by Kevin Griffin of The Cruise People writing in cybercruises.com
It was confirmed last week that US-based Viking Ocean Cruises, an affiliate of Viking River Cruises, had placed an order with STX France in St Nazaire for two 41,000-ton ships with a double-berth guest capacity of 888 passengers, for delivery in the spring of 2014 and spring 2015.
With dimensions of 755 feet by 87 feet, the ships will be slightly larger than the 39,500-ton Europa 2, with dimensions of 739 by 87 feet, under construction at the same yard for delivery in the spring of 2013 to Hapag-Lloyd Cruises. Europa 2 differs, however, in that she will be in the ultralux category, with berths for only 516 passengers and a space ratio of 76.5 tons per guest.
The new Viking Ocean ships will be upper premium, with a ratio of 46.2 tons per passenger.
Viking Ocean also has an option for a third of the type, known as Project Odin, for potential delivery in 2016. Construction on the first ship will begin next September and a year later for the second. The order is subject to finance.
Viking Ocean is headed by Norwegian Torstein Hagen, chairman and chief executive of Viking River Cruises, who during the 1980s was chief executive of Royal Viking Line.
It was under his management that the original trio of Royal Viking ships was lengthened by 93 feet, something that probably prolonged the lives of these ships so that all three are still in profitable service to-day, almost forty years later.
The original Royal Viking Line disappeared in 1998, after its last two ships were taken over by Cunard Line.
Viking River Cruises, meanwhile, was formed in 1997 and now operates a fleet 23 premium river cruisers in Europe, Russia, the Ukraine, China and in Egypt, with another eight on order for the European market.
In terms of size, the new Viking Ocean ships fall in between the original 684-guest “R” ships, the most upmarket of which are operated by Azamara Club Cruises and Oceania Cruises (and starting in 2012 Hapag-Lloyd Cruises) and Oceania’s new Marina and Riviera, at 1,250 berths.
The comparisons in this size range, together with the Royal Viking quartet, are as follows:
Interesting here is the comparison with the Royal Viking ships. The statistics given here are for the original trio of Royal Viking Sea, Sky and Star in their stretched state, but even with a Passenger Space Ratio of only 34.2, they were regarded as ultralux in their time.
A decade or so later, Royal Viking Sun brought that ratio over 50. That ship survives today as Holland America Line’s 790-berth Prinsendam (PSR 47.9). The new Project Odin ships lie at 46.2, which is the upper end of the Royal Viking scale and slightly exceeds the “R” ships, and while less than Marina and Riviera, are not that much less.
Another interesting point was raised by Richard Marnell, Viking’s senior vice president of marketing, when he told Travel Weekly last week that “Mr Hagen feels the ocean vessels built of late have become too large and that they’re losing out on the destination.”
The new ships will be primarily destination-oriented and the first two anyway will probably spend much of their time in the Mediterranean. With a fleet of twenty-three and eventually thirty-one river ships, Viking also have the kind of customer database that will lend itself to destination-oriented cruising, where guests are carried in style to experience the cultural highlights of the world rather than stuck on ships full of gimmicks for a week.
The cruise market has now more firmly differentiated itself into mass market and bespoke cruising. Just as fashion is either tailor-made or mass market off-the-rack, so now cruising is getting that way as well, but the bespoke lines, as Hapag-Lloyd Cruises’ managing director Sebastian Ahrens has said, are developing a critical mass all of their own.