“I don’t know how we can outdo ourselves next year,” joked Torstein Hagen, chairman of Viking Cruises. After a day of grand celebrations and a new Guinness World Record, the christening of 16 new Viking Longships was a rousing success.
I was fortunate to witness one part of the christening celebration today in Avignon, France. Three ships – the Viking Heimdal, Viking Buri and Viking Hermod – were celebrated on the banks of the Rhone River with the ancient Papal city in the background.
On the top decks of the three ships lined up side by side, a mass of red and white balloons tied to all surfaces signified that a party was in full force. A giant television screen was set up to show a live video feed coming from four Viking Longships in Rostock, Germany. Nine ships had already been christened the day before in Amsterdam. With Hagen and the seven godmothers of the newest ships on stage, the christening ceremonies soon began.
The godmothers of the four ships being christened in Rostock came forward to bless their individual ships, and then pressed a button on the stage, which launched the breaking of a champagne bottle on the ship located in Rostock. The godmothers of the ships located in Avignon also took the stage to bless their ship, pressing the button and the loud crash of a champagne bottle could be heard behind the crowd gathered to watch the christening.
Recognizing the travel trade’s contribution to the growth of the river cruise industry, Viking highlighted esteemed travel agent partners by naming them as ceremonial godmothers for seven of the 18 new ships. Women representing distinct elements of travel, food, wine and entertainment were selected to honor that focus and serve as godmothers for another seven of the new ships. And in the spirit of strong business partners, Viking selected four valued representatives from the banking and shipping sectors to serve as godmothers for the additional four new ships.
“Today we mark a new milestone for Viking and for modern river cruising. We are proud to celebrate the arrival of our newest ships, and it is an honor to have each one named by a prominent godmother,” said Hagen.
The christening ceremony ended with fireworks and confetti flying over the crowd of press, travel agents, and staff of Viking Cruises, along with the entire crew of each of the three ships gathered to witness the historical celebration.
At a dinner later in the evening, a representative from Guinness Book of World Records officially announced that a new world record had been broken. Viking Cruises now holds the record for the most ships christened by one company in a 24 hour period. It is a record that they also broke last year, with their christening of 10 ships in one day.
Hagen acknowledged that this is probably the last time that Viking Cruises will be breaking that record. With 18 new ships this year, including two new ships soon to be christened in Portugal, the company has launched 30 new ships in three years. Along with the massive increase in ships comes a skyrocketing demand from the cruising market.
Viking Cruises is currently the leader in river cruising. With a 48% share of the river cruising market, almost half of all river cruisers will be sailing on Viking River Cruises, with the other half sailing on a variety of additional cruise lines.
The company’s market share is a result of their exponential growth over just a few years. River cruising in general is experiencing an 11% increase in growth every year, but Viking River Cruises is experiencing a 45% growth.
Certainly there will be no record-breaking christening again next year, but there are still grand plans for 2015 that the company is already talking about and addressing in the speeches made at today’s christening celebrations. Viking Oceans will christen their first new ocean-going vessel on May 17, 2015 in Norway.
While today was a celebration of monumental achievements in changing the course of cruising, not just for one company but for the industry as a whole, it was quite clear that today was just a stepping stone of continued increase for the fast growing world of river cruising.
Photos by Kimberly Button