The Rise and Fall of Royal Viking Line

RVL

In the continuation of our ‘The Rise and Fall of’ series we are looking at Royal Viking Line. This is probably one of the most loved cruise lines to have ever ceased to exist. The Norwegian Company was based in San Francisco, founded as a partnership of three Norwegian shipping lines the company’s brand name continues to be held in high esteem.

The company was the pinnacle of the cruise industry, its ships sailed the world on longer cruises to exciting destinations, it’s customers where the rich and famous. The companies on board product was of a high standard matched today by companies such as Seabourn and Oceania. Royal Viking Line was one of the pioneers of the upmarket cruise segment.

Each vessel was owned by one of the founding partners, with Royal Viking Star being delivered in 1972, followed by Royal Viking Sky in 1973 and finally Royal Viking Sea later the same year. The ships where almost identical except Royal Viking Star. Which was two feet shorter, had an on board chapel as well as small differences to lounges and the location of the library. The line prided itself on single seat dining. The restaurant had large windows, food then, as now, was an important part of the cruise product.

RVSKY

The fleet was very successful and soon looked to expand. Rather than add an additional ship they lengthened the original trio of ships, however this backfired on the line – whose customer base loved the intimacy and high levels of service on board.  So beginning in 1980 each of the ships was stretched by adding a 93-foot mid section. With this midsection came nine new penthouse suites, 200 more passengers and an increased dining room to retain single seat dining.

This improved the vessels from an economic viewpoint but the loyal clientele that Royal Viking had previously thrived on turned their back on the fleet – although I cant really see where they went, Seabourn, Renaissance, Crystal and Radisson Seven Seas where all a decade away from beginning operations – any suggestions are more than welcome!

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By 1984 the company had finally announced a new building, Royal Viking Sun was delivered in 1988, this ship was larger again than rest of the fleet, at 40,000 grt compared to the previous ships post stretch 28,0000 grt. Royal Viking Sun benefitted from many balcony cabins and really brought Royal Viking back to its high end roots.

Also during 1984 the company arranged a management buyout from the founding partners. Weeks before completion of the buyout the company was sold to Kloster Cruise, the parent company of NCL. Four years earlier NCL had wowed the industry by buying the France which had been in lay-up for several years and transforming her into the Norway. By far the largest cruise ship in the Caribbean, potentially the first ‘floating resort’.

As part of NCL the company suffered from the same problems as it parent company. NCL suffered from First Mover Disadvantage with the Norway as competitors launched new vessels which offered greater efficiencies and a better on board product during the 90’s. NCL quickly fell behind and would take over a decade to recover.

In 1990 the new parent company transferred Royal Viking Sea to sister premium brand Royal Cruise Line, where she took the name Royal Odyssey. Royal Viking Star moved to Norwegian as Westward, followed in 1991 by Royal Viking Sky as the Sunward. Sold the following year to Birka Line as Birka Queen, before being chartered to NCL in October 1992 resuming the name Sunward. Interestingly in 1993 she was chartered by Princess as Golden Princess.

To replace these ships Kloster acquired the last undelivered Seabourn triplet which became Royal Viking Queen in 1992 operating in direct competition with her Seabourn sisters. <See Here>. Royal Viking Queen and Royal Viking Sun would serve together for two years.

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In 1994 Kloster, NCL’s parent company, announced the disposal of the Royal Viking Brand and Royal Viking Sun to Cunard Line, who would continue to operate the vessel under the Cunard Royal Viking brand until 1999. Royal Viking Queen transferred to Kloster’s other premium cruise line, Royal Cruise Line, however as financial pressures continued this fleet was integrated into the NCL brand during 1996.

Cruising had changed significantly in the years that Royal Viking operated, with the introduction of Balconies being a main feature of a high end cruise product, the original trio of vessels were not designed with this in mind, However Royal Viking Sun as Prinsendam maintains a high end product, probably due to its forward thinking balcony focused design.. Under the ownership of Kloster the company lost more of its prestigious image as the company failed to adapt its mass market model to the market served by Royal Viking Line.

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The fleet of Royal Viking Line have subsequently had in interesting history –

Royal Viking Star served for NCL as Westward before later serving as Star Odyssey as part of Royal Cruise Line and eventually being sold to Fred Olsen on the closure of that Line. She is now known as Black Watch.

Royal Viking Sea was transferred to Royal Cruise Line as Royal Odyssey, where on that cruise lines closure she became a member of the Norweigian fleet and eventually sold to Pheonix, the German cruise line, as Albatros.

Royal Viking Sky has had the more complicated history out of the three sisters, serving first as Sunward then Birka Queen, Golden Princess, in 1996 Birka sold her to Star Cruises who operated her as Superstar Capricorn until her sale to Iberojet as Grand Latino, finally joining the Fred Olsen Fleet as Boudicca.

Royal Viking Sun was sold to Cunard by Kloster along with the Royal Viking Brand to Cunard Line. The ship operated very much the same but with a red funnel, upon the merger of Seabourn and Cunard, Royal Viking Sun became the Seabourn Sun after an extensive refurbishment, however that did not last long and had very quickly transferred to Holland America where she remains as Prinsendam.

Royal Viking Queen was transferred to Royal Cruise Line upon the closure of Royal Viking Line, becoming Queen Odyssey. Financial pressures at Kloster meant that the ship was sold to Seabourn becoming Seabourn Legend, now operating as Star Legend for Windstar Cruises. <See Here>.

vikingstar

In an interesting twist of fate senior leaders from Royal Viking Line, including its one time CEO Torstein Hagen formed Viking River cruises. Torstein Hagen was the CEO who had attempted to buy Royal Viking from the founding partners before it was snapped up by Kloster. Viking has grown significantly since and recently launched its Ocean Cruising arm with Viking Star, to be followed by Viking Sea and Viking Sky. Anyone notice the similarity here? So maybe Royal Viking is back.

I have to say of the several ‘The Rise and Fall of’ series I’ve done this was the hardest, the cruise line was well and truly loved. But it was also mismanaged, the decision to lengthen the ships causing the loss of its original market and the financial controls of indebted Kloster strangled the line. Hopefully it has been reborn as Viking Ocean Cruises.

Please share your memories of the line below –

Thanks & Regards,
Liam
Liam@Crociere.co.uk
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See the rest of the ‘The Rise & Fall of’ Series –
Premier Cruise LinesFestival CruisesRoyal Olympia CruisesRegency Cruises

25 thoughts on “The Rise and Fall of Royal Viking Line

      • Probably yes. Then again, Cunard’s now-owners Carnival are generally quite business-savvyy, it’s a bit surprising they haven’t ressurrected the brand. Considering how lamented the loss of RVL is, it would probably beeasy to re-establish it. Especially as the Carnival Corp. still own the former RV Sun.

    • That could be an idea. At least the high standard they have on Viking River Cruises part of the company would make it worthy carrying that name. On other hand it was THE Royal Viking Line, which was one of the 3 first that built 5 star + liners (the others PC and RCL) and maybe the name should be left in peace, once it already has been “buried”?

  1. The Royal Viking Sky has had a name that was not mentioned above. That would be “Hyundai Kumgang”, when she was chartered from Star Cruise to Hyundai for going between South and North Korea. So she got a name 9 times in all but has her 8th name at the moment. (She was twice called Sunward, Birka Queen just May-Sept 1992 in between.

  2. I think the loss ofcustomners because of lengthening is a bit of an urban legend. Passengers were probably disappointed by the less exclusive feel of the longer ships, yes, but whether or not this translated to major loss of passengers is questionable. Certainly the only line who could at the time match the RVL onboard product (on the English-speaking market) was Norwegian America Line, and they were struggling so much they ended up being bought by Cunard – not a sign of a company that suddenly gained a lot of passengers.

    One thing that undoubtedly had an effect on RVL’s difficulties were the financial difficulties of their owners. Det Bergenske Dampskibsselskab (Bergen Line) in particular were struggling (they were forced to sell both their share in Hurtigruten and the Norway-UK ferry services in the early 80s), and this undoubtedly made them both eager to sell RVL and resulted in RVL not getting as much financial support they would have needed. Also remember that the early 80s was the time of the second oil crisis, which affected cruise lines doing longer itineraries – RVL and NAL – in particular.

    • A lot of facts there that were new for me. The first part about the urban legend I think could be close to the truth.
      And maybe the 7-8 years during the 70’s these 5 star + liners had some golden years and after that there just happened to be a slight downturn in peoples interest in cruising? I think the ships had an exclusive atmosphere even after they were stretched, but maybe regulars like Burt Reynolds and Dolly Parton, on the Sky, thought different as you said…

  3. I started working for Kloster in 1988 as Mgr of Ship Systems and brought the Royal Viking Sun out of the shipyard. Then I had to retrofit systems into the original ships over 1989 – 1990. I loved the RVL product and those ships. I’m booking a cruise on Prinsendam next summer and hope to put a slide show together with photos from the building yard and inaugural cruise compared to present day decor from the same spots and angles if possible..

    My theory on the death of RVL as a viable product is that increasing capacity with the Sun was the final straw, and not enough ‘real’ RVL passengers were left because they were literally dying off! So the new NCL parent reduced fares to fill the ships, drawing more passengers who didn’t meet the RVL standards, driving away the few remaining ones. By the way, then NCL bought RCL and did the same exact mistakes over again and killed another premium product by over capacity with the same ships plus the Crown Odyssey. At the same time Carnival was reinventing the industry at the bottom end with larger and larger ships at lower and lower rates.

    I still like cruising, but find Silversea, Seabourn, and the few other real premium ships too expensive; while I don’t care for the massive mass market either. So I’ve been cruising on HAL which still looks classy onboard although the food quality is only average. The passenger count is much lower than almost all the others, which helps make it feel like higher quality at a price that’s competitive with NCL, Princess, RCCL, et al.

  4. Greetings Liam,
    Thank you so much for the great story.
    I lived RVL from 1977 to 1980 Entertainers, as the duo “The Avons then, I became a CD from 1980 through 1994. I love being part of the family.I was part of the team to bring out the Sky and the Sea from Bremehaven after being stretched,
    Then I was there for the “Sun” in Finland and the “Queen” in Bremerhaven.
    It was an incredible roller coaster but, with different Norwegian financial directors.
    When I realised that Kloster was going to take over the whole operation was when I knew it was time to move on, I had always been proud to belong to the first “5 star” cruise line and I would only follow that code, 1994 I accepted a second offer from Crystal to join the team for the new “Crystal Symphony”. The team consisted of ex RVL Captains and Staff.and had already been successful bring out the “Crystal Harmony”
    It was the new RVL with old RVL passengers, they had also moved over!

    Your story brings out the right story of the wrong decisions by too many different Norwegian Heads in turn lead to the demise of the company, not of the Crew or the Shoreside personal.
    A beautiful part of cruise history!
    Again thank you! Liam
    Ray Avon-Adams

    • Hi Ray,
      Saw your post while browsing the history of Royal Viking Line.
      I remember you very well. You were cruise director on the RV Sea while I was onboard as a bar keeper from December 1980 to June 1981. You always reminded me of the radio personality and DJ Paul Gambachini !!
      Great times and never to be forgotten. I was also on the Star and the Sky right up to late 1983. I was on board the Star when we took her out of Bremerhaven after stretching. She was the first ship to be lengthened and I always felt that the stretching was a marvellous innovation at the time and very revolutionary. The Star had an ambience and character all its own. No other ship in the fleet came near it for comradeship and fellowship between crew members, which in turn was reflected in the service we gave and affection we had for all our lovely passengers. I feel nothing but sadness now to see our beautiful ships being passed from pillar to post under dubious flags in recent years. I now live in Hobart and we have 200 cruise ships per year dock in our beautiful city. I still watch them with interest and reflect on my time with RVL each time a ship arrives and departs. But they are all hideous, monstrous cattle carriers full of tired, overworked and very frightened crew members who never know if they still have a job after they return from their meagre shore leave. What a sad reflection on an industry which used to be so exciting and was such a huge part of the lives of all of us who served on board the greatest ships that ever sailed.
      Godspeed !
      John Doolan.

    • Hi, Ray. Don’t know if Elaine is still around? I cruised RVL from 1977 to around 1989, Star, Sea, Sky and Sun. So many great memories, and so many great companions. Such a pity it didn’t go on longer. My eldest child was on-board the Star on his first cruise at three months old, when the ship’s carpenter made him a crib overnight, after sailing from Copenhagen, because they’d never had such a young passenger before (he’s 40 now, lol), and had no cribs on board! Being sent ashore from the Sun in 1988, on a rubbish barge when the Save The Children charity ‘bash’ wound down, and the ship was anchored in the middle of the Thames by Tower Bridge, was an experience too (especially as Viscount Linley {if I remember correctly} got a bed on-board, ‘cos he was too tipsy to leave), that I still smile about. You, and Elaine I think, were there that night. Memories …

      Old acquaintances may email (if allowed on here) andrew.baker14@btopenworld.com.

  5. Thank you for a fair assessment of this wonderful company and her original three lovely ships…As a Royal Viking Line Staff member aboard from 1985-1990, I can only say we went beyond service, beyond style and the ships beauty shone, beyond grace.
    It was truly a magnificent era, short or stretched, our R.V.L. Skald members (repeat passengers) couldn’t have been more loyal and loving to all of us as we were to them.
    So, on behalf of our professional and international management on shore, to our top notch Norwegian Captains, dynamic officers, International and highly trained galley and crew, shore excursion expertise, English beauty and European gift shops, fabulous entertainment and multi-diversified enrichment lecturers and the beauty and responsible Scandinavian stewardess’ – life on board the R.V.L. ships was a dream come true and fell completely in line with the exciting and breathtaking whims of our unique ports of call. Fall? Never! Anyone who experienced Royal Viking Line in some capacity came away with a experience of a lifetime and this of life’s enhancements can never die or fall, just pass on in time as we do here on the planet with wonderful, heartfelt and truly life-changing experiences. Here’s to R.V.L. and her creators! . Skol!

  6. i had been working for RVL and we, are still looking back for these great times working and serving on a ship( RV QUEEN & RV SUN) like these two, recently I went back to the sea, now for Crystal, where I met a few of my old Co workers……it had been some very passionate moments met people after 20 years time again…….I can tell you one thing and it is true, RV FAMILY stay always FAMILY………and a little bit I discover it again in CRYSTAL.
    Still I have my doubts that Viking Line can pic up what we all lost in the early 90, Time changed and that make it really difficult to recover an old DREAM ……….

  7. The so-call fact that passenger did not come back after the extension of the ship’s is not true – they did in fact keep coming back to the line. But as owners of the Royal Viking Sea had financial trouble resulting from ordering an oil carrier from a finnish shipyard which they finally had to pay.
    RCL was just a day away from buying the r v sea Wien the two other owners exercised greit right and bought the rvsea. Them a joint company was established. The company started the downton trend when it was bought by Kloster cruise.
    I had the pleasure of working with Royal Viking Line in the 1972 to 1987 period.

  8. I had the amazing honor of working for Royal Viking Cruise Line Skald Club division from 1988 to 1996 (when it was purchased by Cunard). Never before or since have I experienced such love and good will as I did with my fellow employers, co-workers and the wonderful and loyal Skald Club members. I was fortunate enough to periiodically escort the RVL Skald Cruises and met some of the most wonderful people on earth. What loyalty we had, what love we felt….both for our jobs as well as our passengers. I believe the bottom line is that Skald Club members (repeat passengers) sadly began to pass away. That, coupled with bad corporate decisions and changing times caused a beloved family to die. I was in my 30’s at the time and now, at almost 60 years old, I still cherish my years in that special place and magical era with my beloved Skalds. I will forever be thankful to have been a part of Royal Viking Line and our Skalds! Skol!

  9. I was just sent your web site and article. Very interesting! Especially for an ex RVL member. I was Blessed to have been the first RVL Entertainment Manager; working out of London/Oslo and SF; as the ships were being built. I was contracted by Warren Titus from Fred Olsen in 1972, at which time I was also performing on the BBC and working on the stage in the West End. For the first three years I worked out of our London/Oslo offices, then moved to SF. With all the “take overs” I ended up at Cunard in NY and Miami. The thirty years I was involved in the cruise industry was a “dream”. There were and are so many wonderful persons that I meet from staff to passengers. I ended marrying a beautiful Norwegian wife (past away early in life) and a wonderful son (living in Oslo). I could go on for hours speaking about the adventure RVL took us all on. Memories!!!

    • Worked at RVL from 1974 to 1987, both in San Francisco as well in Oslo.
      Responsible for all port calls as well as purchasing all bunkers worldwide.
      Did also made all the itineraries (sheduled)
      In the same period, did also travel quite intensivly inspecting ports and setting up embark/disemb of pax.
      Was also a member the R V Sun design
      Team, but has never been onboard the
      Vessel. Great place to work.

  10. A Serb from Belgrade. Waiter onboard Star, Sky and Sun. When chatting with former colleagues, we all share the same feeling:
    For auld lang syne, my dear,
    for auld lang syne,
    we’ll take a cup of kindness yet,
    for auld lang syne.

    However, chatting with myself, the tune slightly changes…
    Yesterday…
    All my troubles seemed so far away
    Now it looks as though they’re here to stay
    Oh, I believe in yesterday.

    What else to say… Words are not enough. And never will be. I do hope that somewhere, high above, possibly in heavens, it still can be heard – the departure theme:
    And she sails away
    like a french palais
    with the lords and ladies smiling…
    ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

    If someone remembers the rest, please, feel free to fill the blanks! 🎵⛴

  11. Pingback: The Rise & Fall of Renaissance Cruises «

  12. Was myself on this ship brought her out from the ship yart Wäärtsila in Helsinki 1972 on her Maiden Voyage throug the Norwegian Fjords,it was a lovely summer then. Bacame after Frank Tuchel left Executive Chef de Cuisine and have very nice memories of the time i was on this Ship. Left in 1974 in autom maybe someone who was on the Star at that time when I was there please contact me her in austria where i enjoi my redirement Years!

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