The ten-boat inaugural included a live teleconference between Amsterdam and Rostock
Without a doubt, and you can read it in the Guinness Book of World Records, what is the greatest number of cruise ships ever christened in a single day? it is Viking River Cruises, which on March 20, 2013, christened 10 brand river boats simultaneously in Amsterdam. Four of the boats were on site in Amsterdam, while six were still in the shipyard in Rostock, Germany, where they were built. Four of those were complete and afloat, two were still in dry dock, but very close to being ready to sail.
It is an extraordinary event to christen even one ship, but last year Viking River set a world record by christening six of these same class of riverboats in a single day. That day was recorded in the guiness book of World Records, but today's ceremony with 10 ships will replace it.
Add them together, and you that Viking River has added 16 brand new vessels to its fleet in less than two years. That is not all. The line plans to add eight more of the same style river boats next year. All together that is 24 new river boats in three years' time.
The Setting for this Years' Event
We are in the river harbor of beautiful and historic Amsterdam, Holland, at the main dock for the city for all river boats and cruise ships visiting Amsterdam. Many European river boats begin their popular springtime "Tulip cruises" from here.
Platform with three boats on each side
For today's ceremony Viking River has six boats aligned on the water in two groups of three boats tied together on each side of a single platform for the ceremonial part of the christening.The ceremony started with "Viking Drummers" strutting their primordial indigenous stuff to set the stage for the gravity of the Norsk traditional ceremony about to follow.
"Vikings" drum for ceremony
On top of the two ships closest to the dock were mounted two huge large-screen televisions where the audience could see a live feed from Rostock, Germany, where all of these Viking River boats were built. In the Rostock ship yard, on camera via a live feed, was a Viking employee named Janna who emceed. There was snow on the ground to be seen in the live video (for those who may not know, Rostock is the largest German city with access to the Baltic Sea), it is about 30 miles from Warnemunde, the popular port of call on Baltic Sea cruises visits to Berlin, but by giving the blessing and "cutting the rope" that holds up the ceremonial champagne bottle, here is Amsterdam.
Rostock closeup - Champagne bottle suspended
First, we named the four boats afloat in Rostock, Germany. The blessing was given by the Godmother on stage here in Amsterdam, then she cut the rope, and somehow, by some sort of "magic" the bottle of champagne also suspended by the same kind of rope in Rostock, Germany, dropped a moment later and broke on the bow of each new ship.
For the first ship the delay was long, at least a full minute, but by the second bottle process worked like clockwork. Each vessel had its own Godmother who was also accompanied by a young Dutch girl in traditional Dutch wooden shoes.
Little Dutch girls in Wooden shoesEach Godmother gave roughly the same blessing, "I name this vessel '___,' may her passengers and crew always be safe and may there always be a hand's width of water below her keel."
There were ten christenings in all, each followed by cutting the ribbon leading to the drop of a bottle of champagne. This tradition is said to go back to the days when ships were built on land but then put into the water by sliding it along "skids".
Godmothers in Amsterdam for all 10 boatsThese skids had to be lubricated before the heavy ship would slide down them, hence the phrase "grease the skids."
It is said that in ancient days the skids were lubricated with the blood of the slaves who had built the ship, but the Roman Christians found that to be too barbaric and substituted wine for the blood. Many years later, merely breaking a bottle of wine became the symbolic gesture for "greasing the skids" and many years later champagne replaced the wine because it is more celebratory.
The Longboats of Viking River
The actual Viking River Longboats are state -of-the-art river cruisers designed to carry about 200 passengers along the rivers of (mostly) Europe, including the Danube, Rhine and Main, the Seine and the Rhone, also the River Douro in Spain and Portugal, and through the Ukraine, Russia, China, Southeast Asia and Egypt. New destinations coming soon include Viet Nam and Burma (Myanmar).
The boats are all very similar in design but vary somewhat in interior décor. Most of them have granite accents, but two of them have a much more Scandinavian look with light ash slats and stairs to accent the main lobbies. All of the ships have beautiful dining rooms, but once again the "Scandinavian-styled" boats have much more elaborate wooden accents throughout.
As far as the future goes, the Norwegian Tor Hagen, founder and CEO of Viking River, said he plans to have 100 ships by 2020. Whether or not that was just idle talk is hard to tell, but it is not hard to see how 100 river boats could go possibly anywhere in the world, especially if one considers the United States.
If you still are not clear on the identity and history of Viking River Cruises, they are the cruise line that sponsors Downton Abbey, and other Masterpiece Theater Classics on PBS. The line started in 1996 with a few boats in Russia plying the waters of the Volga and the Stalin Canal between Moscow and St Petersburg. The following year they acquired another European river cruise line called K D Cruises, well-known in Europe with Germans, English and French.
Since the popularity of Viking River, other European river cruise lines such as Amawaterways, Avalon and Uniworld have also received tremendous support and have grown, each of them with new vessels introduced in recent years. River cruising is the fastest growing segment of the cruise industry.