Viking Star Will Change The Way You Think Of Cruises
Aaron Saunders, Live Voyage Reports
Tuesday, May 12, 2105
Viking Cruises first-ever oceangoing cruise ship, the 930-guest Viking Star, is a stunning antidote to the homogeneity that seems to infect a certain portion of the industry. In an age where most mainstream cruise ships look and even feel more similar than not, Viking is doing things differently. Of course, this should come as no surprise to anyone who has taken one of their river cruises: The Viking Longships changed the way people viewed river cruises when they burst on the scene in 2012.
Now, Viking is poised to change the way you think about cruise ships.
After only having been onboard for a few hours here at our floating dock in the middle of the River Thames just off Greenwich – close enough to be London, England – I am already impressed with the Viking Star, but not for the reasons you might think. Sure, the Infinity Pool is swanky, and yes, the Nordic “snow room” in the LivNordic Spa is cool both figuratively and literally. But as I become acquainted with the ship, the things that really leave a lasting impression on me are much smaller.
The attention to detail aboard Viking Star is unparalleled. In fact, the only ship that I’ve personally sailed on that even comes close to the level of detail here is Hapag-Lloyd Cruises’ EUROPA 2 – a bilingual German and English ultra-luxury vessel that is currently ranked by Berlitz and Mr. Douglas Ward as being the best cruise ship in the world. It’s a well-deserved reputation – but Viking Star comes truly close to encapsulating what makes EUROPA 2 so magical, all without breaking the bank.
Everywhere you look, Viking Star is a feast for the senses. The sheer amount of textures, materials, and colours onboard is nothing short of fantastic.
Take, for example, The Living Room, Viking Star’s cozy atrium bar and lounge area on Deck 1. You’ve got Nordic-inspired carpeting with shades of royal blue and earth tones like browns and subtle oranges. This is intermingled with marble flooring, burnt-orange chairs, wood-grain pedestal tables, ash-grey bar chairs that complement the Longship-inspired bar, cherrywood book cases, cream-coloured leather and fabric lounge chairs, and coffee tables with surfaces made of Delft tiles. You’ve got gorgeous lamps with off-amber bases that look like they’re made from hand-blown Murano glass. And running above the length of the bar on the ceiling is an accent that looks like a cross between black Onyx and petrified wood, which houses the inset lighting.
Should you care? Yes – because none of this happens by accident. Every last detail onboard is the result of a concerted effort to make Viking Star stand out – and she does. Keep in mind, I just described the starboard side of a single lounge – the materials used throughout the ship change with every public room and deck.
Yet, if you’ve sailed on the Viking Longships before, you’ll find much to like – and plenty to welcome you. There’s a curious sense of déjà vu throughout much of the vessel, from the Lobby Bar on Deck 1 that looks lifted straight from the Viking Lounge aboard the Longships to the use of similar carpeting in the ship’s corridors. The result is one that feels immediately welcoming. It’s no small task on a ship that measures nearly 800 feet in length.
Other fun touches:
- The two-and-a-half story tall LED screen at the top of the atrium staircase (which has to be the grandest I’ve seen on any ship since the Queen Mary 2) cycles through high-resolution images of the ports of call you’re about to see. It’s so high-resolution that you can get right up to it, stare up at the ceiling, and the image doesn’t pixelate or disintegrate in any way.
- Heated Stateroom Bathroom Floors are back! There’s no Longships-style control, but your feet will never go chilly again.
- QuietVox Audio Systems in every stateroom. I hope these become a trend on every oceangoing cruise line.
- Printed maps of each port of call – beautifully produced and folded – are available from the intimate and casual Reception Area on Deck 1. This is also a good time to mention that Reception is just a few girls with laptops sitting casually off to the port side of the Atrium on Deck 1. It’s unassuming and highly convenient.
- Books! Do you love to read? Good – because Viking wants you to do a lot of it. Books are a hugely prominent feature throughout the ship, and are available in public rooms on Decks 1, 2 and 3, and are also heavily featured in the Explorer’s Lounge that spans Decks 7 and 8 forward.
- A Real Wraparound Promenade Deck. While other cruise lines are removing this feature in the name of the Almighty Dollar (Hey! We can put another boutique shop there!), Viking has brought the Promenade Deck back – and what a gorgeous one it is. Comes complete with an attractive outdoor seating area at the stern.
- A Pool Deck Where the Pool Is the Least Interesting Feature. Located on Deck 7 midships, the midships pool also encompasses the Wintergarden – and it’s the most well-designed pool deck I’ve seen since EUROPA 2. The thing is a masterclass in great design, with a retractable glass magrodome roof, comfortable couches, deck chairs and loungers, a full-service bar, a casual grill (try the Pancho Villa burger – it’s tremendous) and even a gigantic LED screen where destination-specific movies are shown in the evenings, complete with popcorn. Bonus points for the hot tub, which is actually rectangular instead of circular and resides adjacent to the swimming pool.
- The LivNordic Spa will make you think you’ve died and gone to heaven when you see the Hydrotherapy Pool, thermal loungers, and the amazing snow room – complete with REAL snow. Bonus points here, too, for recognizing that a shipboard spa doesn’t always have to be located on the uppermost deck; the LivNordic Spa aboard Viking Star occupies a substantial space forward on Deck 1.
- Art! There’s original works of art at every turn – and you can read all about it in the fantastic printed brochure that can be picked up for free in The Living Room on Deck 1. My favorite feature: staterooms all feature children’s drawings that were made by children in rural China that attend schools that Viking financially supports. The kids have drawn images representative of Bergen, Lisbon, London and Venice. These are accompanied by the photographs that inspired their drawing. The individual behind this innovative idea? None other than Mr. Torstein Hagen, Viking’s founder and Chairman.
And those are just my first impressions!
There’s also a curious thing about Viking Star – she reminds me of features other ships have, done better. The Atrium resembles the one on Celebrity’s Millennium-class ships, with its sweeping staircase and three-story atrium that features overlooking vantage points – done better. The LED screen in the atrium is a bit like the one aboard Norwegian Cruise Line’s Norwegian Pearl – done better. The Explorer’s Lounge is more than reminiscent of similar forward-facing spaces on Hutrigruten’s Midnatsol and Trollfjord – done better. Were Viking’s designers actively drawing inspiration from other ships? I have no idea – but I wouldn’t say it’s far off. In fact, I’d say it’s rather smart if that is the case.
That Viking Star is a great ship is undeniable. What is harder to pinpoint, I think, is how she fits into an industry that, by and large, is still divided into rigid categories created decades ago. You’re going to hear a lot from journalists over the next few weeks and months who struggle with this very thing. Some will say Viking’s oceangoing product fits cleanly into the Upper Premium category, but I disagree. Viking Star doesn’t fit into that category at all – the inclusions and features offered on Viking are more than either Oceania or Azamara are doing at the moment. Viking is most definitely not mainstream, and they’re not luxury either – though many of their onboard features come very, very close to approaching a luxury level.
Instead, I’d like to propose that Viking’s ocean product fits somewhere between Upper Premium lines like Oceania and Azamara and luxury lines like Seabourn and Silversea. Call it Luxury Lite, because at this point, Viking has more in common with a European luxury line – say, Hapag-Lloyd Cruises – than North American luxury ones. There’s still some onboard costs, but not many. There’s plenty of inclusions. Service is attentive and personalized. And the design and size of the ship is easily on-par.
The trick? Viking is offering all of this at a fraction of the cost of a luxury cruise. That’s what makes slotting them in to a pre-existing category so hard.
For me, that’s today’s takeaway: Not only did Viking nail Viking Star right out of the gate, they may have also succeeded in creating an entirely new subset of cruise. The former is difficult to do when you have no oceangoing experience; the latter is damned near impossible. Be sure to check out Ralph Grizzle’s Has Viking Created A New Category Of Ocean Cruiser?
Time will tell – but I’m willing to stick my neck out there and say that Viking Star just might be the shot-in-the-arm that the cruise industry needs to realize that innovation isn’t always about distracting your guests with gadgets of increasingly tenuous value.
It’s about giving them more than they’d expect – consistently.
Viking Star Christening Cruise - London to Bergen
|Day 1||London (Greenwich, England)||Embark Viking Star|
|Day 2||Cruising the North Sea|
|Day 3||Cruising the North Sea|
|Day 4||Bergen, Norway||Touring Bergen|
|Day 5||Bergen, Norway||Viking Star Christening Ceremonies|