking River Cruises will unleash six 188-passenger "longships" on Europe's inland waterways, with four more sisters slated for launch in 2013. The 10 riverboats amount to 1,880 beds -- roughly the same capacity as the two oceangoing vessels.
River-to-ocean expansions are extremely rare in a cruise industry in which operators stick to one or the other, but Viking's chairman, Torstein Hagen, is no stranger to open-water cruising. According to Seatrade Insider, an online industry publication, Hagen was a key figure at the now-defunct Royal Viking Line in the early 1980's. Royal Viking's ships are still part of the fabric of ocean cruising; they include Holland America's Prinsendam, originally Royal Viking Sun, and Seabourn Legend, the former Royal Viking Queen.
--by Dan Askin, News Editor