Is there no stopping Viking? The rapidly expanding company recently announced it is building seven new river ships to start sailing in 2019, which will bring its worldwide river fleet to 69. Six of the ships will cruise the Rhine, Main and Danube rivers and the seventh, Viking Helgrim, will cruise Portugal's Douro River. Viking Helgrim joins three Viking ships already sailing on the Douro; carrying up to 106 passengers they are smaller than the 190-passenger Longships but share many of their fleetmates' features, including the streamlined Scandinavian design, Aquavit Terrace and organic herb gardens.
The line's fifth and sixth 930-passenger ocean ships, Viking Orion and Viking Jupiter, launch in July 2018 and February 2019 respectively; four more ocean ships are on the order books, scheduled to debut between 2021 and 2023. When Viking Jupiter joins the fleet in 2019, Viking will be the world's largest small-ship ocean cruise line - pretty impressive for a cruise line that was established just three years ago.
"In 2017 we celebrated our 20th year of business and were named the No.1 Ocean Cruise Line and the No.1 River Cruise Line," Viking Australia and New Zealand managing director Michelle Black says. "We're also expanding our portfolio of cruises, announcing new river and ocean itineraries in the next few weeks."
Ms Black says that Viking Sun, which arrives in New Zealand's Bay of Islands today, will be in Australia in February on its inaugural world cruise from Miami to London; the first time a Viking ship has visited Australia.
"In addition to these milestones, we will start home-porting from Sydney to Auckland in December for three months each year. We're thrilled that guests will no longer need to fly to Europe to experience the Viking difference. Given the sustained demand for our destination-focused itineraries, we are expecting these cruises to be very popular with the Australian and New Zealand markets."
What is the "Viking difference"? According to founder and CEO Torstein Hagen, the cruise line is designed for discerning travellers with interests in science, history, culture and cuisine. He often says Viking offers guests "the thinking person's cruise" as an alternative to mainstream cruises.
Meanwhile Viking Ra, having been completely refitted and refurbished last year, starts operating 12-day cruises on the River Nile in March. Named after the Egyptian sun god Ra, the ship accommodates 52 passengers (all in suites). Demand has been so great that its 2018 departures are sold out and bookings for 2019 close on March 31.
THE PORT Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
WHO GOES THERE Ocean: Azamara, Carnival, Celebrity, CMV, Crystal, Cunard, HAL, NCL, P&O UK, Princess, RSSC, Royal Caribbean, Oceania, Seabourn, Silversea, Star Cruises, Viking.
River: APT, Avalon, Aqua Expeditions, Evergreen, Pandaw, Scenic, Uniworld Viking.
WHY WE LOVE IT HCMH, or Saigon as many locals still call it, is Vietnam's biggest city but not its capital - that's Hanoi. It's a chaotic, high-energy mix of old and new worlds, where gleaming skyscrapers jostle with French colonial buildings and even older Hindu and Buddhist temples, street markets and sprawling low-rise suburbs.
TAKE A TOUR OR GO IT ALONE? Large ocean ships dock at Phu My, about 130 kilometres (2.5 hours' drive) from Ho Chi Minh City; smaller ships dock at the Saigon River Dock, close to the city centre. River ships dock at My Tho, about 70 kilometres (1.5 hours' drive) from the centre. A guided walking tour is a good way to get orientated; expect to see famous landmarks such as Ho Chi Minh Square, Saigon Opera House, Central Post Office, Notre Dame Cathedral and Ben Thanh market. An organised half-day tour to the Cu Chi Tunnels is easier than arranging one yourself; it's not compulsory to go underground to learn about the former Viet Cong hideout.
MUST SEE The War Remnants Museum is confronting but educational; the History Museum showcases 4000 years of Vietnamese culture and is set in lovely gardens; District 1's Tan Dinh market is renowned for silk and fabrics.
MUST EAT HCMC is street-food heaven. The national favourite is pho (beef noodle soup); other dishes to try include Banh mi (French-Asian filled baguette), Bun mam (fermented fish soup), Goi cuon (fresh spring rolls), Bo la lot (minced beef wrapped in wild betel leaf) and Banh tet (banana and sticky rice wrapped in banana leaf).
NEED TO KNOW Australian passport holders need a visa to enter Vietnam. Visitor visas are available for 30 or 90 days. You can apply by post or in person at the embassy in Canberra or at the consulate in Sydney. See vietnamembassy.org.au/Consular [vietnamembassy.org.au/Consular].
Royal Caribbean's 3286-passenger Voyager of the Seas was the first cruise ship to feature an ice-rink when it launched in 1999.
Burma coastal cruise
Pandaw's beautifully restored 1960s motoryacht MY Andaman Explorer started sailing around the Mergui Archipelago's 800 unexplored islands in November and now the company is offering four 10-night departures in November 2018 and January 2019, as well as the original seven-night itinerary from January to April 2018, October to December 2018 and beyond. Ports of call include Mawlamyine, Myeik and Dawei and little-known, deserted islands. MY Andaman Explorer is a 61-metre boutique vessel that accommodates up to 20 passengers in considerable style; one previous owner covered the floors in Carrara marble and fares cover a host of luxury inclusions. The new 'Burma Coastal Voyages' will depart from Myanmar's largest city, Yangon, and visits a number of different islands during the seven-night sailing. See pandaw.com
Azamara Club Cruises' third ship, the former Adonia, will be extensively refitted in famous Belfast shipyard Harland and Wolff and is due to start cruising on August 1. Like Azamara Journey and Azamara Quest, Azamara Pursuit is a 690-passenger R-class vessel and the refit will bring it in line with its recently updated sisters. "We're doing a lot of work, so the three sisters will look like three sisters," Azamara's chief executive Larry Pimentel said. Azamara Pursuit will sail to the Norwegian Fjords on its maiden voyage from Southampton and will meet up with Azamara Journey in Haugesund; it will then cruise to Iceland, the Mediterranean and South America. Together, the three ships will visit seven continents and 217 ports between August 3, 2018 and April 5, 2019. See azamaraclubcruises.com