Subscribe now to our new Travel newsletter!
”I have never been a godmother to a god before!” Joanna Lumley said at the christening of the Viking Odin longship in Amsterdam.
Four longships - Odin, Idun, Freya and Njord, named after Norse gods and full of innovations - were launched simultaneously in March. By the end of this year there will be six sailing Europe’s waterways, and six more in 2013.
It is a 21st Century Viking invasion. When all the vessels are complete, the company’s global fleet will number 31 boats. So what makes these new-generation vessels so special? To find out, I stayed on Viking Odin.
In a modern take on the dragon heads of the old Norse ships, it has a fearsome face - headlamps for eyes and a prow fashioned like a downward-pointing beak.
From the dock, it looks more glass than steel. Stepping aboard into the atrium, two decks high, I was struck by the light streaming in from the glass ceiling and sliding doors, through the open-tread central stairs and bouncing off the chrome fittings and shiny marble floor.
At the bow on the upper deck, there is clever use of glass again. The outdoor front half of the Aquavit Terrace has glass side panels that offer shelter from the wind without spoiling the view. The glass-roofed other half has glass walls that can be retracted to give it an outdoor feel on fine days, and enclose it like a conservatory on cool ones. Throughout, the decor is contemporary Scandinavian.
Viking also offers cabins with full balconies on the two higher guest decks - and seven two-room suites. At the stern, the two Explorer suites are said to be the biggest on any river cruiser in Europe, and also boast wraparound balconies.
All cabins have huge flatscreen TVs pre-loaded with dozens of movies and ten TV channels - though not, alas, the BBC - and all the bathrooms have underfloor heating, keeping them nice and toasty on a fresh spring morning. Odin’s green credentials include solar panels on the sun deck. Out of sight are energy-efficient hybrid engines, their vibration-reducing benefits becoming apparent on a smooth dinner-time cruise.
Viking also offers a range of very civilised group excursions. And thanks to individual “Quiet Vox” transmitters, you can hear the guide without feeling yelled at and keep up with the commentary if you slope off into a shop.
I joined a half-day tour of Amsterdam’s historic Jewish quarter. It started a few steps from Odin’s berth when we boarded a canal boat for a delightful 40-minute cruise.
With the glass roof open on a sunny day, we pottered through the concentric semi-circles of canals built in the 17th Century around the medieval centre, past the Anne Frank house and Westerkerk, where Rembrandt is buried. Anne wrote in her diary that she found comfort in seeing its clock tower from the attic where she and her family hid from the Nazis for two years.
Mooring at the canal side of Gassan diamond factory, we took a crafty short cut and crossed to the 17th Century Portuguese synagogue. Miraculously, the interior of the Baroque building survived the Nazi occupation, its antique wooden seating and brass chandeliers remaining intact.
Opposite is the Jewish Historical Museum, including a vibrant children’s museum created from four derelict synagogues linked by walkways. Historic objects and artworks trace the remarkable history of Amsterdam’s Jewish community from medieval times to the present.
Back on board Odin, it was time to soak up the last of the sun on the Aquavit Terrace with a cocktail before dinner.
Viking River Cruises (020 8780 7995, vikingrivercruises.co.uk) offers eight-night Rhine Discovery tours from Amsterdam to Basel aboard the Viking Forseti longship, identical to Viking Odin. For departures in 2013, it costs from £895 (about R10 700) per person including return flights from London, full-board accommodation and excursions. - Mail on Sunday