This discussion is about how one company’s plans to dominate the river cruise, and now the ocean cruise segment, has evolved.
More than likely, you have seen all the advertising that Viking has been promoting. If you are not on Viking’s mailing list, you are in the minority.
Years ago as I was just learning about river cruises, Jeff and I went on a Viking River Cruise through the Danube River. The ship was pretty old, the carpets were worn out, the cabin was claustrophobic and the food was less than ordinary. The crew was pleasant and knowledgeable. The ports were the highlight of the cruise, which is the main reason to go on a river cruise even to this day. Even though there is much to see in each port, river cruises provide one free excursion in each. We were thinking to ourselves, should we try the other main river cruise lines?
As travel agents, it is always best to experience firsthand not only the ports but also how the others stack up against Viking. So we tried out Uniworld, AMA Waterways, and Avalon Waterways, Viking’s only competition in the U.S. market at the time.
Uniworld, at that time, didn’t offer a much different experience. AMA & Avalon were just establishing their mark, so it was much easier to for them to improve the onboard experience with larger cabins and upgraded amenities….and they did.
Fast forward to the river cruise market in these last few years. With the advent of the Viking Longships, the company set out to take command of that segment of cruising. The Longships have been well received except for the fact that Viking decided to squeeze more passengers, 190, into the space by building them with smaller cabins at the bottom range of the price scale. I would recommend at least going for the larger verandas on these ships, budget notwithstanding.
These ships are much more modern and more comfortable than the previous generation. I would not hesitate to recommend Viking today, although my customer feedback on other lines such as AMA Waterways and Tauck fit the profile of those that have higher expectations.
Let’s not forget the main motivator is still the destination, and for those of us that are price motivated, the value. Viking can’t be classified as “luxury”. That definition belongs to the river ships that have fewer passengers, better accommodations with more suites and special on-shore events. Tauck, Regent and Scenic cruises are the real luxury river lines. More on that at a later time.
At the risk of losing you due to the length of this blog, I want to move on to Viking’s place in the ocean cruise segment
I will give Viking credit for their intensive study of what seems an overcrowded ocean cruise market. The idea of designing a ship that has all balconies, holds less than 1,000 passengers and offers an excursion in every port in ingenious. One way to achieve this was to eliminate the casino, a feature not missed for travelers favoring the accommodations over a seldom used area.
The best way to get this novel idea across to travelers is, surprise, marketing, which is an area of expertise for the line.
The first cruise on the first ocean ship, the Viking Star, didn’t go so well. The ship was mainly staffed by Viking’s river cruise personnel, which sounded as a good business plan at the time. They were disorganized and not well prepared. To Viking’s credit, they quickly fixed the issues for the cruises that followed. The plan from day one was to eventually build a fleet of at least six ships, all mirroring the original. The Viking Sea followed with the same success.
The next ships, the Viking Sky and the Viking Sun sail the Mediterranean, Northern Europe, and beyond. For 2018, the fifth ship, the Viking Spirit, debuts and in 2019, a sixth ship is set to sail. Plans are in place to discover new itineraries for Viking in Alaska, Australia, Asia and the Caribbean.
Wow! Talk about growth in a crowded cruise market!
I do need to address where Viking fits in, especially with all the awards they have received from various sources. Viking is not in the luxury cruise segment. I personally would classify them as somewhere between Premium and Upper Premium. This category also includes Celebrity, Disney, Princess and Holland America with Celebrity receiving the highest awards of this group. Upper Premium lines are Azamara, Cunard and Windstar. ULTRA Premium is exclusively Oceania Cruises. Luxury ocean cruise lines are Crystal, Regent Seven Seas, Silversea and Seabourn.
Each has their own strengths I will expand on that in a future article.
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