When Viking River Cruises wanted to expand its offerings on the Elbe River, the company encountered a problem: The river between Prague and Berlin is very shallow, making it nearly impossible for large riverboats to make the transit. The design team knew what they had to do: create a purpose-built ship that could navigate those waters and it did so with the invention of the "baby Longship," which is just about half the size of the 190-passenger Viking Longships. Viking Beyla is a baby Longship that accommodates 98 passengers but you won't find many other significant design differences. The ship's decor is still inspired by the cultures and history of the Nordic countries and that means the ship is sleek and stylish on the inside and out. Viking Beyla contains the fleet's signature Aquavit Terrace, which offers both indoor and outdoor dining as well as on-deck barbecues and the ship's sun deck has no lack of loungers, dining setups and shade courtesy of canvas awnings. It's the perfect perch from which to enjoy a bright and sunny day.
Of course, there are a few differences between a traditional Longship and the more diminutive "baby" versions. While Longships have three decks, Viking Beyla has two indoor decks. What this means is that passengers on the first level have large picture windows in their staterooms instead of the type set up high on the wall in comparable cabins on a Longship. Viking Beyla is also devoid of the aft Explorer category of suites. The lobby and atrium on the ship are also smaller but there was always plenty of space in the Observation Lounge during our cruise.
As a company that's always striving to remain on the cutting edge, Viking also instituted some technological innovations that most travelers won't notice but should. Due to the shallow depth of the Elbe River, the company added pump jets for propulsion and that's what allows them to sail when river levels are low. This system was implemented into Viking Beyla and sister ship Viking Astrild -- though older ships Viking Schumann and Viking Fontane that also sail the Elbe did not get these upgrades. The pump jets can't guarantee passage but should except in the most extreme cases of extended drought. What do these design changes really mean? Baby Longships can navigate at water levels as low as 84 centimeters. That's 10 centimeters less than the traditional Longships.
Viking also used lighter materials, like aluminum instead of steel, to improve the draft. Composite materials were used to replace heavier wood and steel and that means these ships use 20 to 30 percent less fuel.
When we sailed Viking Beyla, we noticed that its smaller size meant there's an even more intimate vibe onboard. The ship was a contemporary and comfortable home base as we explored beyond the riverbanks. The crew is well trained and friendly and fellow passengers were well traveled and convivial, making the trip a complete delight.
The traditional demographic for Viking River Cruises are well-traveled, 50+ men and women from North America as well as a few contingents from the U.K. and Australia, and that held true on our cruise on Viking Beyla.
Dress is casual by day with passengers wearing outfits that are comfortable for exploring both cities and the great outdoors. Comfortable -- and practical -- shoes are a must since you'll traverse many cobblestone paths and uneven surfaces throughout the itinerary. At night, country club casual rules the dress code. On all evenings aside from the Captain's Welcome, at which men wear jackets (suits and ties aren't necessary), men wore collared Polos, blazers and khakis while women stuck to cocktail-style ensembles.
Viking Prestige, which debuted in 2011, was Viking River Cruises' last new-build before it introduced its revolutionary Longship series in 2012. It has a lounge, dining room, library, a sun deck and cabins on three decks.
One of the original "Longships," Viking Aegir and its sister ships represent a new take on river hospitality, one in which a sleek, Scandinavian ambience is the antithesis of river's traditionally fusty vessels.