Welcome Viking Ocean Cruises

| Friday, 13 Jul. 2012

There is about to be a new entrant into the luxury cruise sector- Viking Ocean Cruises. The company just inked a deal with the Fincantieri, the Italian shipyard, to build two cruise ships scheduled to be delivered in 2015 and 2016. The ships will each be 47,000-gross tons and have capacity for 944 passengers in 472 staterooms.

There is even an option for a third vessel. The key component sealing the deal was securing the financing - an area where the shipyards are now often instrumental in a similar way that car lots get you a loan to buy a car. In this case the money came from the Italian government-sponsored program Export Banca - created to support the making of Italian exports.

Viking Ocean may be a new cruise line, but the people behind it are no strangers to the luxury cruise business. The principals include Torstein Hagen, the current CEO of Viking River Cruises who was also a past CEO of Royal Viking Line - the cruise line that is generally credited with having created the concept of luxury cruise ships starting as far back as 1972.

Notice the similarity in the names; Viking River Cruise and Royal Viking Cruises? That was certainly no accident, as I could see when I took my first river cruise on Viking River back in 1996. I also used to work for Royal Viking back in 1983 - like many people I have met over the years who are still in the cruise business, and when I first walked aboard that river boat I could see the similarity; the colors in the wood, carpet and finishings, and the modern Scandinavian furniture made it obvious to me that Viking River was spawned by someone who had Royal Viking blood.

River boat cruising is currently having its most successful year ever in terms of bookings - and although it is rarely mentioned, one likely reason is the common traits they share with luxury cruise lines. River boats offer open seating dining with wine and drinks onboard all included in basic cost of the cruise. But river cruises also include all the shore excursions, and right now there is only one luxury cruise line that does that; Regent Seven Seas, another cruise seller that is also having a its best year on record.

Would you consider a Viking Ocean cruise? Tell us in our forums.

I just had a chance to talk to Mark Conroy, president of Regent Seven Seas Cruises, last week (yet another person still in the cruise business who started at Royal Viking Line) and he noted that while Royal Viking Line did indeed invent certain luxury elements not everything in the experience was the same as the today's luxury cruise line standards. For example, Royal Viking had single-seating "anytime" dining, but you had assigned tables and waiters that you were expected to tip. Neither was the alcohol included in the cruise fare.

But the one thing that made Royal Viking special and luxurious was the small number of passengers and the focus on excellent, gourmet cuisine. Another aspect was the variety of itineraries - rarely if ever did a ship repeat a port, constantly going around the world to stay in temperate climates - South America, the South Pacific or the Caribbean in winter and Norway or Alaska in the summer.

So, it was the level of personalized service and intellectual itineraries that made Royal Viking special. And the same can be said for Viking River Cruises; that the inclusive nature with alcohol, gratuities and even shore tours (like Regent) is what imbues their appeal.

So, this begs the question, what will we see as the operating model for Viking Ocean Cruises? We know that CEO Tor Hagen has an extensive background in luxury cruises and riverboats, so assuming he decides to operate his cruise ships in a similar fashion then we could see the second luxury cruise line with shore excursions included in the cruise fare, although it is certainly too soon to tell.

As far as size goes; the proposed size for the Viking Ocean vessels makes them larger than average for luxury cruise ships, but certainly not out of range. At 47,000 tons for 944 people they are very similar to Crystal Symphony at 51,000-tons for 922 passengers.

At the same time, the new Oceania marina and Riviera are truly breathtaking ships in every way; and they are 66,000-tons for 1252 passengers. In fact, in each example the passenger to space ratio comes out to being very close to 50 square meters per passenger.

For the record - the same announcement was made by Fincantieri back in April, 2012, but the deal fell apart when the financing could not be secured. Now that we have Export Banca the way is clear for Viking Ocean Cruises.

Would you consider a Viking Ocean cruise? Tell us in our forums.

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