Viking River Launches Newest China-Based Vessel

April 19, 2005
Viking River, the Swiss-based river cruise operator with one of the industry's strongest fleets in Europe, continues to expand its outreach in Asia as well with the launch last week of Viking Century Sky -- its second custom-designed new-build for China. The 306-passenger ship -- with a capacity of nearly twice that of the 168-passenger Viking Century Star, which was introduced last year -- sails three- and four-night Yangtze River itineraries.

This ship features amenities such as feather duvets, telephones, air conditioning and cable TV. and all cabins have river-view balconies. Other features onboard include a gym, beauty salon, massage rooms, Internet center and Western-style galley.

The ship's debut last week was unique, reports Cruise Critic correspondent Susan Jaques, on hand for the festivities:

"Colorful lion dancers, musicians and confetti greeted guests as they embarked on the inaugural voyage of Viking River Cruises' newest vessel, the Viking Century Sky. Despite the good luck conferred by the lion, the evening embarkation of some 300 passengers was delayed three hours because flooding on the Yangtze River submerged the gangplanks.

"Viking River did not allow Mother Nature or a rickety boarding facility to put a damper on the festivities however. The 'sky' was the limit as guests enjoyed champagne, wine and canapes on the balloon-filled Sun Deck while listening to welcome speeches. The crowd included Chinese government officials, Viking River Cruises Chairman Torstein Hagen and Peng Jian Hu, President of New Century Cruise Company, Viking's partner and ship builder.

"The reception was followed by a gourmet dinner that began with caviar and included bacon-wrapped Chinese black pears with gorgonzola, porcini-duck dumplings and truffles, warm lobster strudel with vanilla saffron sauce, and angus fillet and goose liver. Australian Chardonnay Semillon and French Pinot Noir accompanied the multi-course extravaganza.

"The next morning under clearer skies, Viking Century Sky set sail for three nights, with stops at the dramatic cliff-hugging Shibaozhai Temple and the spectacular Lesser Three Gorges. Maintenance work at the monumental Three Gorges Dam precluded the vessel from going through the lock as planned." Back on land, Viking River president Jeffrey Dash told Cruise Critic that the cruise line is committed to expanding its offerings in China.

"China is definitely an emerging market," he says, noting that travel surveys show that it will be the largest tourism destination by 2020. "More importantly, as our customers experience more of our European and Russian programs, they have started asking for trips there. And up until recently, the real challenge of the river, the Yangtze experience, is that ships were generally not up to North American standards."

"We like being trendsetters," according to Dash. He says that interest is already increasing. The line in 2004 carried 4,700 passengers; this year he anticipates that U.S. cruisers alone will account for 17,500. Indeed, the cruise line is expanding its commitment – already under construction is Viking Century Sun, an identical twin to Viking Century Sky. Sun will debut next year.

At 415 feet long, with six decks and two elevators, the light, contemporary, Scandinavian-style Viking Century Sky is the largest in the company's fleet of 25 river vessels operating in Russia, Europe and China. Itineraries range from three to nine nights, and additional on-land touring programs are available.