20 March 2014

Cruise News: Viking launches new ships

Viking staff at the christening of
three new Viking ships in
Avignon, France
Captain Rivers and his merry crew were invited to the launch of three of Viking River Cruises’ new ships yesterday in Avignon in the south of France. After a misty, cool morning, the sun broke out just in time for the official launch ceremony on the sundeck of the ships Viking Heimdal, Viking Hermod and Viking Buri, all of which are in Viking’s Longship class.

The godmothers were mostly connected to the company’s bankers and shipbuilders, but French chanteuse Mireille Mathieu and noted British wine expert and TV personality Susie Barrie also splashed champagne across the bows after reciting the traditional ship’s blessing.

Viking's chairman Torstein Hagen
(centre)  accepts a plaque from
Guinness World Records
A video link allowed us to see the simultaneous launch of four news ships in Rostock in northern Germany. With nine others hitting the water in Amsterdam, that makes 16 new ships launched in a day. Viking broke its own Guinness World Record from last year (10 ships), a fact acknowledged later in the evening with the presentation of a plaque from a Guinness adjudicator, who was rather brilliantly named Fortuna.

Viking staff with a ready welcome
at the Pont du Gard, France
After the on board launch, we set off to the Pont du Gard, a World Heritage site about a 30-minute drive outside Avignon. The famous Roman-era three-tiered aqueduct was the perfect backdrop for a very impressive celebration that started from the moment we were greeted by Viking staff lining a red carpet and bearing trays of champagne flutes and canapés.

Legendary French singer
Mireille Mathieu performing
at Viking's gala celebration
After strolling onto the aqueduct – which looked rather fine in the setting sun, as its limestone glowed orange – we sat down to an extravagant five-course meal and between-course entertainment. Captain Rivers admits he was somewhat overcome when Mireille Mathieu took the stage to perform. While the fabled chanteuse is now getting on a bit and her voice isn’t quite as sensational as it used to be, to hear La vie en rose and Je ne regrette rien sung by this French legend almost brought a tear to our rugged Captain’s eye.

Spectacular closing light-and-sound
show at the Pont du Gard
Quite an amazing night from an amazing company that started just 17 years ago and is now the world’s largest river-cruise company. And it ended in equally sensational fashion with a brilliant sound-and-light show on the Pont du Gard worthy of the Romans themselves.

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