River cruise giant Viking's move into ocean cruising officially kicked off Sunday in Bergen, Norway with the christening of its first ocean ship, the Viking Star.
Bergen mayor Trude Drevland served as godmother for the 930-passenger vessel in an elaborate, music-filled evening ceremony along the Bergen waterfront that coincided with a citywide celebration of Norway's National Constitution Day.
Watched by thousands, the nearly two-hour event included performances by a succession of world-renowned artists and musicians who have a connection to Bergen including violinist Charlie Siem and the Norwegian comedy duo Ylvis. Norwegian soprano Sissel, actor Bjarte Hjelmeland and singer-songwriter Sondre Lerche also performed, and the night was capped by a fireworks display over the Bergen harbor.
The performances took place against the backdrop of the Bryggen, Bergen's postcard-perfect, UNESCO World Heritage-listed historic wharf area, which dates back more than five centuries.
The 47,800-ton Viking Star is the first of three ocean-going ships that Viking has ordered for delivery by early 2017. It debuted in April and initially is operating cruises in the Baltic and Mediterranean.
The setting of the christening wasn't by accident. Viking's Norway-born founder and chairman, Torstein Hagen, was based in the town in the 1970s when he ran the Bergen Line, and he has said it holds a special place in his heart. The Bergen Line was one of the owners of the now-defunct Royal Viking Line, which Hagen ran in the 1980s and has cited as a inspiration of sorts for Viking's ocean line.
“I fell in love with (Bergen)," Hagen, 72, said at a press event on the Viking Star in advance of the christening. "I had the best years of my life here."
In addition to being christened in Bergen, the Viking Star is registered in Norway and carries the city's name on its stern. It also has a Norwegian captain.
"We believe the arrival of Viking Star signals a new era in destination-focused cruising, and I could not be more proud that she will call my favorite city in the world 'home,'" Hagen said. "This is a ship that was built for exploration and designed with our Scandinavian heritage in mind, and our guests will experience it from the moment they step on board."
A longtime leader in river cruising, Viking never before has operated ocean cruises. The company operates more than 60 river vessels, including a dozen new ships christened earlier this year.
Viking's ocean cruise division, to be called Viking Ocean Cruises, is the first major ocean line to debut in nearly a decade and enters an arena dominated by a handful of big players such as Miami-based Carnival Corp. and Royal Caribbean Cruises. Carnival Corp. owns nine brands that offer ocean cruises, including Carnival, Princess, Holland America and Seabourn, and accounts for nearly half of the worldwide ocean cruise business. Royal Caribbean owns five ocean cruise brands, including Royal Caribbean, Celebrity and Azamara.
Viking's ocean division likely will compete most directly with Oceania Cruises and Azamara Club Cruises, both upscale lines with similar sized ships. Oceania has five vessels that carry from 684 to 1,250 passengers, and Azamara operates two 710-passenger ships.
Source: Gene Sloan (USA Today Travel, May 18, 2015, "River Giant Viking Cruises Christens First Ocean Ship")
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Featured photo credit: USA Today