Founded in 1997, small-ship operator Viking has been on an ever-evolving journey over the past 25 years. Debuting in the European river cruise industry with its fleet of Viking Longships, the brand expanded into ocean cruising in 2015 and most recently branched out into the expedition cruise sector with its first vessel, Viking Octantis.
“When we started Viking 25 years ago, we wanted to do things differently – and since then, our mission has resonated with curious travellers,” said Torstein Hagen, chairman of Viking. “Our guests are enjoying voyages north of the Arctic Circle and south to the Antarctic Peninsula – as well as to many great destinations in between.”
However, despite its expansion to offer cruises across the world, Viking retains a distinct sense of its Scandinavian identity in all its designs. Richard Riveire, founding principal of Los Angeles-based interior design firm Rottet Studio, has worked closely with Hagen across all of Viking’s ships on rivers and at sea to bring the brand’s vision to life.
“No matter where we are, it says Viking on the side of the ship, and that means something,” he says. “If you go onboard any ship in the fleet, you’ll realise who it belongs to. Part of that is an underlying personality, but we also have a little toolbox of design elements that we know are successful and have become fundamental parts of our brand.
“For example, when I was in Oslo, Norway, for the first time, I went to the Viking Ship Museum. It has three, authentic Viking ships that were buried, recovered and restored. What I noticed was that they made these beautiful curves up the whole of the ship. I took that design and incorporated it into the concept for the Viking Bar, which can be found onboard all of our vessels. Just like those original ships, it features shiplap, with each piece of wood layered over another.
While these elements are part of the design of every Viking ship, the exact composition varies depending on the destinations they’ll be visiting.
“Our ocean ships tend to visit more urban ports, including capital cities such as Sydney or Rome,” explains Riveire. “So, the exploration of that world is emphasised in our design for those ships. But if you look at our expedition ships, it’s all about celebrating nature. Different aspects of Viking’s identity bubble to the top depending on where the vessels are sailing and what cruising experience we’re offering to guests.”
By the end of 2022, Viking will have 80 river ships in its fleet, including Longships in Europe, Nile ships that are slightly different, and Viking Saigon on the Mekong River – all are inspired by elegant, understated Scandinavian design.
This year, Viking will also introduce Viking Mississippi, its first river cruise ship in the USA. While inspired by previous ships and Scandinavian design, public spaces have been reimagined for voyages along the Mississippi River. The vessel will be larger than the Viking Longships, with capacity for 386 guests across five decks, including the first-ever wraparound private verandas. The Living Room social area will feature elements of Scandinavian design while the Explorers’ Lounge in the bow of the ship will offer views of the changing landscape as guests travel along the Mississippi.
The ship is set to debut in Summer 2022 following delivery by American shipbuilder Edison Chouest Offshore.
“Our guests have long wanted to sail the Mississippi River with Viking, and we very much look forward to welcoming them onboard this summer,” said Hagen. “We are grateful to our American partner, Edison Chouest Offshore, who has helped bring to life our vision of exploring the Mississippi in the ‘Viking way.’”
Viking continues to expand the fleet of identical ocean ships which began with the debut of Viking Star in 2015. Viking Mars is the latest addition and was delivered by Fincantieri in Ancona, Italy, in May and like its sister ships will host up to 930 guests in 465 staterooms, all of which feature verandas. Light-filled public spaces include the Atrium, where a screen displays photographs by Alastair Miller or works by Norwegian artist Edvard Munch during ‘Munch Moments’. The Explorers’ Lounge celebrates a different Norwegian explorer onboard each vessel with replicas of their ships and tales of their voyages in a curated library collection, while Torshavn is designed to recall the jazz lounges of 1940s Hollywood and hosts musical performances. Another, Viking Neptune, will be delivered this year, while an additional new ocean vessel is planned for 2023.
“Together with Fincantieri we have built the world’s most elegant vessels, which truly allow our guests to explore the world in comfort,” said Hagen. “With the arrival of the Viking Neptune and her identical sister ship, the Viking Mars, this year, we are proud to firmly establish Viking as the leading small-ship travel company.”
The move into expedition cruising represented a natural extension of Viking’s focus on providing its guests with a sense of exploration. The cruise line spotted an opportunity to deliver a unique experience in the sector, explains Wendy Atkin-Smith, managing director of Viking UK.
“We could see there was a gap in the market for expedition ships which harness all the latest technology and cutting-edge design, but which are also extremely comfortable,” she says. “Our first expedition ship, Viking Octantis, embarked on her inaugural voyage to Antarctica in January.”
The Norwegian explorer Liv Arnesen, is godmother to Viking Octantis. Sister ship, Viking Polaris, will join the fleet in late 2022. More details of the design and concept behind the expedition vessels can be found on page 70 in CFI’s interior view of Viking Octantis.
“Leveraging our long history of destination-focused travel, enrichment and innovative ship design, we are now perfecting expedition voyages and offering curious travellers the opportunity to visit the world's most pristine destinations in the most responsible way possible,” says Hagen. “With the arrival of Viking Octantis, Viking is now exploring all seven continents.”
After a successful 25 years, Viking is continuing to look forward to new experiences for its guests and deliver firsts for the cruise industry. According to Riveire, feedback from guests will help shape its plans for its future ships and their interior designs.
“Back when we finished the first ocean ships, I sat at the bar and talked to guests,” he says. “You get a sense of what does and doesn’t work, and if there’s a detail that people just latch onto then you know that it has been successful. Since then, the world has changed, and we want to keep in front of that. The best way to do that is to talk to guests and crew, pay attention, and find out what’s working.”
This article was first published in the 2022 issue of Cruise & Ferry Interiors. All information was correct at the time of printing, but may since have changed.
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