Viking, the company that brought river cruising to the forefront in the U.S. and grew the segment with aggressive expansion and expensive but highly effective marketing, observed its 25th anniversary with a celebration in Amsterdam punctuated by a double christening of new expedition ships.
The celebration was marked by a three-ship convoy — the Viking Mani river ship, Viking Mars ocean ship, and the newest expedition vessel, Viking Polaris — that sailed from Amsterdam to IJmuiden, Netherlands.
“Today is historic for Viking to celebrate our 25th anniversary, to have all classes of our ships sailing together for the first time, and to name our phenomenal new expedition vessels,” Founder and Chairman Torstein Hagen said in a statement. “We are very grateful to their godmothers, Liv Arnesen and Ann Bancroft, for honoring us. As renowned explorers who became the first women to ski across Antarctica, they are the perfect choice for ships that are designed for expeditions. I am very proud of what we have accomplished in our first 25 years. And in our view, we are just getting started. Where do we go next? Onwards.”
Hagen noted in a speech on Viking Polaris that Viking River Cruises started in 1997 when it purchased four Russian river ships. Today, the company known as simply Viking has a staggering 101 ships, including those now under construction — 80 river vessels, seven ocean ships, two expedition vessels and one chartered river ship on the Mississippi River in the U.S.
Viking has 10,000 employees, had $3 billion in revenue and carried 500,000 guests in 2019 (about 50 percent of those repeat customers), and experienced 24 percent revenue growth per year from 2012 to 2019.
“We created a brand, I dare say, that our guests trust,” Hagen said in an understatement.
Through the years, Viking spent many millions on and marketing to develop its brand, including attractive TV commercials on public television and its sponsorship of the hugely popular “Masterpiece” show “Downton Abbey” and subsequent movie. Viking offers tours of Highclere Castle, the filming location of “Downton Abbey.”
Of course, the COVID-19 pandemic brought operations to a screeching halt in March 2020 — Hagen says Viking was the first to shut down and first to restart in May 2021 amid losses in the billions — but 2023 is a year of recovery that looks strikingly similar to 2019, he said.
But Viking also has new cruise products to spur further growth. Two new expedition ships — the 378-guest, polar-class Viking Octantis and Viking Polaris — were jointly christened by Arnesen, a Norwegian, and Bancroft, who hails from Minnesota. Arnesen offering her blessing remotely via video to the Viking Octantis in the Great Lakes, while Bancroft was in Amsterdam on Viking Polaris.
Bancroft and Arnesen’s proxy in Toronto both used a ceremonial ax to send a bottle of Norwegian aquavit crashing into each of the ship’s hulls – the Viking Octantis bottle shattered, but the Polaris bottle bounced and did not break (we were told that it was indeed broken a bit later).
Both ships will spend the Austral summer in Antarctica, before traveling north to the Great Lakes for voyages during spring and summer.
The ceremony included performances from Sissel Kyrkjebø, one of the world’s leading crossover sopranos and godmother of the Viking Jupiter, and violinist Tor Jaran Apold.
And more growth is in store: Viking welcomed eight new Longships on the rivers of Europe earlier this year along with new purpose-built vessels on the Mekong, Nile and Mississippi rivers. By the end of 2022, two new, identical ocean ships will have also joined Viking’s fleet.
The new vessels offer plenty of new opportunities to explore for its target customer, which Viking calls “The Thinking Person.” Onward indeed.