The Viking age: how the cruise line is growing on the river and the oceans

Rebecca Barnes catches up with Viking’s Wendy Atkin-Smith to discover the secrets of the brand’s ongoing success in the river, ocean and expedition markets

The Viking age: how the cruise line is growing on the river and the oceans
Viking Octantis was the first ship to set sail for the Viking Expeditions fleet in January 2022, spending the austral summer in Antarctica

One cruise line that has weathered an unstable economic climate and emerged in better shape than before, all while maintaining an ever-growing line-up of some of the most impressive vessels on the water, is Viking. 

The brand’s aggressive expansion strategy shows no sign of slowing down, with a ninth ocean ship, Viking Saturn, joining the fleet in 2023, just seven years after it first debuted on the high seas.  

“We could have as many as 16 ocean ships by 2027 based on existing orders and options,” says Wendy Atkin-Smith, managing director of Viking. “We started with four river ships in 1997 and now have a fleet of over 80 river ships. Viking Aton will join the river fleet in 2023 and two further sister ships, Viking Hathor and Viking Sobek, are already under construction for delivery in 2024 and 2025 respectively”. 

River cruising, which is where the brand first started in 1997, remains a key market too. Recent activity includes the launch of the first voyage in North America on new purpose-built ship Viking Mississippi – the first truly modern cruise ship in the region – as well as the debut of new Mekong-based ship Viking Saigon and Nile-based vessel Viking Osiris. “The Nile is going to be a focus for us in coming years – demand is so high we have already opened availability for 2025,” reveals Atkin-Smith. 

Another highlight is the imminent launch of the longest river itinerary yet – a 17-day voyage sailing the Danube from Vienna, Austria, to Bucharest, Hungary. 

In January 2022, the brand also launched the first two vessels in its Viking Expeditions fleet, which Atkin-Smith notes was a “significant milestone.” The first, Viking Octantis, spent the austral summer in Antarctica, while a second identical sister ship, Viking Polaris, joined the fleet later that year.  

In-demand destinations differ for the ocean ships. Iceland, for example, is currently the UK’s top selling destination. Viking is meeting this demand by launching new and longer itineraries combining Iceland with destinations including Norway and ports on the British coastline.  

The line has also seen a rise in demand for longer itineraries across its ocean, river and expedition products. “We have seen an increase in enquiries from guests planning their ‘golden gap year’ and have responded by launching longer itineraries for 2023 – we are also continuing to see increased demand for multi-generational trips,” says Atkin-Smith, who believes that combined ocean and river voyages are going to continue gaining popularity linked to the longer itinerary trend. 

Leaving no stone unturned, Viking is also conscious of its responsibility to the environments it sails through. All Viking Longships are powered by diesel-electric hybrid engines, use shore power when it is available along the rivers, and feature onboard solar panels and organic herb gardens.  

Viking’s expedition vessels have an energy-efficient design that exceeds the Energy Efficiency Design Index requirements by nearly 36 per cent – more than any other expedition ship. They have received one of the industry’s first SILENT-E notations – the highest-level certification for quiet ship propulsion and minimising underwater noise pollution. 

The newest ocean ship, Viking Neptune, is equipped with a small hydrogen fuel system, making it the industry’s first vessel to test the use of hydrogen power for onboard operations. “We are using this as a test to determine how hydrogen fuel could be used at a larger scale in future newbuilds,” says Atkin-Smith. 

Such sustainability investments – and various other factors – are helping a growing number of people to re-evaluate their perspective of cruising and consider it as an option.  

“Demand for cruising is growing; more and more travellers who wouldn’t have normally considered a cruise are now realising it is the best way to explore the world,” says Atkin-Smith. “There is definitely demand for smaller ships with fewer guests and a more intimate experience, and this is a trend which is here to stay.” 

This means that Viking is perfectly placed to continue to exceed customer expectations. However, Atkin-Smith feels that the line’s success is down to the way it caters to its core market, namely culturally curious travellers aged 55 and above. 

“All our products and experiences, both onboard and on shore, are tailored to this market and their interests,” she says. “As our chairman Torstein Hagen always says: ‘When you reach the top there is only one way to go – onwards.”

This article was first published in the Spring/Summer 2023 issue of Cruise & Ferry Review. All information was correct at the time of printing, but may since have changed. Subscribe to Cruise & Ferry Review for FREE here to get the next issue delivered directly to your inbox or your door.

By Rebecca Barnes
12 May 2023

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