The Viking Conquest: From River Giant to Ocean Mogul

You might be familiar with Viking Cruises as the perennial river cruising giant that has dominated the industry for the past 20 years. You might have even sailed on board one of their 62 river vessels on one of the beautiful European rivers. But have you sailed on one of their new ocean liners? 

Back in 2013, Viking Cruises announced plans to open its cruise division, the first venture of its kind for the company in its 30 year history. Five years later, the river cruising juggernaut has already 4 ships sailing the worlds oceans, with two more scheduled to debut later this year. 

And there are plans for the cruise line to reach for even greater heights. Two weeks ago, the line shockingly announced that they project to have 16 ocean ships by 2027 - four times the number is has currently sailing. 

With these plans, Viking has reached a territory it is familiar with in the river cruise industry - domination. And it's not because they're doing this for the sake of just doing it. There is hard evidence of the popularity of its ocean cruising concept.

"The demand is there," Torstein Hagen, Viking's Norwegian-born chairman and founder, told USA TODAY in an exclusive interview in Shanghai following the naming of the line's fourth vessel, Viking Sun. "We are virtually full for this year, and we are more than 30% full for next year. We need more ships." 

Viking offers discerning travelers a new way to enjoy luxury travel without having to pay top dollar for similar experiences on board other luxury cruise lines. It brings its successful river cruising expertise to the high seas, offering dining in a wide range of upscale on-board restaurants; beer and wine with lunch and dinner; unlimited WiFi access; and such little touches as access to the ship's Thermal Suite — all for a price that is often below competitors in the upscale ocean cruise market.

The best part about ocean cruising with Viking is that they offer a free shore excursion in every port it visits, a concept not matched by any ocean liner. Moreover, all of their ships carry only 930 guests, are equipped with all Veranda suites and feature elegant and spacious design that Viking veteran passengers have grown to love on board their river vessels. 

Viking's rapid expansion into the ocean cruise industry is a welcome injection for the overall health of the cruising market. For cruisers, the jump from mid-market liners to upscale cruising has never been easier. Viking has recognized and filled a necessary gap in the ocean cruising industry and we should continue to see its growth for many years to come.