Along the banks of the Rhone River in Avignon, France, three Viking River Longships are docked under the shadow of a medieval Pope’s palace. With railings festooned with rows of red and white balloons, the gleaming new Longships being christened this year are a bit of a contrast to the walled city seen just off in the distance.
It is a mixture of yin and yang, the very old and the very new. Yet it works. It is the beauty of Viking River Cruises – creating a brand new fleet of easy-to-maneuver Longships designed with the modern traveler in mind to cruise the ancient rivers and sights of Europe and around the world.
I have arrived in Avignon for the grand festivities to christen 18 ships in the Viking River Cruises fleet. Three ships will be christened tomorrow in Avignon. Another four Viking Longships will be christened in Rostock, Germany, as well, with festivities being simultaneously broadcast on video screens. Today, nine Viking Longships were christened in Amsterdam. On March 21, two additional ships will be christened in Porto, Portugal, bringing the grand total to 18 ships christened for one company in 2014. Wow.
Viking River Cruises has expanded at a rapid rate over the past three years, adding new ships at a fast clip and cruisers are booking them up at a rapid rate, too. Viking River Cruises is the world’s leading river cruise line, and the addition of new ships and new itineraries every year is just one of the reasons that when most people think of river cruising, they think of Viking.
The Viking Heimdal is my home while in Avignon for the christening ceremonies. It is just one of the three ships to be christened, along with Viking Buri and Viking Hermod. Then I will be boarding the Viking Forseti for the newest offering from Viking, sailing on the Chateaux, Rivers and Wine itinerary.
The ships are decorated and the crew is busy at work setting up stages and electronic equipment. To make it easier to view all of the ships being christened, two of the Viking Longships have been “stacked,” with the Buri and the Heimdal tied up side by side, with barely a couple inches separating the two ships. A small gangplank bridges the tiny gap in between, allowing guests to walk through the two ships with ease. It was quite the surprise to walk into my stateroom and see another veranda right up against mine. The sun barely shines into my room from the veranda in the middle of the day, the ships are so close to each other. The fact that the Longships can get within inches of each other and be tied up is a marvel of the efficiency and engineering of the Longships.
Tomorrow, I’ll walk off the ship whenever I want to and explore the old city of Avignon before christening ceremonies in the afternoon. Champagne bottles will be smashed by the ceremonial godmothers of each vessel and the new Longships will soon be sailing on the maiden voyages of the 2014 season throughout Europe, Russia, Ukraine, China and Southeast Asia.