Viking River Cruises Announces Plans to Launch Ocean Cruise Line

May 13, 2013

(2:35 p.m.) -- Viking River Cruises, the industry's largest river cruise line, will tack in a new direction with ambitious plans to introduce a new ocean-going cruise line. The news, first reported today by the San Fernando Valley Business Journal, confirms long-whispered rumors about Viking's ambitions to expand into coastal cruising.

The first of two 47,000-ton, 900-passenger newbuilds is slated to debut in spring 2015. They'll be constructed at one of the Italian shipyards owned by Fincantieri, at a cost of about $350 million to $400 million, according to the report by the SFVBJ.

Details, including the official name of the new cruise line, will be revealed Thursday at a launch event in Beverly Hills.

In the meantime, Viking Chairman Torstein Hagen had, at the record-setting launch of 10 new riverboats in Amsterdam in March, shared a few tidbits about Viking's ambitious expansion plans. The coastal line will occupy a niche that travel agents dub “premium cruising” (and what Cruise Critic calls “luxury lite”) occupied by lines such as Oceania Cruises, Azamara and Windstar. These lines operate small to medium ships that offer contemporary choices such as larger suites, big spas and restaurant variety. They also feature itineraries that include out-of-the-way ports and marquee stops. Service and cuisine are typically outstanding on these lines -- at price points well below those found on luxury lines. Pricing for onboard amenities, though, follow the big ship model (you pay for drinks, shore excursions and other extras).

There's one big difference between Viking's ships and those of Oceania, Azamara and Windstar, according to Hagen's musings: Design-wise, these vessels will have the same spare, lean and Scandinavian style as its river fleet, in which the emphasis is more on seeing the world than importing big ship diversions into the experience.

The per-berth cost of the of as yet-unnamed ships is right in line with that of Oceania's Marina and Riviera (though the Viking ships have smaller capacities).

Cruise Critic has reached out to Viking for comment but has not heard back.

--Carolyn Spencer Brown, Editor in Chief