Viking River Cruises said Tuesday it plans on spending $250 million to build eight new ships and do two refurbishments over the next three years.

The eight new vessels would bring the total number of ships operated by Viking to 26, an increase in capacity of more than 40%.

The first new ship, Viking Prestige, will launch in Europe in 2011. Additionally, the new Viking Emerald will replace the Viking Century Sun on China’s Yangtze River in 2011. Three more vessels in Europe will follow in 2012, then four in 2013.

VikingLegend“We believe that river cruising is still in its infancy and has tremendous growth potential. Our fleet plans will benefit the industry as a whole, by increasing supply in a marketplace in which demand is exceeding available inventory,” Torstein Hagen, chairman of Viking, said in a statement.

Richard Marnell, senior vice president of marketing at Viking, said the company is running at about a 97% load factor for 2010.

The 189-passenger Viking Prestige will be a sister ship to the Viking Legend, which launched last fall. The ship will feature some of the same green features, such as a hybrid propulsion system. It will also feature French balconies on the top two decks.

The Prestige will sail Viking’s eight-day Romantic Danube itinerary from Budapest, Hungary, to Nuremberg, Germany.

The Prestige is being designed by Norwegian maritime architects Yran & Storbraaten, and will be built by the Neptun Shipyard in Rostock, Germany.

The 264-passenger Viking Emerald will feature 840-square-foot presidential suites with separate sitting and sleeping areas, two flat-screen televisions, panoramic windows and private wrap-around balconies.

The 269-square-foot staterooms will have hotel-style beds and private balconies.

In addition to the new ships, Viking plans on completely refurbishing the Viking Pakhomov in Russia, which will undergo a bow-to-stern renovation like those of its sister ships, Viking Surkov and Viking Kirov, relaunched in 2008 and 2009, respectively.

The Pakhomov will feature hotel-style beds and flat-panel televisions. Public areas such as the restaurant, lounges, library and bar will be completely remodeled.

In Europe, Viking Schumann, a ship purpose-built for the Elbe River with a shallow draft, will receive bow-to-stern refurbishments this year, matching those of sister ship Viking Fontane.

All public areas, including the restaurant, bar and lounge, will be refurbished. Additionally, eight 180-square-foot deluxe staterooms will be created on the upper deck.

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