AMSTERDAM -- Torstein Hagen is an astute businessman.
That's proven by his success in building Viking River Cruises, the largest line of its kind in the world. When this year ends, he will have 28 Viking ships, mainly in Europe, but growing on other continents.
Hagen is also part "Mississippi gambler."
River cruising is the fastest-growing segment of the cruise world, and his line owns 36 per cent of the market. Yet Viking is still ordering ships -- 12 new-builds this year and next, with possibly six more in 2014 of the longships. In this economy that takes a lot of courage.
The numbers help to explain why. Viking is 88 per cent sold out this year and, if the economy holds and river cruising keeps growing, the gambling part of his philosophy will pay off handsomely.
In Amsterdam last week, Viking launched its first four longships. Torstein calls them the "thinking man's cruise ships."
Have you been on a river cruise? Do you like Broadway shows, lots of bars, comedy clubs, massive children's areas? If so, river cruising is not for you.
If you like tranquillity on boats that house 140 to 190 passengers, and the opportunity to travel the great rivers of Europe to countries and cities up close, you'll love river cruising.
History lies before you from sunrise to sunset. Each turn in the river brings something new. Curiosity and an engaging personality are required, and you may make lasting friendships.
The longships launched in Amsterdam are unique.
There is space on the third deck of the bow to sit inside or out in the Aquavit atrium, to have lunch, coffee and -- thanks to some unique technology -- view both sides of the river. Carolyn Spencer Brown, editor of Cruise Critic, put it right: "The fact that Yran and Storbraaten, the same maritime design firm that created Seabourn's luxury interiors, also decorated the longships, is one reason they share an airy and light-filled ambience."
Thanks to an offset corridor, the cabins on one side enjoy a balcony and 205 square feet of space. On the other side, all cabins have French balconies and are smaller, only 135 square feet, which requires some navigational manoeuvering in the room.
Suites range from 270 to 405 square feet. Cabin washrooms are laid out well and have sliding doors and both 110 and 220 plugs.
The vast expanse of the top deck is open, with shade provided, with putting mat encircling a herb garden.
Tours in ports are included, but if you want to take off on your own, a concierge is available to help.
Make sure you take the time to research each port. You may find a concert or an event for that one night you're there. At many ports, river cruisers arrive earlier and leave later.
Viking, and other river cruise lines, are spreading their bows to many new countries. Vietnam, the Douro area of Portugal, expansion on the Volga, and China, are just some places where you will find a large growth in itineraries.
After the christening of the ship, we enjoyed an appetizer: a three-day cruise that took in Volendam, Edam, Marken, Kinderdijk (Children of the Dike) and Rotterdam.
All major river lines are stepping up to the plate with new and creative designs that can only help the industry ride the tide of popularity for years.
-- Postmedia News
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