|‘European Sojourn,’ Viking River Cruises’ planned 2013 itinerary, will lead guests to the storied Danube city of Budapest.|
Celebrating its 15th year in business, Viking River Cruises plans to sail into 2013 with four new itineraries—three in Europe and one in China—and two new land tour extensions, including one that will take guests to the real-life castle that’s the setting for the TV show, Downton Abbey.
Viking is also fielding an early booking discount applicable to 2013 sailings. Guests receive up to two-for-one pricing on cruise departures and international air, if bookings are made by July 31, 2012. Travel Agent spoke with Richard Marnell, senior vice president of marketing, Viking River Cruises, about the line’s robust 2013 schedule as well as trends in river cruising, marketing and itinerary development.
New European and China Itineraries: Among the new offerings are a 23-day “European Sojourn” between Amsterdam and Bucharest; a 22-day “Grand Rivers of Europe” itinerary from Basel to Budapest; and an 18-day “China Explorer” voyage on the Yangtze River.
With increasingly tech-savvy customers, cruisers—many not yet retired—are able to keep in touch and potentially take longer voyages. Both ocean and river lines are seeing a surge in demand for lengthier, more robust voyages, both from past guests and new cruisers. “We are seeing a little bit of younger clientele,” Marnell adds, “with the average age north of 60.”
“European Sojourn” takes guests to the canals of Amsterdam, the castles of the Rhine Valley, storied Danube cities such as Vienna and Budapest, and many capitals of Eastern Europe on a cruise tour that transports guests from the North Sea to the Black Sea, via the Main-Danube Canal.
In addition, the new “Grand Rivers of Europe” combines the “Rhine Getaway” itinerary from Basel to Amsterdam with the “Grand European Tour” from Amsterdam to Budapest.
“We added these longer itineraries exactly out of that demand—as people want to experience everything there is to experience...yet they don’t have to do the transport,” says Marnell, referring to the packing-unpacking and travel required for a traditional motorcoach tour or air package to a combination of cities. Viking will also introduce a 10-day “Portugal’s River of Gold” sailing for 2013 that includes a visit to Porto, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The new “China Explorer” itinerary will include the chance for guests to visit six UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Highlights include a tour of Beijing’s Forbidden City, a visit to the excavation site of the famous Terra Cotta Warriors and a tour of a giant panda sanctuary in Chengdu. Marnell says clients headed for China appreciate that they are traveling with other like-minded clients. He also notes that guests enjoy giving back. Viking sponsors three schools in China, and “a highlight of any of our trips is a visit to one of [these] schools,” he stresses.
|Viking’s 10-day ‘Portugal’s River of Gold’ sailing will enable guests to visit the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Porto.|
New Land Options: Anyone who has ever felt that filling out passenger feedback forms is a waste of time, think again, says Viking. Past passengers told the line exactly what they liked and where they wanted to go. As a result, the line formed a partnership with PBS and began sponsoring Masterpiece Theater last fall.
So a new three-day land extension, “Oxford & Highclere Castle,” will include the aforementioned Downton Abbey site visit. Guests will receive a special champagne welcome and can also tour the historic town of Oxford.
“Passengers wanted the experience of being able to link [visually and on vacation] to what they see on TV,” notes Marnell. This trip can be booked as a pre- or post-cruise extension to Viking’s “Cities of Light” or “Paris & the Heart of Normandy” cruise itineraries. Another new option for those cruising the Rhone and Saone rivers is a three-night “Barcelona” land extension.
Opportunities for 2012: Most river lines have about 85 percent or so of their inventory for the current year booked by March. That applies to Viking as well. But while the bulk of Viking’s inventory for 2012 is already booked, there is space available here and there throughout the year. And, the line still has significant holiday product available for those wishing to take a Christmas-market cruise in November and December, Marnell notes.
More New Longships: Viking’s 2013 program includes the launch of six more Viking Longships—Viking Bragi, Viking Forseti, Viking Rinda, Viking Skadi, Viking Tor and Viking Var. Designed by maritime architects Yran & Storbraaten—the team behind the Disney Dream and the newest ships of the Yachts of Seabourn—the longships have patent-pending technology and innovations such as diesel-electric hybrid engines, solar panels and onboard organic herb gardens.
As for guest feedback thus far, Marnell says “guests love the Aquavit Terrace,” an indoor-outdoor dining and relaxation area on the bow. It’s the place for panoramic views. They also love the balconies, he says.
With so many new longships launching, is there any chance of Viking expanding into North America in future years? “It’s something we’re looking at with the Mississippi and other larger rivers in the U.S.,” Marnell says. “But we have nothing to announce at this point. It’s something we’re actively investigating.”
Refurbished Russian Fleet: Next year will also mark the completion of bow-to-stern refurbishments of Viking’s owned and operated Russian fleet. In addition to redefining the interior space to create significantly larger staterooms, all four of Viking’s Russian ships will have full, private verandas added to all staterooms on the Upper and Middle decks, which house four suites, two junior suites and 60 veranda staterooms.
“We’re finding that many of our passengers are coming from ocean cruising and they like to have a balcony,” stresses Marnell. The revamped Russian fleet will sail the 13-day “Waterways of the Czars” itinerary, traveling from Moscow to St. Petersburg, or reverse.
New E-Brochure: The 2013 River Cruise Atlas, Viking’s consumer brochure, is now available for order or PDF download at www.vikingrivercruises.com/brochure. Also for the first time, the 148-page brochure has been converted into an interactive “e-brochure” that’s optimized for computers and tablet devices. It has more than 40 imbedded videos about the Viking River Cruises experience.
Marnell says it’s important that agents are in tune with the way that clients prefer to communicate. It could be online, via TV or by a tablet: “If the consumers are on the web, you have to be on the web; if they’re on an iPad, you have to have some facility for tablet communications” and so on.