This week France Today had the honor of attending the Christening of the new Viking longships in Avignon. Hot on the heels of a Christening ceremony in Amsterdam where nine new ships were baptized in style, Viking River Cruises christened three vessels in Avignon (Viking Buri, Viking Hermod and Viking Heimdal) and four ships simultaneously in the Rostock shipyard (broadcast via satellite to the party in France). The sun broke out from behind the clouds, and the mistral calmed its gusts just for the occasion. (“Thanks be to the Norse gods!” exclaimed a few guests.) Docked side by side, the three longships were decorated with festive garlands of sailing flags and red and white balloons.
In orchestrating such an event, all within a single 24-hour period, Viking smashed the world record for the “Most Ships Inaugurated in One Day by One Company,” certified by a Guinness World Records adjudicator who was present.
Viking is growing in leaps and bounds, but it can still barely keep up with demand. In fact, all cruises are almost sold out for the year, even as the company expands by 50%. (Expansion will continue in 2015 with 12 more ships.)
In a long-time maritime tradition, Viking appointed prominent godmothers for the new ships, including legendary French singer Mireille Mathieu, aka the “Sparrow from Avignon,” who has sold more than 130 million albums during her career. The godmothers bless their ships, before breaking a bottle of champagne against the ship’s hull.
Viking pulled out all the stops to fete this momentous occasion. There was free flowing champagne, music and fireworks on the banks of the Rhône, before the party was moved to the Pont du Gard, the millennia-old Roman aqueduct that is now a popular UNESCO World Heritage site. Offering trays of wine glasses, waiters stood at attention on a red carpet leading to the tent, behind which the Pont du Gard glowed luminously as the sun set.
Diners were regaled with live music including traditional songs by a star Norwegian violinist and a passionate performance by Mireille Mathieu, whose mother was in the audience. Mathieu brought the audience to their feet with her spirited renditions of Edith Piaf’s songs like La Vie en Rose. A special moment indeed for a company that “started 17 years ago with no money and just a few mobile phones,” explained CEO Torstein Hagen.