Viking’s four new Longships have raised the bar when it comes to river cruising, writes Adam Coulter.

Viking longships review with Joanna Lumley as godmother

When you’ve secured the services of the team responsible for designing Seabourn’s newest vessels, then expectations will inevitably be high. And Viking’s new Longships do not disappoint. Four of the sleek, stylish vessels were launched in a dazzling ceremony in Amsterdam in March (technically two were launched; the other two were still in the yard in Rostock but Viking set up a live feed for a near-simultaneous christening).

Joanna Lumley was one of the four godmothers to the ships: and what an ideal choice. Ms Lumley waxed lyrical about the vessels in her speech following the christening, referring to “my Odin” when asked what ship she would next like to travel on.

A fifth ship will join the fleet in June and a sixth in August. Six more will be delivered in 2013 and there is an option for a further six in 2014, taking the fleet size to 35 from just four 15 years ago. It’s astonishing growth for what was just a tiny player in a busy market. But as with all ‘upstarts’, they aimed to shake up the status quo, and so Viking has done with these new ships. Any vestiges of river boats being fusty or outdated have been summarily dispatched in a triumph of design and understated luxury.

Viking River Cruises Longships with Godmother Joanne Lumley

The first thing you notice when you board is the amount of space, which is vast for a river vessel. If you’ve been on Seabourn you’ll notice the signature design traits immediately: the restrained colour palette of ochre and taupe, the use of glass and slim columns and the dazzling use of light. A chandelier hangs from the ceiling over a double-height lobby inlaid with marble and slabs of silver blocks. The result is extraordinary, with a mezzanine/balcony similar in style to a boutique hotel: all chromes and whites and subtle lighting.

The lower level comprises the reception and the small shop. The upper level has a small library area and opposite it an internet station, with two computers.

On the most recent ships, there is a really lovely library area at the back. This is the compromise with the new ships – this area has been given over entirely to the new Explorer suites.

There are two of these suites, which take up the whole of the back of the ship. On the opposite side of the corridor are the regular cabins, all with good-sized verandas and ample storage space. To allow for the suites flanking one side, the designers moved the corridor from the middle of the ship to a full metre and a half off centre, so the suites are long and thin and the regular cabins are square.

Viking River Cruises Longships with Joanna Lumley as GodmotherA real standout of the new ships is the Aquavit Terrace, which is effectively an extension of the lounge. Here on warm days you can have breakfast or a light lunch outside and watch the countryside rolling by. The terrace is a lovely touch, glass-doored for when it’s chilly, which can be rolled back to make the lounge even bigger. It’s dotted with dining tables and comfy sofas, making it a great spot to relax. The lounge is large, with a horse shoe-shaped bar at one end, and floor-to-ceiling windows.

Directly below is the main restaurant, where the food is exceptional. We were treated two dinners on board which were outstanding: prawn cocktail, lobster bisque and sea bream, as well as reindeer steak and numerous decadent chocolate desserts. The herbs to accompany each dish come from the herb garden on the top deck, which is not just for show – I saw one of the chefs pop up there before lunch.

All in all, these ships deliver on every level – the only problem you’ll have is getting on one – their entire first season is sold out already, according to chairman Torstein Hagen. Hagen, a nuclear physicist by trade, has described the Longships as a “quantum leap” in terms of riverboat design. He’s absolutely right.

Read what Joanna Lumley had to say about the Viking Longships.