Viking has come a long way since it began sailing on the waterways of Russia in 1997. Today the adults-only Norwegian-owned line operates ships of varying sizes on rivers, lakes and oceans around the world and owns the largest fleet of river ships in Europe. Nordic-inspired décor and serene, light-filled spaces are a hallmark of Viking ships and have given it one of the strongest brand identities in the business.
In 2012, Viking introduced a fleet of patented ‘Longships’ on Europe’s rivers. These now make up around 80 per cent of its 80-strong river fleet. Since 2020, Viking has welcomed 17 new ships to its fleet – including eight new Viking Longships on the rivers of Europe and purpose-built vessels on the Mekong, Nile and Mississippi rivers.
Having gained a timely foothold in the booming river-cruise market, the line turned its attention to the highly competitive ocean-cruise sector. Its first ship, Viking Star, had barely rolled off the slipway in 2015 before orders were being placed for vessels two and three.
There are now nine identical Viking ocean ships. Based on existing orders and options, the line says it could have as many as 16 ocean ships by 2027. Two expedition ships joined the Viking family in 2021 and 2022 – allowing the company to add Antarctica and the Great Lakes to its plethora of destination offerings.
Award-winning show gardens at RHS Chelsea Flower Show, TV advertising, high-profile event sponsorships and partnerships with the Royal Academy of Arts and Highclere Castle have helped make Viking a household name.
Viking ship ‘Godmothers’ have included Lady Fiona Carnarvon, retired Nasa astronaut Nicole Stott and Geraldine Norman, founder of the Times-Sotheby index of art prices and author of The Hermitage: The Biography of a Great Museum. Expedition ship godmothers Liv Arnesen and Ann Bancroft, meanwhile, were the first women to sail and ski across Antarctica.
Viking has also broken barriers in the cruise industry as one of the first operators to offer its passengers shore exclusives, including its popular ‘Privileged Access’ experience to meet Lady Carnarvon at Highclere Castle. There is also cooking with a Contessa in Venice’s Palazzo Tiepolo and Privileged Access to the tombs of Nefertari and Tutankhamun in Egypt’s Valley of the Kings and Queens.
The company’s destination-led cruising, stylish ships and no-nonsense, grown-up approach has earnt Viking a loyal following among cruise fanatics.
Where does Viking cruise?
When it comes to rivers, Viking offers cruises in Europe, North America, south-east Asia and Egypt with itineraries ranging from eight to 23 days.
In Europe there are 27 itineraries in total, cruising on the Danube, Rhine, Elbe, Main, Douro, Moselle, Rhône and Seine. These feature châteaux, castles, villages, waterside cities and tulip gardens with Christmas markets and festive sailings during the holiday season.
On the Mississippi there are four itineraries covering the Lower and Upper Mississippi. There is also a 15-day cruise from St Paul (Minneapolis) to New Orleans.
In Egypt, Viking offers a 12-day Cairo return itinerary, running the gamut of sights from millennia-old treasures in the soon-to-open Grand Egyptian Museum near Cairo to Edfu’s Temple of Horus on the Nile and a visit to a Nubian home.
On the Mekong, itineraries visit Hanoi, Ha Long Bay and Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam, and Phnom Penh and Siem Reap (for Angkor Wat) in Cambodia.
The nine all-veranda ocean ships cruise the breadth of the globe, including the British Isles; Scandinavia and Northern Europe; North, Central and South America (including Canada and Hawaii); Iceland and Greenland; the Caribbean; the Mediterranean; Asia; and Australia and the South Pacific.
In 2024, a World Cruise will scoop up several continents and multiple cities in one journey. Setting sail on December 19, the 121-day cruise will call at 23 countries as it journeys from Los Angeles to Greenwich, London.
If you’re looking for something slightly shorter, Grand Voyages combine multiple ocean-cruise itineraries. You could, for example, visit all of Scandinavia’s major ports, linger in Asia (Tokyo to Bangkok – 29 days) or visit Australia and New Zealand (Auckland to Bali – 31 days).
Viking’s two expedition ships, Polaris and Octantis, sail to Antarctica, South America and on the Great Lakes in the US and Canada. There are 12 Grand Journeys in South America (ranging from 14 to 71 days) and five Longitudinal World Cruises, which include a new 87-day Arctic to Antarctica journey.
Who does it appeal to?
Viking is renowned for its destination-led adults-only cruising without the distractions; there are no casinos, art auctions, West End shows or formal nights and a low-key approach to life on board will suit passengers who prefer to be left alone until they need something.
Its target audience is reflected in its cultural partnerships around the world – from the Metropolitan Opera in New York to the Munch Museum in Oslo and Classic FM and Royal Academy of Arts in the UK. Itineraries include frequent overnight stays in port, with complimentary excursions in each.
On-board ‘expert-hosted enrichment’ programmes are designed to shed light on local art, architecture, music, geopolitics and wildlife. Lectures by resident historians are supplemented by roundtable discussions and ocean ships often have a resident astronomer on board. Guest lectures, ‘destination shows’ and films are shown in The Theatre, as well as the chance to take part in culinary classes, courtesy of The Kitchen Table.
An impressive assortment of excursions will suit those looking to get under the skin of a place. In its homeland of Norway, for example, passengers visit a working farm on Jordal Lake or attend a mini-concert in the living room of accomplished musicians Anne-Catherine and Erlend Tvinnereim. Alternatively, there’s a flightseeing tour over the fjords.
Fares are inclusive of flights, WiFi, a tour in each port, spa access and beer and wine with lunch and dinner. Dining is refined yet informal and there are no hidden charges at any restaurants.
Rooms strike a good balance between minimalist and homey and Viking’s interpretation of ‘luxury’ doesn’t include butlers. Ocean-ship room categories include three suite types. The biggest of these, the Owner’s Suite, has its own sauna, library, boardroom and wine collection. All passengers will find goose-down pillows on king-size beds, and Freyja toiletries, heated towel rails and under-floor heating in the bathrooms.
There are no children under 18 allowed on any Viking ships.
The Viking fleet
There are 55 Longships (190 passengers) sailing on European rivers. Features include floor-to ceiling windows, a square bow built for indoor and alfresco dining and sun decks with herb gardens and a walking track.
Food is healthy and well-proportioned with ingredients reflecting the destinations in which the ships are sailing. There are seven Veranda Suites and two Explorer Suites with a wraparound veranda on most ships.
On the Douro, the slightly smaller Viking Helgrim, Hemming, Osfrid and Torgil sail. On the Elbe, there is the Astrild and Beyla, and on the Seine, the Fjorgyn, Kari, Radgrid and Skaga. In 2025, a fifth ship will join the Seine fleet. Viking also has five ships in Russia and one in Ukraine, although these itineraries are currently suspended due to the ongoing conflict.
In Egypt, where Viking has owned the classic-style MS Antares (62 passengers) since 2007, there is a growing fleet. The fully refurbished Viking Ra (52 passengers) launched in 2018, while the first purpose-built ship, Viking Osiris, launched in 2022. It was joined by sister ship Viking Aton earlier this year. Viking Hathor and Viking Sobek will be delivered in 2024 and 2025, bringing the fleet to six.
Floated out in Louisiana in 2022, the five-deck Viking Mississippi (386 passengers) has an infinity plunge pool and wraparound private verandas. Suites have a full-size veranda off the sitting room. Unique to this ship are the River Café and a reimagined Aquavit Terrace for relaxed, barbecue-style dining.
When Viking Star set sail in 2015, it was the most hotly anticipated launch that decade, and it didn’t disappoint. Each of the line’s nine ocean ships is identical and carries 930 guests in 465 sea-view rooms.
Forest-scape murals, a lichen ‘rug’ under a staircase, pelt-draped sofas, limestone, Swedish granite, leather and pale woods – birch, white ash and juniper – bring the Scandinavian landscape inside. There are chairs by Danish designer Ole Wanscher and bed throws featuring a traditional weave. The stylish Nordic Spa features a snow grotto and there are two pools, including an infinity pool.
Viking’s design and architectural hallmarks are beefed-up by bespoke features designed for expedition cruising aboard Viking Octantis and Polaris (378 passengers). The two ships each carry kayaks, a submarine and two military-grade, 12-seater Special Operations Boats.
Passengers can get hands-on in a 380 sq ft wet-and-dry lab and assist in on-shore fieldwork. Rooms have a sunroom or ‘Nordic balcony’ that converts into an al-fresco viewing platform with an observation shelf to stabilise binoculars or a camera.
There’s a science lab and a hangar for protected and controlled boarding of expedition watercraft. The Aula, an auditorium inspired by the University of Oslo’s ceremonial hall (and a former venue for the Nobel Peace Prize) is used for daily lectures, briefings, documentaries and films. Norway’s Finse Plateau lends its name to the Finse Terrace, a chilled outdoor lounge area with lava rock ‘firepits’.
Each expedition cruise sails with 36 experts, including research scientists, mountain and kayak guides, and submarine pilots.
Only with Viking
Viking.TV offers itinerary-related podcasts, playlists, daily livestreams, destination insight and live Q&As. It is free to access.
On certain itineraries guests can assist in fieldwork during landings and benefit from partnerships with the Scott Polar Research Institute at Cambridge University and similar research institutions in the US.
Most ocean cruise lines are part of large US-based parent companies. Viking was conceived by, and is still headed up by, CEO Torstein Hagen.
Three cruises to book now
Visit several of Normandy’s D-Day sites on a new 12-day Paris and D-Day 80th anniversary holiday. The trip also visits Bletchley Park and the Churchill War Rooms. From £4,690pp including return train journey from London to Paris; departures throughout 2024.
A flagship itinerary for the line, the 15-day Viking Homelands cruise from Bergen to Stockholm visits Norway, Denmark, Germany and Poland. From £4,990pp including flights; departs May-Aug 2024; Apr-Aug 2025.
Longitudinal World Cruise
Viking Polaris will sail from Milwaukee to Ushuaia on a 62-day Longitudinal World Cruise via the Yucatán Peninsula, Panama Canal and the Galápagos before journeying to Antarctica. From £40,195 including flights; departs October 2024 and September 2025.
See vikingcruises.co.uk or call 0800 458 69 00