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Royal Viking to Undergo Sea Change


As the saying goes, there's good news and bad news. The good news is we came back recently from the most wonderful cruise we've taken in years, perhaps the best ever, a 14-day culinary extravaganza produced in cooperation with the Le Cordon Bleu cooking school in Paris aboard the 200-passenger Royal Viking Queen.

It was a perfect coalescence of interesting itinerary, outstanding cuisine, top-of-the-line service and a beautiful ship. In the two years since we were aboard its inaugural sailing, the Royal Viking Queen has developed into one of the finest three or four ships afloat.

The bad news is, we arrived in London to learn that at the end of this year the ship will cease operations under Royal Viking, leaving only a few more months remaining to enjoy what turned into the quintessential Royal Viking experience.

We sailed from Lisbon along the coast and rivers of France to London, pausing in Bordeaux.

For the last three days of the voyage, we sailed along the Thames into London to anchor alongside the Tower Bridge for the celebration of its 100th birthday.

But during our blissful days at sea, other negotiations were going on back in the Coral Gables, Fla., office of RVL and its parent company Kloster Cruise Ltd. that would determine the future for both the Queen and the line's 758-passenger flagship, Royal Viking Sun.

It's been an open secret for months that the two-ship Royal Viking Line was up for sale. Effective last June 30, Kloster sold the Royal Viking Sun to Cunard Line Ltd., along with the Royal Viking brand name and other company trademarks, for $170 million, plus potential payouts of another $5 million based on the ship's future performance.

The Royal Viking Queen, not included in the Cunard transaction, will sail on its scheduled itineraries with its present crew in place for the remainder of 1994. It will then be transferred to Kloster's Royal Cruise Line to become the Queen Odyssey on Jan. 1.

According to Adam Aron, president of both Royal Cruise Line and Norwegian Cruise Line, the two remaining cruise divisions of Kloster, the fare for the Queen Odyssey "will be roughly half of what it was on the Royal Viking Queen." (Based on published brochure prices on our cruise, the new fare would be around $440 a day per person, double occupancy.)

In acquiring the flagship and the brand name, Cunard is in effect the new owner of Royal Viking Line. Cunard's senior vice president of marketing Navin Sawhney says that Cunard Royal Viking will market the Royal Viking Sun, Sagafjord, Vistafjord and the two new Sea Goddess ships as an ultra-luxury brand name.

While Cunard and Royal Cruise Line are good companies in their own right, they'll have to work hard to maintain the exemplary standards set by Royal Viking Line during its 22 years at sea. In its best days, it was something to aspire to, and even in its second-best days, it was far better than most.

Meanwhile, Cunard's Sawhney says his line has no plans to change anything on the Sun, including its name. "The itineraries that we will operate in 1995 are as they are published in the RVL brochure. "

The next Le Cordon Bleu cruise scheduled is a November segment of the 50-day Southern Cross itinerary aboard the Royal Viking Sun, leaving San Francisco Nov. 2 and Los Angeles Nov. 3. For more information, contact a travel agent or call Royal Viking Line (through Sept. 30) at (800) 422-8000 or Cunard at (800) 221-4770.

Slater and Basch travel as guests of the cruise lines. Cruise Views appears the first and third week of every month.

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