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Goldring Travel Blog – Making Waves

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How Viking Cruises (River and Ocean) is Killing the Goose That Laid the Golden Egg

Three things have happened in the past few weeks that have brought Viking Cruises to the fore in my mind…and not in a good way:

  • The Viking Sky’s near catastrophe
  • The Viking Idun collision with a chemical tanker (The Viking Freya collided with a bridge in 2016)
  • The collapse of river cruise pricing

I have, from early on, been very concerned about Viking; first its river cruise product and now its ocean product.  Why?  Well, there are a few reasons.

First, Viking has unabashedly been building ships as fast as it can. The owner, Tor Hagen, is not concerned with profits, or the overall cruise quality, but market-share.  as Forbes Magazine noted in its April 2019 article, “He is borrowing cash furiously (the company’s debt is $2.5 billion) to build more ships and has also raised equity capital”.  (Compared to the behemoth Royal Caribbean and its four brands at about $7 billion, it is scary.)  When Viking’s requirement for payment in full upfront is added to the mix (it has to service all that debt somehow) it is very concerning.

But more concerning than Viking’s financial health (always take out third party – not Viking’s – travel insurance just in case it winds up shutting its doors if the economy or other factors seriously slow its sales) is the fact that Viking is pretty much single-handedly destroying the river cruise market by having too many ships so supply outweights demand. River cruising started out a great way to visit quaint towns along Europe’s rivers, but it has transformed into those villages overrun with tourists and having to traverse three ships tied up to each other just to get to shore. And because it was, peak season sailings would sell out close to a year in advance.  Now easing that with more supply is one thing, but now the situation is that there are almost “fire sale” pricing by some river cruise lines during peak season…and that, in the long term, is highly problematic.

Further, Viking is clearly not concerned with preserving the quaint villages, but rather using them for its financial advantage…and then moving onto the next small village that another river cruise line has begun to utilize and overrunning that one…and so it goes.

Only two of six sides of three ships have a view
and two ships have to pass through other ships just to get to land
Second,  is that Viking has spent a large fortune (not a small one) on marketing “luxury” that is not actually luxury; literally flooding the market in print and television. That marketing, while obviously effective, is not truly in the best interest of the river or ocean cruise industry because – in real terms – it lowers the bar by claiming a middling product is “luxurious”…and that is over and above the abuse of the small villages.

To be clear, there is “luxury” and “perceived luxury”. Viking’s owner, Tor Hagen, designs and builds what he wants, what he perceives as the ultimate experience..and then he markets the heck out of it to convince people that is what they want…when they actually don’t know what they want.  It may be great marketing, but it is not what “luxury” is about.

  • Do you want an intimate experience? Not even close. Viking has 190 passengers on its river cruise ships vs. say AmaWaterways average of 160 on the same size ship.
  • Do you want outdoor covered areas? Not happening.
  • Do you want sofas and other comfortable seating to lounge about outside?  Not happening.
  • Do you want art in your stateroom? Nope.
  • Do you want an actual chair in your stateroom? You need a veranda…and it is basically a desk chair.
  • Do you want comfortable seating in your stateroom? You need to book a suite.
  • Do you want to enjoy the publicized “curated” library – Limited books and limited austere seating
  • Do you want the claimed creative luxury dining experience? Nope. Limited menu and cramped space between tables
  • Do you want small group tours? Nope. Full bus tours…unless you pay for an upgraded tour.
Who doesn’t get to sit in a chair???

Third, I am very concerned about the Viking ship construction and the quality of  Viking’s manning.   I have seen the Viking river and ocean ships and, to my fairly trained eye, I am not impressed.  They look like they have been built to minimum standards.  To me – and most of the world – meeting the minimum standards of construction and design is not enough…and it is barely enough when it comes to passenger safety.

Put into play, in my opinion there was absolutely no excuse for the Viking Sky’s near catastrophe setting out in an extreme gale coupled with a poorly designed lubricating system that is known to be susceptible to failure in rough seas; especially if fluid levels are not kept at higher than minimum required levels. And the system was designed…or better so flawed…as to virtually shut down all propulsion.  So only now Viking is adjusting its requirements fleetwide?  Really? Those things were considered acceptable?

Why did the ship’s captain (master) set out in a forecasted extreme gale? And why did he not make sure all systems were topped up and ready for such weather conditions?  And why did he order the ship to be evacuated, putting so many – including the rescuers – in potentially even more danger? Was that master, or the home office instructing him, truly qualified and making the appropriate decisions?

By the way, if you saw the video, you saw the very light (but attractive) Scandinavian furniture flying all over the place.  Next time you complain about why the furniture is so heavy on the other cruise lines you will know why! 

Alas, this was not an isolated incident.  Just a month later a Viking river ship collided with a chemical tanker.  How many other river or ocean cruise line ships do you see having such incidents? Well, in 2016 two crew were killed when a Viking river ship ran into a bridge shearing off its wheelhouse.  (To be fair other cruise lines have had mishaps such as sailing into an extreme storm…but nothing like what happened to these Viking ships.)

There are Great Alternatives

With all of these issues and concerns, there is a reason that when clients come to me wanting to book a Viking ocean or river cruise they – literally every time – wind up booking with a different river or ocean cruise line.

If you think about it, now knowing what you know: What is it – other than great marketing – that makes Viking a better river or ocean cruise line than the others?  Personally, I am hard-pressed to think of one.

In closing, I do want to say this: I want Viking to be a wonderful and responsible product and one I can confidently sell to you.  But every journey I sell, land, sea or river, essentially has Goldring Travel’s endorsement. That is something that has to be earned; not marketed to. Many companies have earned it!

If you have any questions or wish to discuss booking a land, sea or river journey, give me a call, drop me an email or send me a Facebook message!

US: (877) 2GO-LUXURY (877-246-5898)
UK: 020 8133 3450
AUS: (07) 3102 4685
Everywhere Else: +1 530 562 9232

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