Viking River Cruises, Europe's largest river cruise line by half, and growing, has for years been extolling the design of its new "Longships" series as revolutionary. These ships, Viking boasted, would have the first true suites on the rivers -- defining "suites" as accommodations with two distinct rooms (other lines offer suite accommodations that are basically a larger-than-usual room). They would have full-sized balconies, just like ocean-going big ships. And they would feature the first genuinely outdoor cafe on a riverboat.

With the debut of Viking River Cruises' first several ships (and several more to come), it's time to learn whether the cruise line's claims are mere hype -- or definite reality.

On our original sneak preview cruise aboard Viking Odin, the big buzz was how much this riverboat echoes the feeling of Seabourn Cruise Line's new Odyssey-class trio. And it's true. Certainly the fact that Yran and Storbraaten, the same maritime design firm that created Seabourn's interiors, also decorated the Longships is one reason they share an airy and light-filled ambience.

But the beauty of these ships goes beyond the Seabourn comparison. Europe's river operators have long been trying to distance themselves from the reputation, at one time deserved, that its vessels were stodgy and not all that comfortable. Over the past decade, the industry's been moving toward designing ships that will appeal to those accustomed to ocean cruising comforts.

In this case, Viking has delivered on much of its hype. Not only were these ships created at the highest standard for Viking itself, but they're helping, along with lines like AMAWATERWAYS, Uniworld and Avalon Waterways, to establish a new benchmark for comfort in European river cruising.

Click here to see our first impressions of Viking Odin. And for a comprehensive look at Viking's unprecedented expansion, check out our feature, The Viking Invasion: Attack of the Longships.