They have been calling it Viking Spirit until now, but the company’s fifth ocean vessel, due out summer 2018, has a new name. At a press event aboard the brand new Viking Sky in New York yesterday, Viking River Cruises' Chairman Torstein Hagen officially dubbed Sky's new sister ship Viking Orion.
The name is a tip of the hat to Orion’s godmother, astronaut Dr. Anna Fisher, who worked on NASA’s Project Orion before soaring into the heavens herself. Viking already had considered naming the ship after a planet (Mercury, perhaps? "Don’t like it," said Hagen’s daughter) or a constellation. And then last week, just before the dedication, they decided the name Orion was a perfect fit.
At the naming ceremony, Dr. Fisher noted “how similar the space business is to the cruise business, with the same attention to detail, attention to safety, and attention to making everything perfect.”
And indeed, Hagen said, those are the elements that are pushing Viking to new heights this year and into 2018. Total bookings are already up 67 percent for next year, when Viking’s river cruises will carry 50 percent of the North American market share. By 2019, the line will be “the largest of the small ship companies” — and eventually Hagen expects to have 20 ocean ships in the fleet.
This year brought seven new river ships in Europe, including six on the Rhine, Main, and Danube, and one on the Douro; plus, two ocean ships, the Sky and the Sun. Orion will join in 2018, and a sixth ocean vessel will be added in 2020. Eventually, “I can see us getting to 100 river ships,” Hagen said.
Adults only river cruising
Some things will never change, though. Asked if he will consider a cruise that allows children, his response was a quick “no.”
“When you cruise at our age, so much of the experience is about who you travel with —and I assure you that on a Viking cruise you will travel with grownups who have some money and some time and a lot of curiosity,” he said.
Sailing the Nile and maybe one day the Mississippi
But new itineraries are always in the works. The Viking Ra will ply the Nile as the company returns to Egypt in 2018 — and that cruise is “selling very well.” And he has not yet given up on the idea of sailing the Mississippi, though the Jones Act makes that a difficult undertaking for Viking. “Our plan is to sail the Mississippi before Mardi Gras, but I can’t say in what year,” Hagen quipped.
For travel agents, “an important source of business for us,” he noted that Viking was the first cruise line to abandon all NCFs; it pays commission even on port taxes and airfare.
"They just make everything so easy"
At the end of the day, as the press walked down the gangway, the paying customers were filing past in the other direction, back from a day in Manhattan at the end of a 13-day voyage that started in Montreal. I asked one couple what they thought of Viking, now that their cruise on the Sky had reached its last day.
“I like that laundry and wine and liquor are all included in the fare,” said passenger Eleanor Baldwin, though her husband Ray noted that as a Texan, he wished they included bourbon along with the free scotch and gin. “We liked the itinerary. We liked that they pick you up and take you to the airport. We live in Texas Hill Country, so we have a long way to go — it’s 70 miles to San Antonio. And we liked that they do all the air for you. They just make everything easy. We’ve been on Princess and Norwegian and Royal Caribbean, and we like Viking the best.”