Viking River Cruises’ extravagant christening ceremony in Amsterdam this week was notable for two reasons.

That fact they were naming four vessels at one time. And the fact that two weren’t there – they were still at the shipyard in Rostock, Germany, as they weren’t quite ready in time – so they had to be christened remotely.

The vessels in question were Viking’s new-generation Longships, which seriously raise the bar for the company in terms of style and features.

Six are coming out this year and a week before the naming ceremony on Wednesday, Viking announced another six to be built and launched in 2013. Then during the ceremony, Torstein Hagen, Viking’s chairman, revealed it is “highly probable” there will be another six in 2014.

OK, the Longships only hold 190 passengers so if they go for 18 they’ll still hold less than one of Royal Caribbean International’s Freedom-class ships, but rivers are much smaller than oceans so believe me, that is some growth.

The key difference between these Longships and other vessels in the Viking fleet are the balconies.

They are the first Viking vessels in Europe to have full-size balconies – a change that has been achieved by moving the corridor on the top deck slightly of centre and swivelling the cabins on one side by 90 degrees and turning them into two-room suites.

But there is more that makes these vessels a real step up for Viking, including the buffet at the front of the lounge (pictured left) – it is a great innovation as it’s indoor on cold days, outdoor when the sun is shining – and the two spacious Explorer cabins (pictured below) at the back of the ship.

The minimalist Scandinavian design gives a feeling of space. And there are some neat touches in the cabins and suites – under-floor heating in the bathrooms, a huge TV screen with built-in movies and a record library and a safe that is big enough for laptop and a super-comfy bed.

Not that it was all good. They have locked the shower switch so it can’t go above 38 degrees which was too cold for me and many others. And the lack of English tea-bags caused such outrage among the Brits that Viking had to dispatch someone to a local supermarket with an order for black tea.

They won’t make that mistake in a hurry again!

The Cruise Show at London’s Olympia this weekend, March 24 and 25, promises to be the best yet so I hope you have all got your tickets lined up for the event.

There’s so much happening over the two days, including talks by award-winning cameraman Doug Allan, whose work was seen on the highly-acclaimed BBC TV show Frozen Planet, and a new World of Travel feature, with experts on hand to explain how you can enhance your cruise by adding land-based tours, rail journeys, safaris and more.

The show, now in its fourth year, will have an exhibition of photographs documenting the British Antarctic Expedition from 1910-1913, to mark 100 years since Captain Scott’s expedition to the South Pole.

There’ll also be half-day photography seminars on Saturday and Sunday (£55 each or £90 for both days), organised with Wanderlust magazine, when professional photographers will offer guidance on how to improve your holiday pictures.

More than 70 companies from the world of cruising and travel will be at the show, including big and small cruise lines, ones that offer the ultimate in luxurious living, others for the budget-conscious and of course river cruise companies. You’ll find a list of exhibitors by clicking here.

A day here is the easy way to find out all about cruises in the Caribbean or Mediterranean, voyages to the poles or around the Galapagos, cultural cruising and so much more.

New exhibitors include Rocky Mountaineer, the sightseeing train through the Canadian Rockies, Antarctica XXI, which has fly-cruise holidays in the White Continent, and Zambezi Queen, sailing the Chobe River between Namibia and Botswana.

I’ll be in the Ask the Experts theatre, offering advice, hints and tips along with fellow cruise specialist Jonathan Beaumont, from the Travel Channel.

Do come along and listen to our panel discussions – these are on everything from what to expect from your first cruise to what to do on those precious days ashore. You’ll find a full timetable by clicking here.

The show is open from 10am to 5pm on Saturday and 10am to 4pm on Sunday.

I look forward to meeting you.

Viking River Cruises’ new voyages on the Douro in Portugal are filling fast even though they only went on sale on Monday.

More proof that river cruising is going through the roof!

Viking makes its Douro debut next year, offering a nine-night itinerary that combines two nights in Lisbon, the capital of Portugal, with a seven-night cruise sailing roundtrip from Porto to Barca d’Alva in Spain, for excursions to Salamanca.

The cruises are on the 124-passenger Viking Douro, which is owned and operated by Portuguese company Douro Azul and is sailing this year for Uniworld River Cruises under the name Douro Spirit.

Uniworld tells me they are building a vessel to replace the Douro Spirit. They’ve promised to send me details of the new build so I’ll let you know more when I hear anything.

The Douro Spirit, soon to be Viking Douro, has 59 cabins with French balconies and three junior suites. There’s a pool and jacuzzi on the sun deck.

Viking’s first Douro cruise is on March 22 2013, when prices start from £1,695 per person (the cheapest cabins have already sold out) including flights and transfers, full-board on the cruise, bed-and-breakfast accommodation in Lisbon, shore excursions, and wine beer and soft drinks with lunch and dinner.

One of the highlights of my Canal du Midi cruise on Anjodi, right, a hotel barge owned by European Waterways, last October was coming down the Fonserannes staircase (pictured left).

That’s a series of seven locks, one after the other, just outside Beziere. It took Anjodi 40 minutes to get down it.

New for 2012. European Waterways has something else that’s novel – a cruise that uses Europe’s only boat elevator, in France, to get from the Canal de la Marne au Rhin to the Canal de la Sarre and vice-versa.

The cruise is on Panache, a 12-passenger hotel barge the company bought at the end of last year. It’ll be sailing Tulip Cruises in Holland in spring, before relocating to France, to sail six-night itineraries between Strasbourg and Mittersheim.

The boat elevator, at Arzviller, was built in 1969 to replace 17 locks.

My previous blog listed the ocean-going ships launching this year. Now, as promised, here’s what river cruisers can look forward to in 2012, when 12 new river cruise boats are entering service.

UNIWORLD – RIVER SAIGON Launches: January 15. Sailing: The Mekong River between Siem Reap and Ho Chi Minh City. Capacity: 60 passengers. Look out for: Colonial-style vessel with balcony cabins, a sun deck, lounge with library, dining room and massage room.

VIKING RIVER CRUISES – VIKING FREYA, VIKING IDUN, VIKING NJORD, VIKING ODIN, VIKING EMBLA AND VIKING AEGIR Launches: Four on March 21, others TBC. Sailing: The Rhine (Freya), Rhine/Danube (Idun/Njord/Aegir), Danube (Odin/Embla). Capacity: 190 passengers. Look out for: Large Explorer Suites with wraparound balconies, Veranda Suites with two rooms and a full-size veranda, a lounge with retractable floor-to-ceiling glass doors, al-fresco dining, an organic herb garden.

AMAWATERWAYS – AMACERTO Launches: April 12. Sailing: The Danube. Capacity: 164 passengers. Look out for: Suites with balconies that are half outside and half inside the room, a heated swimming pool with a swim-up bar and a Chef’s Table Restaurant serving a tasting menu.

SCENIC TOURS – SCENIC CRYSTAL Launches: April 25. Sailing: Rhine/Danube. Capacity: 174 passengers. Look out for: Outside balconies with hydraulic windows that “weatherproof” the veranda, a gym, suites with butler service, Portobello’s no-charge Italian speciality restaurant.

AVALON WATERWAYS – AVALON VISTA AND AVALON VISIONARY Launches: May 11. Sailing: The Danube (Vista) and Rhine (Visionary). Capacity: 128 passengers (Vista), 166 passengers (Visionary). Look out for: Two decks of suites with wall-to-wall glass windows that open two-thirds the width of the room, creating in-room balconies.

AVALON WATERWAYS – AVALON ANGKOR Launches: September. Sailing: The Mekong River between Siem Reap and Ho Chi Minh City. Capacity: 32 passengers. Look out for: Intimate vessel in colonial style with elegant balcony cabins, a sun deck, dining room and a library.

Colin Ellison, from Rochdale, has beaten 800 other Viking River Cruises’ passengers to take first prize in the company’s photo competition. His picture of Monet’s Garden, shown here, was taken while on Viking’s Paris and the Heart of Normandy cruise on the Seine, which includes an excursion to the home and  gardens of Claude Monet. Colin wins a £200 voucher to spend at Jessops, the photography store, and the knowledge that his picture is hanging in Viking chairman Torstein Hagen’s office.

Viking River Cruises’ chairman Torstein Hagen is going back to his roots and launching an ocean-going cruise line.

French shipyard STX Europe has received an order to build two cruise ships from Viking Ocean Cruises, an “affiliate” of Viking River Cruises, with an option on a third ship being considered.

To be delivered in spring 2014 and spring 2015, the two vessels will each have capacity for 888 passengers in 444 cabins. They will also have 444 crew.

They will sail in the Mediterranean for Viking’s English-speaking American, British and Australian customers.

Work on the first ship is expected to start in September 2012 and in mid-September 2013 for the second. The order is subject to financing.

Hagen was chief executive officer of the now defunct Royal Viking Line in the 1980s and started Viking River Cruises in 1997. I was told he was making no comment about the new venture when I tried to find out more.

Where are they now?

Royal Viking Line was dissolved in 1994 when the then owner, Kloster Cruise, was declared bankrupt, but its ships are still going strong.

Royal Viking Star is now Fred Olsen’s Black Watch. Royal Viking Sky is Fred Olsen’s Boudicca. Royal Viking Sun is Holland America Line’s Prinsendam. Royal Viking Queen is Seabourn’s Seabourn Legend. Royal Viking Sea is sailing for the German market on long-term charter to Phoenix-Reisen under the name Albatros.

Demand for river cruising is going through the roof – so what a perfect time for river cruise specialist Amadeus to go on sale in the UK.

Owned by Austria’s Lüftner Cruises, Amadeus operates 10 very modern, very stylish-looking vessels in Europe, sailing the Rhine, Danube, Rhône and Saône that in fairness Brits have been able to book before.

The difference now is that their cruises are on sale in pounds sterling, priced either cruise-only or packaged with flights thanks to a new venture between Perl River Cruises, which has been appointed their authorised UK sales agent, and London-based tour company B away.

Their new website is still being developed, but there are already lots of cruises featured so why not go and see what’s on offer for 2012 or call B away on 0333 444 3011 for more information.

AmaWaterways is celebrating its 10th birthday next year by launching safari cruises in Africa.

Ideal for those who have been there, done that on Europe’s rivers, the cruises are on the 28-passenger Zambezi Queen, a chic-looking vessel with 14 balcony cabins with floor-to-ceiling windows so you can look out for passing wildlife while lying in bed!

The river cruise specialist is offering three itineraries that combine time in Africa with four-nights on the Chobe River, which borders Namibia and Botswana.

* A 16-night Stars of Africa holiday spends three nights in Cape Town, three nights in Kruger National Park, a night in Johannesburg, four nights on the cruise, and two nights at Victoria Falls.

* A 16-day African Sunsets holiday spends three nights in Cape Town, two nights in the Okavango Delta, two nights in Savute, four nights on the cruise and two nights at Victoria Falls.

* A 19-day Golden Trails of Africa holiday spends a night in Nairobi, eight nights at game reserves in Amboseli, Lake Manyara, Ngorongoro and Serengeti, a night in Jo’burg, four nights on the cruise and two nights in Victoria Falls.

At the moment the cruises only feature on the US website priced in dollars but you can still book, especially as the fares are cruise-only. Presumably they will eventually appear on the UK site in sterling.

It seemed as if the whole of Birmingham turned out for the Cruise Show last weekend.

When I arrived soon after 10am, the show was already buzzing – as these pictures show – and the doors had only just opened.

Cruise lines had a fantastic day, meeting past passengers, advising visitors  and taking bookings galore – there were several big transactions but P&O Cruises took the prize for the highest-value bookings, with not one, but two world cruise reservations worth £25,000 each.

The new-to-cruise panels I took part in on Saturday and Sunday were packed with cruise virgins keen to find out as much as possible about a holiday at sea. Dress codes, facilities for disabled passengers and just what is included in the price.

Audiences also wanted to know about river cruises and the best ships for single travellers and families, including babes in arms, and the benefits – and drawbacks – of cruising from the UK.

Happily I was able to help with all these questions and many more besides.

So now the countdown to the next London show begins. It’s at Olympia on March 24-24. Be sure to get a ticket and come along.