Cruise & Ferry Review - Spring/Summer 2023

80 INTERVIEW The Viking age 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 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 “ More and more travellers who wouldn’t have normally considered a cruise are now realising it is the best way to explore” Iceland is the most popular destination amongst UK guests booking Viking’s ocean cruises