Flying to Porto to discover the new Viking Hemming & Viking Torgil
Aaron Saunders, Live Voyage Reports
March 21, 2014
This morning, we bid farewell to Viking River Cruises Viking Forseti near Bordeaux, France. But we’re far from done with the 2014 Viking River Cruises Christening ceremonies. From the ship, we drove directly to Bordeaux’s Merignac Airport to board out flight to Porto, Portugal. Our purpose for the trip: to witness the christening of the new, Longship-esque Viking Hemming and Viking Torgil.
Once again, we boarded “the jet” – a private, 46-passenger BAE 146-200 operated by Cello Aviation. It’s slightly horrifying to discover how quickly you can become accustomed to this style of flying – even moreso when colleague Ralph Grizzle and I learned in conversation with the flight attendants that there are 46 bottles of Veuve Cliquot champagne on each flight – one per seat.
We touched down at 12:30pm local time (Portugal is one hour behind most of Central Europe) and immediately boarded a brand-new, Viking-branded Volvo coach. All of our coaches have been nothing but new, but this one takes the cake: our driver informed us he drove it directly from the factory to the airport to pick us up.
Within 30 minutes, we were in the heart of Porto, Portugal in the midst of a pounding rainstorm. Waiting for us was a conga line of Viking employees, each holding up bright red oversized umbrellas, waiting to take us onboard.
Unlike Viking’s European vessels, Viking Hemming and Viking Torgil aren’t owned by Viking, but by Douro Azul. Viking has the ship fitted out to its specifications and charters it from Douro Azul, which in turn provides the deck and engineering Officers and staff. The hotel staff are employed by Viking.
Headed by Mário Ferreira, Douro Azul has been in business since 1993 when the company began operations along Portugal’s Douro River with a single vessel – the 130-guest Vistadouro. Now, 21 years later, the company has designed and constructed vessels along the Douro for every major river cruise operator, including Viking. Today, they are the largest river cruise operator in Portugal.
You may wonder why Viking wouldn’t just own and operate their own vessels here in Portugal as they do elsewhere in Europe. There are a number of reasons for this that range from flagging issues to local laws and regulations that make such an arrangement prohibitive. Viking, like every other river cruise operator, enters into charter agreements like this for their itineraries in countries like Portugal, Egypt, and even voyages along the Yangtze and Mekong rivers in Asia.
Viking Hemming and Viking Torgil have been built from the ground up to emulate the Viking Longships, and together with Douro Azul, And emulate they have.
At 262 feet in length, both vessels are smaller than the average Viking Longship, but are appropriately sized for the Douro. They also carry fewer guests – 106 instead of 190. But if you’ve sailed on a Viking Longships before, you’re going to find a lot to love about these vessels. They’re not true Longships, but they’re most certainly Longship-esque.
I think it says a lot when cruise journalists – all of whom focus solely on cruising and cruise ships – blow off an afternoon of touring in Portugal to run around a four-deck vessel snapping photos.
That’s exactly what happened this afternoon the handful of folks here ran together up and down her decks, snapping photographs of carpeting, hallways, lounges, public areas and yes, even the ship’s uber-cool coffee maker. Minutes after being discovered, the coffee maker was being photographed like a supermodel, and a queue built that stretched into the hallway as word spread that it not only made fresh, bean-ground coffee but that it also whipped up a mean Caramel Macchiato.
Hallways are some of the most impressive spaces onboard, with gorgeous multi-layered relief panels that feature black-and-white artwork and accent lighting. Stateroom numbers are etched into wood and backlit for a surprisingly elegant result, and the entire colour palette is reminiscent of the Scandinavian design pioneered by Oslo-based Yran & Storbraaten for the Longships.
For the most part, staterooms are similarly-sized to their Longship counterparts, though the difference is most noticeable when you pass between the bed and the desk, where little space exists. Bathrooms, on the other hand, sport some new features like rainforest showerheads and a sliding door configuration that is a little easier to open.
The real jaw-dropper were the walk-in closets present in some suites. Again, it’s fun to watch my fellow journalists suddenly shed their professional veneers and get really, really excited about features like this. The handful of us ran around the ship comparing notes and poking heads out of staterooms yelling, ‘Look at this!’ when something cool popped up. Like the electronically-controlled blinds in the Category A and B Balcony Staterooms.
Here’s the deal: because this is not a company-owned vessel, I was expecting a ship that worked hard to emulate the look and feel of a Viking Longship, but which maybe didn’t quite capture the full essence of one. Instead, there are features aboard Viking Hemming and Viking Torgil that I would like to see implemented in the next batch of full-sized Viking Longships.
As the rain pounded down on Porto outside, I didn’t dare venture up onto the top deck, but later in the evening, it had stopped enough to discover there is a swimming pool up there, along with plush loungers for relaxing on. Swimming pools are a rare feature on any river cruise vessel, but they’re fairly standard amongst ships plying the Douro; temperatures soar in the summer months, and no doubt the pool provides a good measure of relief.
By the time our explorations had ended, it was time to attend the pierside christening ceremonies. As Viking Chairman Torstein Hagen joked, he was looking forward to being a guest rather than host at these ceremonies, which were largely arranged by partner line Douro Azul.
However, I don’t think any of us expected the media circus that the Reception would become, with 50 or more local photographers and videographers all vying for the best shots of Viking Hemming and Viking Torgil’s Godmothers.
Viking’s choice of Godmothers for this past week has been nothing short of inspirational. Rather than selecting famous, “brand name” people, the line has hand-picked a collection of women who have each proven to be knowledgeable, successful and influential in their own right. These are people you should look up to, and I think Viking set the bar rather high with their appointment.
The Portuguese paparazzi were here to see Viking Hemming Godmother, Laura Ferreira and Viking Torgil Godmother Ana Moura. Laura Ferreira is the wide of Portugal’s Prime Minister, Pedro Passos Coehlho, and coordinates a rehabilitation center for handicapped citizens. Ana Moura is one of Portugal’s most famous fadistas – performers of Portugal’s traditional folk music known as fado.
I wish I could say more about Laura Ferreira’s speech, but my Portuguese is beyond rusty. The entire ceremonies were conducted primarily in Portuguese, but Ferreira’s speech clearly resonated with guests who applauded thunderously at its conclusion.
Ana Moura, on the other hand, sang. And you don’t need to understand another language to appreciate its meaning in song. She performed Havemos De Acordar and the snappy Desfado, the title track from her 2012 Album. But it was her heart-wrenching performance of Joni Mitchell’s A Case of You that left watering eyes throughout the room.
I’ve written for the past few days that there is something very moving about being a part of all of this.
On the flip side, I truly believe there is no such thing as a bad river cruise, and there are other companies – notably AmaWaterways – that embrace the same approachable, family business nature that Viking does.
But I look around the room tonight at the staff here that work for Viking and I see individuals that I respect immensely who aren’t just settling for 100 percent; they’re giving 200 percent of themselves to Viking and this grand dream that Torstein Hagen is, despite all odds, willing into reality with each passing day and year.
Viking Longships Christening 2014
|March 17, 2014||Avignon, France||Arrive Marseille and transfer to Avignon. Embark Viking Heimdal.|
|March 18||Avignon, France||Viking Longship 2014 Christening Ceremonies in Avignon.|
|March 19||Bordeaux, France||Disembark Viking Heimdal & transfer to Bordeaux, France. Embark Viking Forseti.|
|March 20||Bordeaux, France||Scenic cruising & sightseeing in Bordeaux|
|March 21||Porto, Portugal||Fly from Bordeaux to Porto, Portugal. Tour & overnight stay onboard Viking Hemming.|
|March 22||Porto, Portugal||Sightseeing in Porto.|
|March 23, 2014||Porto, Portugal||Onward journey home|