The Aft Infinity Pool on Viking Star
In 2012 Viking River, the top river cruise line in Europe, announced it is also getting into ocean cruising and was ordering two new cruise ships, each capable of carrying 928 passengers, with the first to debut in 2015.
This week the company announced they were ordering two more ships and that all four would be sailing by 2017. The ships will feature included beverages, internet access while in port (daily) and shore excursions in the cruise fare. The ships are being built by a division of Fincantieri in Italy.
Viking River was started by a consortium of Dutch and Swiss financiers, coordinated by a former Norwegian who was instrumental in starting Royal Viking Line cruise ships. In fact, for those who remember Royal Viking ships the resemblance in the decor is unmistakable. With that kind of pedigree, excellence is to be expected, and it is delivered. See the Picture Album
The Background Story
Just last May 2013 we heard about the new ocean-going cruise division of Viking River Cruises now known as “Viking Cruises.” The ocean-going branch of the business has just put its first cruise season on sale, and the prices appear to be quite attractive – so much that the first year id already almost completely sold out (it only took a couple of weeks).
Why is this new cruise line so popular already? Because of what is offered on board. This makes them vastly more inclusive than most sea-going cruises. And that is what we love about this new concept.
Viking Star - the Most Inclusive Cruise Ship Yet
When Tor Hagen unveiled the Viking Star cruise ship plan at the Beverly Hilton last May he showed us what will qualify as the most "all-inclusive" cruise ship yet. Here is what will be included on the Viking Star cruise ship:
More Time in Port. Cruises itineraries of nine to 15 days have already been calculated to average more time in more ports per cruise than any current cruise line. There will be at least three overnight stays on each cruise and never more than one day at sea.
Free Shore Excursions. Every port of call will include a complimentary shore excursion for each guest - with people put into smaller groups with separate guides. Additional "premium" tours, such as visits to the Hermitage Museum at night, will also be available at a surcharge.
Complimentary Beverages. The ship will also offer complimentary wine, beer and soft drinks at no charge during the lunch and dinner hours and special coffees at any time.
Free Internet Access. Viking Star will be the first cruise ship to offer free, full-time Internet access to all passengers shipwide – but that was amended after the initial announcement to say it will only be free while the ship is in port – which is most of the time.
Simply put, Viking Star will bring the river cruise experience to the high seas; but for sea cruises that is a revolution. The only lines that comes close are the most expensive luxury cruise lines, but Tor says Viking Star will be priced more in line with the brands his customers say they sail the most; Oceania, Celebrity and Holland America.
The First Cruise Season
The first cruise season will begin sailing in May 2015 with its first vessel-Viking Star-embarking on maiden voyages in Scandinavia and the Baltic; and the Western and Eastern Mediterranean. The line knew there would be high demand for its new product, and a second ocean ship is also already on order for delivery in 2016. Conditional orders and options for four more additional ocean vessels are also in place. This is in addition to the company's continued rapid expansion in the river cruise sector, with 10 new river boats also recently christened last March and 14 new river ships planned to launch in 2014.
To see the itineraries already on offer go to the Viking Cruises Web site.
The Viking Star Milieu
Viking Star will have 928- passenger berths in 48,000 gross tons. It will be 754 feet long by 94.5 feet wide, and will have only balcony cabins, a generous 270-square feet on average, with king-sized beds and extra-large showers. An identical sister ship, yet to be named, is slated to debut in 2016. Both will feature modern Scandinavian décor, and in many ways the floor plans resemble the Viking River Longboats - but on a much grander scale.
Starting with the two top decks (seven and eight), all the way forward is a two-story "Explorer's Lounge" with a 270-degree view to the front and sides of the ship. On its lower level is the "Viking Deli" to serve finger-style food when the other dining venues are closed. Behind the Explorer's Lounge is a two-story "Wintergarden," glass enclosed to allow natural sunlight to warm the room in any climate. Next is a "magrodome" enclosed swimming pool - with a retractable ceiling to allow fresh air in or to keep inclement weather out.
On the rear of deck seven is an "Infinity Pool" with its rear-facing wall below the pool water line made of glass and built into the aft end of the ship. Near this pool is the Aquavit Terrace with al fresco dining served from the World Café - for buffet-style food service.
Decks six through three have staterooms, each deck with a self-service laundry. Deck Three also includes the top story of the three deck atrium which is surrounded by public rooms on decks two and one.
Deck Two features the outdoor Promenade Deck that surrounds The Restaurant, the Viking Piano Bar and two separate Cinema Rooms with theater seating. Fully forward is the "Star Theater" for daytime enrichment lectures and nighttime entertainment.
The Spa on Deck One will have a large "thermal suite" - a self-service area with a large hot tub, a dry sauna and what Tor called a "snow room" where guests can dial up a light or moderate snowfall or "blizzard conditions" at the touch of a button.
Fixing the Cruise Experience
When Tor polled his clientele about the current cruise industry he found problems with two basic concepts; very large cruise ships that are "resort destinations" unto themselves; and smaller but very expensive cruise lines that focus on gourmet dining and fine service, usually with gratuities and beverages included.
Here is what his respondents said:
· (Most) Cruise ships have become too big
· They spend too little time in the destination
· The value is not there when you add in the extra charges
· Small (upscale) ships have become too expensive
· Most of these upscale ships are small and outdated.
All of this is accurate. The larger "resorts at sea" mainstream ships would rather keep guests spending money on board than time in port. Shipboard costs can add up quickly, so today the term "nickel and diming" is a common cruise complaint.
But Viking Star will offer the most inclusive cruise experience yet, and he plans to keep it priced competitively with other "premium" cruise lines. The prices points average $421 per person per day, but that includes everything.
The Viking River Story
True cruise aficionados find this bit of cruise ship lore fascinating. Tor's early career included working with a fellow Norwegian named Warren Titus who is credited with "inventing" luxury cruising with a cruise line coincidentally named Royal Viking Line. Many people who still work in the cruise industry, myself included, worked for Royal Viking Line.
The first time I walked aboard a Viking River Cruises boat was in 1997 and the Royal Viking Line influence was unmistakable. Royal Viking Line's first ship was "Royal Viking Star" and that the name of Viking River's first ship will be "Viking Star." Royal Viking Line redefined the cruise experience, and Viking Cruises is about to do the same.
In addition, based upon some of the comments by Tor Hagen during this announcement, I would not be surprised to see many more of these ships following. This is a company that by 2014 will have introduced 20 brand new river vessels in just three years. The first cruise ships will arrive in 2015 and 2016, and if successful I believe the line will build as many ships as it can. Tor mentioned the former Renaissance Cruises as a model for what a cruise line can do. Renaissance built eight identical ships in a period of three years - ships so practical in design that they are still in service for Oceania and Azamara Cruises today.