Aaron Saunders, Live Voyage Reports
Saturday, May 17, 2015
The excitement in the air is almost overwhelming here in Bergen, Norway, and it was noticeable even before I stepped out of the Radisson Blu Royal Hotel Bergen this morning. Not only is it Norwegian Constitution Day here in Norway, but we’re just hours away from the christening of Viking Cruises’ first-ever oceangoing cruise ship, the gorgeous Viking Star.
We’re time-jumping in our Voyage Report just a little bit here, but I noticed something this morning from the top of Mount Fløyen that, if it’s coincidental, is one of the most profound accidents to happen on this voyage that began for me in Greenwich, London on Tuesday, when I embarked Viking Star.
For anyone who cares to notice, there are three cruise ships in port today: Viking Star; Voyages of Discovery’s Voyager; and a third ship: Fred.Olsen’s Black Watch.
If you’re not familiar with the significance of Black Watch, allow me to explain why seeing this ship in port today made me let out an audible gasp. Before she was Black Watch, she was Star Odyssey. From 1991 to 1994, she was Norwegian Cruise Line’s Starward. And before all of that, from the moment of her launch in 1972, she was Royal Viking Line’s Royal Viking Star. And who headed up Royal Viking Line? None other than Viking Cruises Chairman Torstein Hagen.
Viking Star. Royal Viking Star. Notice any parallels?
Viking Cruises’ next two ships are Viking Sea and Viking Sky. Royal Viking Line’s second and third ships? Royal Viking Sea (now Albatross for Phoenix-Reisen) and Royal Viking Sky (now Fred.Olsen’s Boudicca).
So as the bands played and marched far below me in the historic center of Bergen, I looked out from my perch on Mt. Fløyen and marveled at the sight below. Surely, this cannot be a coincidence. Of all the ships in the world, the odds of having past and present Vikings in the same port on Norwegian Constitution Day are infinitesimal.
Or are they?
If you’re wondering why there’s so much buzz about Viking Star, there are a lot of very good reasons for it. Sometimes, hype can be a byproduct of the PR machine at work, and certainly, there’s a degree of that here. The difference with Viking Star is that the hype is genuine – and deserved.
Five Reasons You Should Be Excited About Viking Star, Too:
- Viking Star Is Different: did your last oceangoing cruise give you complimentary beer, wine and soft drinks with lunch and dinner? Was the thermal suite in the Spa provided free of charge? Did you get a choice of complimentary and paid excursion options in your ports of call? I didn’t think so. Viking provides that and more on every oceangoing cruise.
- The Best of River Cruising, On The Ocean: Viking is the first line to bring much of the same inclusions and conveniences from the world of river cruising to an oceangoing product. That means more things included in your cruise fare, QuietVox headsets in every stateroom, and a far greater focus on historical and cultural immersion in each and every port.
- Norwegian Registry. Yes, you should get all excited that the words, “Bergen, Norway” are listed below Viking Star’s name on her stern and lifeboats. It would have been easier and cheaper to register her in the Bahamas…but Tor Hagen wanted to show off his (and Viking’s) Norwegian heritage. Much like Holland America Line registering their ships in Rotterdam, Netherlands, having ships registered in Bergen is of huge importance to Viking. As Hagen himself said earlier this week, ‘Some of the best years of my life were in Bergen.’
- She’s Gorgeous. Inside and out, this is a ship that truly sparkles. If you can’t get behind her subtle technological innovations, welcoming atmosphere and commitment to the simple pleasures of cruising, I feel sorry for you.
- She Brings Diversity To An Industry That Needs It. The same players in the cruise industry have existed here for years – decades, even. Having a newcomer to the party benefits cruisers and travellers everywhere by making competing lines up their game, too. Remember: cruising wouldn’t be what it is today had Carnival and Royal Caribbean not duked it out for supremacy in the early 1990’s.
Finally, I’ve heard that Viking is getting a bit of a spanking from the Norwegian media for “hijacking” Norwegian Constitution Day. I think that’s unfair; Viking’s no more “hijacking” this spring day in May than Starbucks is by being open for business, or McDonalds by offering up Big Macs on this most important celebration of all things Norway. In fact, I think the Norwegian media is confused – because modern cruising’s roots run deeply here.
Take Norwegian Cruise Line, which was founded as Norwegian Caribbean Line by an Oslo-born businessman named Knut Kloster. While there’s arguably very little “Norwegian” left about the line today, it wasn’t that long ago that decks aboard “NCL” ships boasted names like Oslo, Fjord, Norway, and Viking.
Royal Caribbean also has its historic roots in Norway, having been founded in 1968 by a conglomeration of three major Norwegian shipping companies. The name of their first ship – Song of Norway – paid homage to this, and remained with the line for twenty-seven years until 1997. Like Norwegian Cruise Line, present-day Royal Caribbean is far more American than Norwegian, complete with a sprawling pierside office complex in Miami – but their history survives nonetheless.
Other Norwegian-founded lines currently operating include Fred.Olsen and, of course, Hurtigruten – the creator of the “World’s Most Beautiful Voyage” that sails along the coast of Norway from Bergen to Kirkenes.
With only hours to go before the christening ceremonies are set to begin pierside at 2100 local time, the stage is set for the spirit of Royal Viking Line to live on once again, wrapped in the spirit of all that it means to be Norwegian and represented by the physical presence of every Viking Longship and Viking Cruises vessel that plies the waters of the world.
For every person that laments the way cruising “used to be”, I have good news: cruising for the sheer love of cruising is back – and its name is Viking Star.
Our Live Voyage Report aboard Viking Cruises oceangoing Viking Star will resume tomorrow with Day 2 of our Live Voyage Report from Greenwich to Bergen! Be sure to follow along on twitter by following @deckchairblog or the hashtag #LiveVoyageReport.