First look: Viking Osiris, the stylish new Nile River ship from upscale line Viking

Editor’s note: TPG’s Gene Sloan accepted a free trip from Viking to attend a preview event this week for the line’s new Viking Osiris. The opinions expressed below are entirely his and weren’t subject to review by the line.

Call it a new era for cruises on the Nile.

This week’s unveiling of Viking Osiris — the new Egypt-based river ship from fast-growing Viking — marks a significant turning point for sailings on the river.

The 82-passenger vessel is, notably, elegant and upscale on a level that is rarely seen among river ships on the Nile. It’s also the first of what is likely to become a steady stream of new Viking vessels on the river that we suspect will come to dominate upscale Nile River cruising for Americans in the way that Viking vessels have come to dominate river cruising for Americans in Europe.

For more cruise guides, news and tips, sign up for TPG’s cruise newsletter.

Viking founder Torstein Hagen said at the ship’s unveiling Monday that three more sister vessels to Viking Osiris already were on order to debut on the river over the next three years, and he hinted that even more could be coming. If so, it would be classic Viking, which is known for going in big and fast when it decides to commit in earnest to a destination.

(Photo by Gene Sloan/The Points Guy)

Viking has been selling cruises on the Nile for quite a few years — since 2004. But Viking Osiris is the first Nile vessel specifically built to the line’s specifications. It’s also owned and operated by Viking. That’s unusual in a market where most Western lines charter local vessels for their trips.

In Viking’s eyes (and ours, too), that means Viking will be able to offer one of the most consistent products on the river. Unlike many other Western companies operating in Egypt, Viking will have complete control of the experience.

TPG is getting a sneak peek at Viking Osiris this week in advance of its first sailing with paying passengers Friday. Here, we take a closer look at what sets it apart from many of the other ships on the Nile, and what you can expect if you book a voyage on it.

Viking Osiris offers elegant, high-end rooms

Viking is billing Viking Osiris as the most luxurious vessel on the Nile, and from what I’m seeing this week, that’s no idle boast.

The ship features an entire deck of sprawling suites that rival anything else found on the river for luxury and comfort. Each comes with two full-size rooms — a large living room with a residential feel and an adjacent bedroom with a walk-in closet and bathroom. Each of the suites also has its own outdoor balcony with seating for two — something you don’t always see on Nile ships.

Two of the biggest suites have stunning glass walls that wrap around the front of the vessel.

Suites on Viking Osiris have comfortable living rooms with a residential feel. (Photo by Gene Sloan/The Points Guy)
Bedrooms in suites feature queen-size beds with luxury linens. (Photo by Gene Sloan/The Points Guy)

Not just the suites but every cabin on the ship is filled with high-end touches, such as luxury linens and pillows on beds, heated floors in bathrooms and roomy wardrobes with wooden hangers.

Suites on the ship are stocked with complimentary wine, beer and soft drinks that are replenished daily, and they come with such extras as complimentary laundry and shoeshine services.

Even the smallest cabins on Viking Osiris are generous in size, measuring 232 square feet. Suites range in size from 409 square feet to 529 square feet. Most cabins have balconies.

Suites feature walk-in closets. (Photo by Gene Sloan/The Points Guy)
Heated towel bars are among the luxury touches in Viking Osiris bathrooms. (Photo by Gene Sloan/The Points Guy)

Notably, all the cabins on Viking Osiris have the same clean-lined Scandinavian-influenced design that can be found on Viking vessels around the world. If you’ve stayed in a cabin on Viking river ships in Europe or its ocean ships deployed from North America to Asia, you’ll recognize the look immediately and feel right at home.

It’s a hallmark of Viking that all its vessels have a consistent feel, albeit with some variations from ship to ship that offer nods to where they sail. Along those lines, on Viking Osiris, cabins feature photographs taken in Egypt in the early 1900s by George Herbert, the 5th Earl of Carnarvon. The British lord was the benefactor and co-explorer of famous Egyptologist Howard Carter. Together they discovered the tomb of King Tutankhamun nearly 100 years ago.

Historic photos by the 5th Earl of Carnarvon can be found in Viking Osiris cabins. (Photo by Gene Sloan/The Points Guy)

Lord Carnarvon’s family has an unusual tie not just to Egypt but to Viking. The family was and still is the owner of Highclere Castle, the English country house that was the setting for the historical drama “Downton Abbey.” Viking rose to prominence as a cruise company in the past decade in part due to its well-timed sponsorship of “Downton Abbey” on PBS. Highclere Castle features in some of Viking’s tour programs.

Lord Carnarvon’s great-grandson, also named George Herbert and the 8th Earl of Carnarvon, notably is Viking Osiris’ “godfather” and named the ship in a ceremony in Luxor, Egypt.

It’s small and intimate

Viking Osiris is notably smaller than the typical Viking river vessel at just 236 feet in length. That’s about half the length of most Viking river ships in Europe. It’s also home to far fewer cabins — just 41 as compared to 95 for the typical Viking river ship.

The result is a vessel that is strikingly intimate, both in the onboard experience and the experience of touring on land — something that is its own type of luxury. When visiting such sites as the Valley of the Kings, the burial place of Egyptian pharaohs, passengers travel in small groups, with private guides, for an experience that — as I saw this week during several sample tours — feels very personal.

Viking Osiris has a similar look from the outside to Viking river ships in Europe but is about half as long. (Photo by Gene Sloan/The Points Guy)

As is typical on Viking river ships, cabins are stocked with Quietvox audio devices that passengers can carry with them to listen to guides during tours. But on outings from the ship this week to such historic sites as the temples of Karnak and Luxor, our group was so small that I didn’t even bother putting in the Quietvox earpiece most of the time. I could hear the guide just fine without it.

In addition, the tour buses that took us from the ship to the historic sites never were full, by design. There was plenty of room to spread out. Viking typically operates its buses in Egypt with just 25 or so passengers on board, far fewer than they can hold.

When sitting in the lounge listening to speakers, there was never a problem hearing what was being said or seeing the presentations.

But it still offers a lot

Viking Osiris may be smaller than the typical Viking river ship, but that doesn’t mean it feels cramped. In fact, it feels spacious, as there is a lot of space on a per-person basis. The ship offers an impressively wide array of public venues, spread over several interior and exterior decks, for a vessel designed with just 41 cabins.

Unlike on the waterways of Europe where Viking sails, there are no low bridges on the Nile that force the line to limit the ship’s height. As a result, it rises a deck higher than its European counterparts. It’s also nearly 20% wider than Viking’s typical European river ship, as it’s not constrained by the narrow locks found on European waterways. This allows for more spacious public venues.

The ship’s main lounge, called simply the Lounge, feels particularly roomy and offers commanding views of the Nile’s lush riverbanks through floor-to-ceiling glass walls.

The Lounge on Viking Osiris. (Photo by Gene Sloan/The Points Guy)
The Lounge has floor-to-ceiling glass walls in places, allowing for stunning views of the Nile. (Photo by Gene Sloan/The Points Guy)

The views are almost as grand from the main restaurant, which sits high on the ship and also features floor-to-ceiling glass walls. River ships in Europe, by contrast, typically have their restaurants buried at the waterline of the vessel, due to the limited space.

Viking Osiris designer Richard Riveire, who has designed all of Viking’s vessels around the world, cleverly realized that the best design for the side walls of the main lounge and dining room was to essentially give them no design at all — that is, to keep them as unadorned and open as possible with a wide expanse of clear glass. In short, his job, as he saw it, was to “get out of the way” so the beauty of the region could shine through. As a result, the light-greenish water of the Nile, the rich green papyrus and tall bamboolike grasses of the riverbanks, and the tan desert cliffs in the distance become the “art” and focal points of these spaces.

Floor-to-ceiling windows are a feature of the main dining room on Viking Osiris. (Photo by Gene Sloan/The Points Guy)

Unlike many Nile River ships, which are wrapped in dark or metallic glass to reflect the sun, and thus feel closed off to the splendors of the river, Viking Osiris allows the Nile in in all its glory. Viking has used a more expensive glass than is found on many Nile ships. It can keep out the heat without tinting — allowing for the best possible views. At times, it feels like you’re sailing down the river in a giant glass dome.

Viking Osiris also has a glass-enclosed version of the Aquavit Terrace found on many Viking vessels. Located at the top of the ship and meant for alfresco dining, it has glass walls facing each bank of the river that can open partway from the top down to allow a cross-breeze. The back wall of the venue also is a glass wall that can slide completely open.

A seating area in the Aquavit Terrace, where the glass walls open halfway from the top down. (Photo by Gene Sloan/The Points Guy)

The ship also has a swanky sun deck where you can kick back on shaded teak-and-cushion-covered chairs and sofas while enjoying 360-degree views of the Nile’s most famous treasures. Unconstrained by height limits, the deck is designed with an abundance of permanent seating areas and is a lovely space.

(Photo by Gene Sloan/The Points Guy)
Rocking chairs line the sides of Viking Osiris’ sun deck. (Photo by Gene Sloan/The Points Guy)

At the back of the ship, just beyond the Aquavit Terrace, is a narrow pool. This, too, has been specifically designed to maximize views of the river, with an in-pool bench that faces out over the ship’s wake.

(Photo by Gene Sloan/The Points Guy)
More lounge chairs are at the front of the top deck of Viking Osiris. (Photo by Gene Sloan/The Points Guy)

The pool area features plush loungers, more of which can be found toward the front of the ship’s top deck.

Viking Osiris boasts superb design

If you’ve been on Viking ships before, you’ll recognize the overall look of Viking Osiris. In a nod to the company’s heritage (Viking founder Torstein Hagen is Norwegian), the interior spaces of all Viking ships feature clean-lined, Scandinavian-influenced design and decor and a residential feel (Viking designers sometimes call it “residential modernism”). Viking Osiris is no exception.

The ship’s decor is all about simplicity and authenticity. You’ll find lots of light-wood walls; subdued blue, gray and brown fabrics; and modern furniture on Viking Osiris  — as you will on vessels across the Viking fleet.

But the ship also boasts a number of delightful design touches that tie specifically to its home on the Nile, some immediately noticeable and some so subtle that you probably won’t notice them without being told. Though, like all great design, even if you don’t consciously notice some of these touches, they’ll surely have an influence on how you feel while on board.

Passengers can see across Viking Osiris to the far bank of the Nile upon entering the ship. (Photo by Gene Sloan/The Points Guy)

One of the ship’s greatest design features of Viking Osiris is its atrium, which is the first thing you see upon walking onto the vessel in Luxor — its home base. Located at the center of the ship, the atrium is lined on both sides with glass walls, such that you are looking across the vessel as you enter it to the far bank of the Nile, which is home to the Valley of the Queens. You can see the lush greenery of the river’s edge and the desert landscape of the valley behind it framed in the window.

It’s a “wow” moment similar to what you get at the iconic “look-through” lobbies of resorts in Hawaii and some other tropical hideaways.

The ceiling of the atrium also is pierced with a pair of four-deck-high openings that rise to glass ceilings above, opening up the center of the ship. Four narrow, modern slabs of gray-brown Egyptian onyx rise along one side of these openings — a subtle nod to the four colossal statues of Egyptian Pharaoh Ramses II at the temple of Abu Simbel.

Unless someone explains the latter connection to you, you would never know it, of course. But the monumental nature of the slabs, and their vertical shape, is a design motif that is distinctly Egyptian. So are the wooden horizontal panels that cover parts of the railings between decks. They mimic the horizontal walls of Egyptian temples such as those at Karnak and Luxor.

Four tall slabs of gray-brown onyx rise from the atrium of Viking Osiris. (Photo by Gene Sloan/The Points Guy)

Other subtle ties to the local region worked into the modernist design of the ship include the geometric blue-on-blue wood “wallpaper” that descends along one wall of the stairway rising from the atrium, which brings to mind the geometry of Islamic design.

The soaring openings in the atrium also have the effect of creating little nooks to their sides on several decks. Filled with comfortable seating looking out to the banks of the Nile through glass walls, these seating nooks may be the best place to sit on the ship.

Other little nods that subconsciously remind you that you are in Egypt include a reed partition separating the pool area from the Aquavit Lounge on the pool deck, which evokes the reedy banks of the Nile. (There also are two papyrus plants on each side of the pool, another homage to the local landscape.)

A seating nook on Viking Osiris. (Photo by Gene Sloan/The Points Guy)
A line of reeds, which evokes the banks of the Nile, offsets the pool area on Viking Osiris. (Photo by Gene Sloan/The Points Guy)

Finally, like the ship’s cabins, the public areas throughout the ship are sprinkled with black-and-white photographs of Egypt taken by the 5th Earl of Carnarvon. These include images Lord Carnarvon took while excavating the tomb of Tutankhamen in the early 1900s but also many scenes of daily life in Egypt at the time.

Viking Osiris designer Riveire first saw the images when visiting the current earl of Carnarvon and his wife at Highclere Castle, where they were kept in a giant photo album. The Carnarvons agreed to allow the photos to be displayed on the ship — the only place in the world they currently can be seen by the public.

In a hidden surprise for passengers, Riveire has scattered four Carnarvon images from Egypt around the ship that contain the lord’s beloved dog, Susie. It’s meant as a bit of an Easter egg hunt for passengers to try to find them.

The ship’s lounge also is home to a wall of watercolors showing 1900s scenes from Egypt collected by Lord Carnarvon.

It’s mostly all-inclusive

The initial itineraries Viking Osiris is operating aren’t inexpensive. Eleven-night “Pharaohs and Pyramids” tours that include seven nights on the ship sailing the Nile and a four-night stay at a hotel in Cairo (three nights before the cruise and one night after) start at $5,299 per person, based on double occupancy. And that’s for the least desirable offseason month of August, when the temperatures in Egypt are very high. Sailings in prime months such as February and March, when temperatures in Egypt are cooler, start at $7,399 per person.

Still, as is typical for cruise lines at the high end, Viking is including a lot in its base price. In addition to a room on board and all meals, the fares include wine, beer and soft drinks with lunch and dinner; shipboard Wi-Fi; and — perhaps most notably — guided excursions in every port where the ship visits.

Geometric “wallpaper” made from thin wood veneer lines the side of the stairwell of Viking Osiris. (Photo by Gene Sloan/The Points Guy)

Indeed, a notable part of what you’ll be paying for on Viking Osiris is access to extremely knowledgeable Egypt experts who travel with you on the trip and explain the many ancient temples, tombs and other historic sites you’ll be seeing.

In a sign of the ship’s luxury level, it sails with a crew of 65 in all to serve a maximum of 82 passengers — an unusually high ratio of nearly 1-to-1.

Some higher-level cabins also come with complimentary laundry service and a premium beverage package.

Among the few extra charges passengers will encounter are a suggested $25-per-person daily gratuity for shipboard staff on days you’re on the ship. (Viking recommends a $10-per-day gratuity for Viking staff during the land portion of trips.)

Some special shore excursions, such as a balloon ride over the Valley of the Kings, come with an extra charge.

Bottom line

Viking Osiris is a lovely ship, and it’s likely to take a prominent place among the top vessels on the Nile River, along with its sister ships scheduled to debut over the next few years. Intimate, upscale and elegant, it brings Viking’s signature clean-lined, Scandinavian-influenced design to the waterway in a way that no Viking vessel has before.

TPG’s Gene Sloan is reporting live this week from Viking Osiris as it operates a short, non-revenue preview sailing for media in advance of its first voyage with paying passengers. You can find all of his dispatches on his author’s page.

Planning a cruise? Start with these stories:

The 5 most desirable cabin locations on any cruise ship
The 8 worst cabin locations on any cruise ship
A quick guide to the most popular cruise lines
21 tips and tricks that will make your cruise go smoothly
15 ways cruisers waste money
12 best cruises for people who never want to grow up
What to pack for your first cruise

Featured photo by Gene Sloan/The Points Guy.