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“The important thing about being here today is that those who have seen the Longships before won’t find anything different. When we get it right the first time, we don’t see any reason to vary.”

This was how Viking chairman Torstein Hagen started a press conference in Koblenz, Germany, during the christening of the brand’s two newest river ships: Hild and Herja. As Viking turns 20 this year, the company has grown from humble beginnings, launched with just two guys, two cell phones and no money, into the market leader in river cruising. “People say that’s a bullshit story, but here’s a photo of the two guys at (Amsterdam’s) Schiphol airport,” Hagen says while passing his laptop around the room with the image enlarged on the screen. “We have come extremely far, and as a company, we are something. It’s only our ambitions that will be the limit of our future development.”

In the two decades since, Viking has expanded from cruises in Russia to a fleet of 62 vessels, including 41 signature Longships on Europe’s rivers. The revolutionary 190-person river cruise ships are almost all identical, but it’s the 21 different itineraries along Europe’s rivers—from the classic (and perpetually popular) Danube Waltz journey from Passau to Budapest to the new 12-day Paris to the Swiss Alps trip launching later this year on Hild and Herja—that makes these ships stand out.

“Viking touts themselves as ‘the world leader in river cruising,’ and, as a travel professional, I 100 percent agree. Wherever my clients want to go, I know Viking will have an option available that will fit the bill perfectly with itinerary and budget,” says Bridgett Quinn, a cruise consultant with Cruise Specialists who has been selling Viking for 10 years.

Viking can also boast one of Europe’s newest fleets on the river, with ships averaging an age of two years, as well as lower rates than competitors due to the fact the brand owns and operates its ships. “We take great pride in owning and operating the ships. We don’t have partners; we like to be in charge of our own destiny,” Hagen explains. “If there’s a problem, we fix it. We don’t have to call somebody to fix it.”

When Viking debuts a ship on the Nile next year, the same philosophy will ring true, with clients feeling just at home in Egypt as they do on Europe’s rivers. “We are continuing to refine things on our ships, but it’s small refinements here and there. We’ve been running most of the core of what we’re doing for some time,” explains Richard Marnell, Viking’s senior v.p. of marketing.

One small change you might notice, however, is the age on board. While Viking isn’t going after millennials or travelers in their thirties, the demographic is slowly skewing younger.

“We are bringing in more 40- and 50-somethings that we have in the past,” Marnell says. “These travelers have come to realize that even though they are capable of doing their own car rental tour through Europe, that is painful and river cruising is a far better value for both time and money.”

For more information, visit vikingcruises.com.

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