by Chris Owen
Cruise travelers who are turned off by thebig ship ocean cruising experience or just want to try something different, increasingly turn to a river cruise. On tiny ships, they ply the waters of European rivers, sailing directly to iconic destinations. Viking River Cruises is a major player in that arena and is quite successful at what they do. With other cruise lines, that success would be a win and they would continue to do what they do best. Vikings, however, look at that sort of thing a bit differently. As in ancient times, the Vikings of today are charged with exploring new worlds. Viking River Cruises intends to do just that, sailing new ships that will be custom built to redefine ocean cruising.
At a gala event at the Beverly Hilton Hotel, Viking River Cruises effectively became Viking Cruises and split off into a company with two distinct focuses.Viking Rivers will continue to sail their popular longships with a rapidly expanding fleet. Viking Oceans will build a fleet of ocean-going ships that will begin with a new 928-passenger ocean liner, Viking Star. The new ship will set sail in 2015 visiting ports of call around the perimeter of Europe that river cruise ships can’t get to.
“There is a hole in the market somebody should fill,” said Viking chairman Torstein Hagen at the same Beverly Hills venue used for the Golden Globe awards. “I feel we invented modern river cruising. Now I hope we can revive the destination part of ocean cruising.”
To do that, Viking Star will begin with a choice of three summer European itineraries. All sailings will begin and end with overnights in the first and last ports on the itinerary. That’s a significant difference to most other lines that board passengers at the first port then sail away a few hours later. On the backside, the last port on other cruise lines is most often never seen by passengers except on the way to the airport. Viking Star will sail to the last port, stay overnight then disembark passengers the next day. Ports between the beginning and end will have more flexibility too as Viking Star will stay there longer, often allowing passengers to experience nightlife, something other lines never allow to happen.
Still, the elements of the Viking Oceans experience takes what Viking does onrivers, applies it to the ocean then promises to set a new standard for ocean cruising that is new, fresh and significantly different.
Considering only the all-balcony stateroom feature of new Viking Star (starting at a generous 270 square feet) other ocean-going ships of similar size will be put on notice: The Vikings are coming.
But roomy places to sleep are just one feature of Viking Star, the first of two ships on order with a third possible. Viking Oceans will take the lessons learned on their popular river cruise “longships” and apply that same school of thought to ocean cruising, something they have little history with, creating an entirely different and unique choice for cruise travelers.
Unique to Viking’s ocean cruise experience are a number of included features that commonly cost
extra on other cruise lines-
- Shore excursions, a hallmark of the Viking river experience are complementary
- Free WiFi, all the time for all passengers, in all areas of the ship
- All staterooms will have not queen, but king-sized beds
- Bathrooms will feature a generous 12 sq ft shower
- Beer, wine and soft drinks are included with meals
- Specialty restaurant options (an Italian grill and Chef’s table), normally an extra charge on other lines, are free
Going head to head with other cruise lines, Viking’s ocean ships will compete favorably, offering options that often exceed what other lines are doing right now-
- Optional stateroom categories include 338 sq ft Penthouse Verandas, 405 sq ft Penthouse Junior Suites, Explorer Suites that range between 757 and 1,163 sq ft and a 1,448 sq ft Owners Suite
- Two small cinemas
- A main pool with retractable roof
- A sauna crafted with Nordic inspiration that features a ‘snow’ room
- The main dining room’s floor to ceiling windows will have the ability to slide open, offering an al fresco dining experience
But a Viking Oceans cruise is not for everyone, and that is exactly the way they want it. “I want people like me,” said 70-something Hagen, describing their target passenger as 55+ years old, English-speaking, well educated, affluent, curious and active and interested in history, culture and music.
But take the ’55+’ out of that equation and the Viking Oceans experience could indeed be a good fit for a great many more travelers. What they do could be a totally viable option for travelers who have never cruised, turned off by the idea of a big ship, floating hotel travel experience. Viking Star will have no children’s programming, no cabins that will hold more than two guests, no amusement park-like rides, no casino, no giant fitness center and no bar on every street corner.
What Viking Oceans does have is a continuation of Hagen’s philosophy that what other lines do as a “drinking man’s cruise”, Viking does as a “thinking man’s cruise”, now on not just rivers, but the oceans of the world too.