From a monster to a giant: Family-run river ship company Scylla celebrates 50 years with spectacular light show on the Danube

Laser river: The finale of the light show on the Danube (video: Dave Monk)

A Swiss shipping company that was named after a sea monster has celebrated its 50th anniversary with a spectacular light show on the Danube.

Although little known to the passengers who use its ships, Scylla has become a giant operator on European rivers, owning more than 40 vessels chartered by lines such as Phoenix, Nicko, Tauck and Riviera Travel.

Hands on: André Reitsma in the early years (Picture: Scylla)

During its golden anniversary voyage, specially invited guests on Scylla’s newest ship, Viva Two, watched as lasers strobed the sky to music while the company’s logo and slogan ‘Quality, our passion’ were projected on to the walls of Devin Castle in Bratislava.

It was the culmination of two days of celebrations including a gala dinner and operatic entertainment while the ship was still moored in Vienna, Austria.

Young starters: Even as boys, Arno and Robert Reitsma were involved (Picture: Scylla)

Brothers Arno and Robert Reitsma spoke of how their parents, André and Martha, set up the company in 1973 after the sailor-eating sea monster Scylla (pronounced Skill-er).

Asked why his family chose the name of a supernatural female with 12 feet and six heads, with her loins girdled by the heads of baying dogs, Robert replied: ‘They thought let’s find a name out of Greek mythology. My mother came up with Scylla, looking at the beautiful sea nymph, and said OK, that’s a nice name. When the first guests arrived on the ship, they told her it’s also a six-headed monster. Anyway, they liked the name and carried on with it.’

Proud: Brothers Robert and Arno Reitsma (Picture: Scylla)

Robert told how he grew up on one of the early ships until the age of six, describing the stewardesses who then made up the crew as his ’40 mothers’ and passengers as being like his grandparents. ‘They were fun times for me,’ Robert said. Arno agreed, adding: ‘It was very special.’

Their parents ran a cargo company before going into passenger cruising. The Reitsmas now employ 2,500 crew – ‘they’re part of our family’ – and operate ships on rivers including the Rhine, Danube, Douro, Seine, Rhône and Saône.

Loyal crew: The company’s first ship, Scylla (Picture: Scylla)

Scylla decided to launch its own brand, Viva Cruises, in 2018, allowing the family to carry on its passion of trying out new concepts. ‘We could really do whatever we wanted, we had a big playground to experiment,’ said Arno. ‘It’s a great addition to what we do, it’s our showcase product, we can demonstrate to everyone what we are capable of in ship design, in service, in different restaurant concepts and so on. We’re very proud of it.’

The line’s third ship, Viva Enjoy, is due to launch in September 2024.

Modern times: The company’s latest riverboat, Viva Two (Picture: Dave Monk)

Asked what lies ahead, Robert replied: ‘Sustainability is the thing everyone looks for in the future. If you want to survive for the next generation you have to go zero-emission. A sustainable business is doing business for the long run.’

He added: ‘My dream for the company is to keep on innovating on service, on rivers, on ships and therefore keeping up with all the changing demands of our guests and staying ahead of the competition.’

Arno said: ‘I want to keep on making sure our guests are as happy as possible, giving them a great vacation on our vessels and also going to some new rivers in Europe or maybe outside. And being prepared for the next 50 years…’

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