Fast-growing Viking River Cruises has made cruising history with the naming of 16 new ships in a 24-hour period.
Three of the vessels — the Viking Heimdal, Viking Hermod and Viking Buri — were christened today at a waterfront ceremony in Avignon, France, while four more were christened simultaneously at the Neptun shipyard in Rostock, Germany where most of the vessels were built.
Another nine of the ships were christened on Monday in Amsterdam, and the line plans to christen two more vessels on Friday in Porto, Portugal.
Seven godmothers — one for each of the vessel's in Avignon and Rostock — stood on a balloon-lined stage atop the Viking Buri today to push an array of seven red buttons as hundreds of invited guests watched. As each button was pushed, a champagne bottle smashed against one of the ships' hulls.
Christening attendees could see the four ships in Rostock via a live video feed from the shipyard projected on large screens.
Many of the godmothers at this week's ceremonies had ties to top travel agencies that have supported Viking's growth, as well as the line's bankers and shipbuilder. Others represented the culture of the regions where Viking ships sail. They included French singer Mireille Mathieu, French cooking authority Anne Willan, British wine authority and television personality Susie Barrie, Cruise Planners chief operating officer Vicky Garcia and UBS managing director Regula Oderbolz.
The godmothers each recited a traditional maritime blessing as they were naming the ships.
With the exception of the two ships making their debuts in Portugal, all of the newly christened vessels are of the new "longship" design that Viking began rolling out in 2012.
With a capacity for 190 passengers, the longships boast a new configuration that includes the largest suites ever for a river ship in Europe as well as cabins with balconies, a feature made possible by an innovative new cabin area layout that includes offset main corridors.
With the addition of the ships, Viking will have 52 vessels operating this year, up from 35 in 2013, an unprecedented expansion that will cement its lead as Europe's biggest river cruise operator catering to North Americans.
The 16 longships unveiled today and Monday will sail this year on the Rhine, Main, Danube and Rhone rivers. The line also has moved a one-year-old longship to the Dordogne, Garonne and Gironde rivers of France's Aquitaine region.
By Gene Sloan, USA Today
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