Viking River Cruises, already the largest player in the travel industry’s fastest growing segment, has  announced a massive newbuild program that will give ther line 31 vessels by December 2013. Industry insiders surprised by the large number of new Viking ships due this year, six in all, were impressed with the announcement that Viking is adding six more to their fleet in 2013, using the rather revolutionary new “Longships” design. Viking River also has “options” for six more Longships to be built at the Meyer Werf Neptun shipyard in Rostock, Germany for delivery in 2014. The sheer size of these orders is staggering, immediately establishing Viking River as the dominant player in the river boat industry.

The new Longship design features two 445 square foot top Suites with a seperate living area and wrap-around balcony and seven 270 square foot veranda suites. The new ships This is really a first for European river cruises. Previiously, top suites, like those in the Tauck or Avalon fleet, were simply larger. But while there will be some significant press attention focused on the two-room suites,  the real change is a new marine design that moves the central corridor of the ships off center allowing for a wider variety of cabin designs and configurations.. One of the signature features of the Viking Longships will be the  indoor-outdoor Aquavit Terrace, offering al fresco dining options on the ship’s bow.

By squaring the formally rounded bow of the Viking ships, architects were able to add 1,000 square feet of interior space. This results in more cabins, 95 in all, a significant and, some might say, risky increae in passenger counts. The Top-rated Tauck river boats, for instance, accommodate 118 guests. How will the addition of seventy or so more passengers affect guest satisfaction ratings? That is the big gamble being taken by Viking’s Chairman,Torstein Hagen.

This may seem like a $400 million gamble but Hagen’s thinking is quite rational. By owning the vast majority of river boat cruise berths, Viking River can establish price points that come in 15-20% lower than its competitors. This lower standard cabin pricing policy will enable Viking to take advantage of the current boom, force competitors to lower their yields, and should greatly enhance market share. Travel Weekly reports that Hagen may also be looking at new destinations for his river boats, including such diverse possibilities as the Nile River and the Mississsippi.

As if this was not enough expansion at one time for the ambitious Mr. Hagen, Viking has set up a subsidiary designed to compete with itself. Viking River Cruises has ordered two new luxury 888 luxury passenger ships from the STX yard in France. They are scheduled for delivery in the spring of 2014 and 2015 respectively. That gives Viking River less than 24 months to design and implement an entirely new cruise line that will operate in the Meditteranean and be designed with Viking’s exisiting American, British, and Australian clientele in mind.

In our recently revised traveltruth Ratings, Viking River placed fourth in terms of overall product quality among the major riverboat operators.