Viking Sky ship launch postponed until spring 2017

By Hollie-Rae Merrick
Viking Ocean Cruises has announced the launch of its third ocean ship, Viking Sky, will be postponed until spring 2017, but remains adamant the delay will not affect its ambitious expansion plans.The cruise line’s first ocean ship, Viking Star, has completed her maiden voyage and is due to be christened in Bergen on May 17. A further two ships, Viking Sea and Viking Sky, were both due to begin sailing in 2016, with a fourth ship currently under construction.

But speaking onboard Viking Star, company chairman Torstein Hagen (pictured) said delays with the building of Holland America ship Koningsdam at the Italian shipyard Fincantieri had had a knock-on effect on the construction of one of Viking’s new vessels.

The third ship, which was due to launch next summer, will now be delayed until spring 2017, with any passengers who had already booked sailings given the option to transfer over to Viking Sea. Hagen confirmed that all three ships would share a similar design, following the pattern of the 930-passenger ‘Venice class’ ship Viking Star.

UK managing director Wendy Atkin-Smith dismissed worries that this could dampen the line’s plans for expansion. She said: “Hardly any of her sailings were on sale yet, because our 2016 offering is not for the full year yet.

“We will have some passengers booked on to the ship, but they will be transferred over. There’s as much damage limitation as possible.

“As far as I know, the Koningsdam ship that was being built is taking longer than predicted so it’s impacted on us. Everything depends on other factors, but it’s not going to affect the expansion plans at all.”

Hagen previously revealed hopes to grow the line’s fleet substantially to more than 100 Longships and 10 ocean ships – a significant increase from its current fleet of 63 river vessels and one ocean ship – within the next five years.

The ‘Downton Abbey’ bump

Downton Abbey Original Trailer.

By Michelle Baran
InsightIn 2011, when Viking Cruises penned a deal to become a national corporate sponsor for PBS, which included having promos run during “Downton Abbey,” the company arguably struck gold. And likely so, too, did the entire river cruise industry.“Downton Abbey” has since gone on to enjoy enormous popular and critical success, and perhaps not surprisingly Viking has continued to sponsor the show.Earlier this year, Viking kicked up its PBS campaign a notch, unveiling a new concept for the ads that would run during “Downton Abbey’s” fourth season — a series of seven, 30-second spots that would each tell a different part of the Viking story, whether it was a focus on the destinations Viking visits, performances onboard the ships or an ad dedicated to Viking’s culinary program.MichelleBaran

In addition to the PBS program, Viking quietly made some additional cable TV ad buys in the last year (you may have noticed, like some of us at Travel Weekly did, Viking ads run during pro football games), resulting in a total of more than $400 million that Viking has invested to market its product, according to the company.

Viking’s ads aren’t just reaching consumers, either. The company notes that agents are seeing the commercials while watching “Downton” too.

“We have heard from agents who said that they never thought they would sell river cruises until they saw the new Viking Longships in our PBS Masterpiece sponsorship during ‘Downton Abbey,’” Richard Marnell, Viking’s senior vice president of marketing, recently said.

No one in the river cruise industry will argue against the fact that Viking is doing more to increase awareness about the category than any other river cruise line.

In fact, Viking’s competitors welcome the ad spend and any spillover effect it might have in boosting their own bookings as consumers learn about river cruising in between episodes of “Downton.”

“Viking is very good about their ads on TV. But all that does is really increase awareness of the marketplace,” said American Queen Steamboat Co. Chairman and CEO John Waggoner. Waggoner was discussing the possibility of Viking entering the U.S. river cruising space, and said he would welcome the added competition, in part because of Viking’s aggressive marketing strategy.

“The analogy I use is it’s kind of like buying a car,” Waggoner added. “You might see an ad for an for a Hyundai and say, ‘Hey honey, let’s buy a new car.’ Well, once you decide to buy a new car, then I think you go out and you start to compare the cars.”

Other river cruise lines have both directly and indirectly tipped their hats to Viking for investing in advertising the river cruise experience in a way none of them really has the financial backing to do.

So, what’s the ROI on Viking’s efforts? The company’s bullish shipbuilding strategy in Europe coupled with the ongoing PBS sponsorship suggests that the ads are doing their job. How much have they bolstered the industry overall? Well, no one in the river cruise space is asking Viking to stop, that’s for sure.

A look ahead at 2014 launches and christenings

By Michelle Baran

InsightOK, I’ll be honest: This end-of-year insight in which I summarize the christenings and launches for the following year has become an invaluable tool for me in planning my year ahead, and that’s largely why I’ve maintained this tradition over the past few years.

But my hope, of course, is that it can and does serve as a useful tool for all you travel planners out there, as well. Happy 2014!

March 17: Viking Cruises will hold a christening ceremony in Avignon, France, for the 14 Viking Longships that are launching next year. Viking has not said which or how many of the Longships will be in Avignon for the ceremony, but the three 2014 Viking Longships that are slated to sail in that region are the Viking Buri, Viking Heimdal and Viking Hermod.

March 26: Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection will inaugurate the 159-passenger S.S. Catherine in Lyon, France, marking Uniworld’s first expansion of its European fleet since 2011, when the vessel’s sister ship the S.S. Antoinette set sail.MichelleBaran

April 5: The 223-passenger American Empress (formerly the Empress of the North) will be rechristened in Portland, Ore., and will sail on the Columbia and Snake rivers, after having been refurbished by the American Queen Steamboat Co.

April 15: Emerald Waterways, the first new river cruise line to launch since Scenic Cruises came onto the scene in 2008, will kick off with the launch of two newbuilds in Europe, the 182-passenger Emerald Star and the 182-passenger Emerald Sky. Emerald Waterways is aiming to be a more value-oriented alternative to existing river cruise lines.

July: Pandaw River Expeditions is launching two new 40-passenger vessels in Myanmar, the Kindat Pandaw and the Kalaw Pandaw.

September: Haimark Ltd. is introducing the 56-passenger Irrawaddy Explorer in Myanmar; as well as the 68-passenger Mekong Navigator that will sail in Vietnam and Cambodia.

November: AmaWaterways is introducing the all-suite AmaPura on Myanmar’s Irrawaddy River.

Late 2014: Sanctuary Retreats, a division of Abercrombie & Kent, is launching the 48-passenger, all-suite Sanctuary Ananda in Myanmar.

Also in 2014:

• Tauck is launching two newbuilds in Europe, the 130-passenger Inspire and Savor, that will each have 57% more suites than the company’s existing vessels.

• AmaWaterways will introduce two more ships in Europe in 2014, the 164-passenger AmaSonata and AmaReina. The vessels will be sister ships to the 164-passenger AmaCerto, which launched in 2012.

• Avalon Waterways is introducing three new river cruise vessels in Europe in 2014 — the 128-passenger Avalon Poetry II; the 166-passenger Avalon Illumination; and the 166-passenger Avalon Impression.