The Rise and Fall of Royal Viking Line
In the continuation of our ‘The Rise and Fall of’ series we are looking at Royal Viking Line. This is probably one of the most loved cruise lines to have ever ceased to exist. The Norwegian Company was based in San Francisco, founded as a partnership of three Norwegian shipping lines the company’s brand name continues to be held in high esteem.
The company was the pinnacle of the cruise industry, its ships sailed the world on longer cruises to exciting destinations, it’s customers where the rich and famous. The companies on board product was of a high standard matched today by companies such as Seabourn and Oceania. Royal Viking Line was one of the pioneers of the upmarket cruise segment.
Each vessel was owned by one of the founding partners, with Royal Viking Star being delivered in 1972, followed by Royal Viking Sky in 1973 and finally Royal Viking Sea later the same year. The ships where almost identical except Royal Viking Star. Which was two feet shorter, had an on board chapel as well as small differences to lounges and the location of the library. The line prided itself on single seat dining. The restaurant had large windows, food then, as now, was an important part of the cruise product.
The fleet was very successful and soon looked to expand. Rather than add an additional ship they lengthened the original trio of ships, however this backfired on the line – whose customer base loved the intimacy and high levels of service on board. So beginning in 1980 each of the ships was stretched by adding a 93-foot mid section. With this midsection came nine new penthouse suites, 200 more passengers and an increased dining room to retain single seat dining.
This improved the vessels from an economic viewpoint but the loyal clientele that Royal Viking had previously thrived on turned their back on the fleet – although I cant really see where they went, Seabourn, Renaissance, Crystal and Radisson Seven Seas where all a decade away from beginning operations – any suggestions are more than welcome!
By 1984 the company had finally announced a new building, Royal Viking Sun was delivered in 1988, this ship was larger again than rest of the fleet, at 40,000 grt compared to the previous ships post stretch 28,0000 grt. Royal Viking Sun benefitted from many balcony cabins and really brought Royal Viking back to its high end roots.
Also during 1984 the company arranged a management buyout from the founding partners. Weeks before completion of the buyout the company was sold to Kloster Cruise, the parent company of NCL. Four years earlier NCL had wowed the industry by buying the France which had been in lay-up for several years and transforming her into the Norway. By far the largest cruise ship in the Caribbean, potentially the first ‘floating resort’.
As part of NCL the company suffered from the same problems as it parent company. NCL suffered from First Mover Disadvantage with the Norway as competitors launched new vessels which offered greater efficiencies and a better on board product during the 90’s. NCL quickly fell behind and would take over a decade to recover.
In 1990 the new parent company transferred Royal Viking Sea to sister premium brand Royal Cruise Line, where she took the name Royal Odyssey. Royal Viking Star moved to Norwegian as Westward, followed in 1991 by Royal Viking Sky as the Sunward. Sold the following year to Birka Line as Birka Queen, before being chartered to NCL in October 1992 resuming the name Sunward. Interestingly in 1993 she was chartered by Princess as Golden Princess.
To replace these ships Kloster acquired the last undelivered Seabourn triplet which became Royal Viking Queen in 1992 operating in direct competition with her Seabourn sisters. <See Here>. Royal Viking Queen and Royal Viking Sun would serve together for two years.
In 1994 Kloster, NCL’s parent company, announced the disposal of the Royal Viking Brand and Royal Viking Sun to Cunard Line, who would continue to operate the vessel under the Cunard Royal Viking brand until 1999. Royal Viking Queen transferred to Kloster’s other premium cruise line, Royal Cruise Line, however as financial pressures continued this fleet was integrated into the NCL brand during 1996.
Cruising had changed significantly in the years that Royal Viking operated, with the introduction of Balconies being a main feature of a high end cruise product, the original trio of vessels were not designed with this in mind, However Royal Viking Sun as Prinsendam maintains a high end product, probably due to its forward thinking balcony focused design.. Under the ownership of Kloster the company lost more of its prestigious image as the company failed to adapt its mass market model to the market served by Royal Viking Line.
The fleet of Royal Viking Line have subsequently had in interesting history –
Royal Viking Star served for NCL as Westward before later serving as Star Odyssey as part of Royal Cruise Line and eventually being sold to Fred Olsen on the closure of that Line. She is now known as Black Watch.
Royal Viking Sea was transferred to Royal Cruise Line as Royal Odyssey, where on that cruise lines closure she became a member of the Norweigian fleet and eventually sold to Pheonix, the German cruise line, as Albatros.
Royal Viking Sky has had the more complicated history out of the three sisters, serving first as Sunward then Birka Queen, Golden Princess, in 1996 Birka sold her to Star Cruises who operated her as Superstar Capricorn until her sale to Iberojet as Grand Latino, finally joining the Fred Olsen Fleet as Boudicca.
Royal Viking Sun was sold to Cunard by Kloster along with the Royal Viking Brand to Cunard Line. The ship operated very much the same but with a red funnel, upon the merger of Seabourn and Cunard, Royal Viking Sun became the Seabourn Sun after an extensive refurbishment, however that did not last long and had very quickly transferred to Holland America where she remains as Prinsendam.
Royal Viking Queen was transferred to Royal Cruise Line upon the closure of Royal Viking Line, becoming Queen Odyssey. Financial pressures at Kloster meant that the ship was sold to Seabourn becoming Seabourn Legend, now operating as Star Legend for Windstar Cruises. <See Here>.
In an interesting twist of fate senior leaders from Royal Viking Line, including its one time CEO Torstein Hagen formed Viking River cruises. Torstein Hagen was the CEO who had attempted to buy Royal Viking from the founding partners before it was snapped up by Kloster. Viking has grown significantly since and recently launched its Ocean Cruising arm with Viking Star, to be followed by Viking Sea and Viking Sky. Anyone notice the similarity here? So maybe Royal Viking is back.
I have to say of the several ‘The Rise and Fall of’ series I’ve done this was the hardest, the cruise line was well and truly loved. But it was also mismanaged, the decision to lengthen the ships causing the loss of its original market and the financial controls of indebted Kloster strangled the line. Hopefully it has been reborn as Viking Ocean Cruises.
Please share your memories of the line below –