Viking Star Christening Voyage, Day 2: At Sea

Viking Star Sets Sail for Bergen

Setting sail for Bergen, Norway aboard Viking Cruises' brand-new Viking Star. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
Setting sail for Bergen, Norway aboard Viking Cruises’ brand-new Viking Star. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Aaron Saunders, Live Voyage Reports

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Viking Cruises Viking Star rumbled to life shortly before nine o’clock this morning, moving so silently away from our floating dock on the River Thames that I barely noticed our departure as I washed down the last of my breakfast with a cup of fresh-brewed coffee in the World Café on Deck 7 aft.

Before long, we were winding our way out to the Atlantic Ocean. Most guests retreated to the Explorer’s Lounge on Decks 7 and 8 forward, where running commentary was being given over the ship’s public address system. I found myself riveted to the ship’s outer decks, where I happily snapped away as we passed notable landmarks like the Docklands, “the dome”, and the surprisingly artistic Thames Floodgates, which are designed to protect central London in the event of a storm surge on the Thames.

Sailing out of Greenwich, England down the famous River Thames. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
Sailing out of Greenwich, England down the famous River Thames. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

After I’d had my fill of scenic cruising, I retreated to The Living Room on Deck 1, which is quickly becoming by favorite spot onboard Viking Star. The cappuccino was fantastic, and I’ve found it’s just a wonderful, inviting place to sit. Hopefully you’re reading a book and not typing on a laptop like I am when you come to visit, but even if I have to work, sitting in The Living Room makes it amazingly pleasurable.

Viking Star's atrium houses three stories of comfortable seating known as "The Living Room." Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
Viking Star’s atrium houses three stories of comfortable seating known as “The Living Room.” Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Here’s a look at what’s happening today onboard the Viking Star:

  • 7:00am: Yoga Class – join Zsusanna for this fun class. Fitness Center, 1.
  • 8:00am: Last Tender. Viking Star prepares to set sail.
  • 8:30am: DEPARTURE: Viking Star sets sail for Bergen, Norway. (672 nautical miles)
  • 8:30am: Scenic Commentary broadcast by pilot, Captain William Wells. Explorer’s Lounge, 7.
  • 9:15am: Coffee Chat. Get together with fellow guests for a chat or take the opportunity to make plans for the day. Viking Bar, 1.
  • 9:30am: Sports Deck is open. Sports Deck, 9.
  • 10:15am: Golf Putting. Test your skills on the Viking green with guests. Sports Deck, 9.
  • 10:30am: Boutique Seminar: “Tanzanite.” Cinema 1, 2.
  • 11:00am: Knit & Chat. Get together with fellow guests for some knitting & conversation. Atrium, 2, starboard side.
  • 11:15am: Enrichment Lecture with Paul Covell: “British Shipping in the 20th” Star Theater, 2.
  • 12:30pm: Team Trivia – join teams of up to six for another round of fun facts to tease and enlighten. Explorer’s Lounge, 7.
  • 12:30pm: Pool Deck Melodies. Enjoy the Lunchtime sounds from the Viking Band. Pool Deck, 7.
  • 2:00pm: Port Talk – Bergen. Star Theater, 2.
  • 2:15pm: Shuffleboard. Test your skills with friends and fellow guests. Sports Deck, 9.
  • 4:00pm: Afternoon Tea. Enjoy this classic tradition accompanied by melodies from resident guitarist Laszlo until 4:45pm.
  • 5:00pm: Enrichment Lecture with Linda Ferreri – “Famous Art Thefts.” Star Theater, 2.
  • 5:30pm: Friends of Bill W. Atrium, 1.
  • 6:15pm: Cabaret. Remembering the Rat Pack. Torshavn, 2.
  • 6:15pm: Guitar Serenade. Resident guitarist Laszlo presents pre-dinner sounds in the room at the top. Explorer’s Lounge, 7.
  • 6:30pm: Resident pianist Laura presents relaxing melodies. Atrium, 1.
  • 6:45pm: Social Travellers get-together. The Social Hostess hosts this daily opportunity for guests wishing to get together for company and conversation and the chance to make plans for dinner. Explorer’s Lounge, 7.
  • 7:15pm: Classical Sounds – the Classical Trio present soothing sounds into the evening for your Living Room enjoyment. Atrium, 1.
  • 8:15pm: Explorer’s Sounds. Resident pianist Laura presents relaxing background melodies in the room at the top. Explorer’s Lounge, 7.
  • 8:30pm: Atrium Strings. Resident guitarist Laszlo presents delightful guitar melodies in the heart of the ship. Atrium, 1.

Some interesting things I have learned during my first full-day onboard: the Nordic plunge experience in the LivNordic Spa is offered free of charge. That’s right: rather than paying $150 a person as-is common on other cruise lines, you can enjoy this full Scandinavian bathing experience complimentary.

The Star Theater on Deck 2 can be used for live performances, lectures, or films. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
The Star Theater on Deck 2 can be used for live performances, lectures, or films. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
Even in the theater, attention to detail is remarkable. Note the pillows featuring famous Norwegian personalities - and their signatures on the reverse. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
Even in the theater, attention to detail is remarkable. Note the pillows featuring famous Norwegian personalities – and their signatures on the reverse. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
Cozy blankets adorn chairs in The Cinema. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
Cozy blankets adorn chairs in The Cinema. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Another surprise: drycleaning (reasonable amounts, anyway) is also offered on a complimentary basis in certain categories. I thought I was mistaken when I first heard it, but no: complimentary. Self-service laundry stations are also offered throughout the ship, on Decks 3, 4, 5 and 6 – and these are also complimentary.

In fact, there’s a whole host of things onboard that Viking could charge for, but doesn’t. It’s part of the line’s commitment to, as Chairman Torstein Hagen says, not nickel-and-dime passengers to death.

Passing the Thames Floodgates...Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
Passing the Thames Floodgates…Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
...under the watchful eye of our stern-positioned tug. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
…under the watchful eye of our stern-positioned tug. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
Still Ahead: the English Channel. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
Still Ahead: the English Channel. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

As I’ve walked around the ship today, I’ve found more small details that have impressed me. Indeed, everywhere I turn I find something spectacular to write about. It’s gotten to the point where I’ve taken to carrying a notebook and pen with me to jot down little things that I hope to remember later, when I’m penning these reports.

Let’s talk a little about accommodations onboard. Viking Star features a total of six basic stateroom categories, with subsets of each that are available at slightly different price points.

Welcome to Penthouse Veranda 5099. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
Welcome to Penthouse Veranda 5099. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

My room for the four nights I am onboard is one of the ship’s Penthouse Veranda Suites. Measuring 338 square feet, my room 5099 is located on the aft starboard side of Deck 5. Despite being nearly directly over the ship’s propellers (more on those tomorrow), there’s absolutely no vibration or shimmying that carries through the superstructure, as is sometimes common on large cruise ships. Much like the Viking Longships, the Viking Star is whisper-quiet when she’s under way.

Penthouse Veranda 5099, facing the door to the corridor. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
Penthouse Veranda 5099, facing the door to the corridor. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Penthouse Veranda Suites come with some extra amenities over the Veranda and Deluxe Veranda categories, including complimentary pressing services, shoe shine, higher priority dining reservations, higher priority embarkation and tender embarkation, and a mini-bar replenished daily with snacks and complimentary alcoholic beverages.

The vast majority of rooms feature a large writing desk and built-in vanity. The mini-bar is cleverly hidden in a EUROPA 2-style drawer to the right. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
The vast majority of rooms feature a large writing desk and built-in vanity. The mini-bar is cleverly hidden in a EUROPA 2-style drawer to the right. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
Even the interactive stateroom telephone is of higher-than-average quality. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
Even the interactive stateroom telephone is of higher-than-average quality. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

The room itself feels far more spacious than its 338 square feet might suggest – to the point where I wonder if Viking’s own specifications include the veranda (which is suitably spacious on its own) or not.

Throughout, Longship-style touches are apparent – from the headboard of the bed, which features the same lamps and reading lights complemented by an attractive multicolored Nordic fabric, to the design of the closet doors and the flat-panel television.

Penthouse Veranda Bathroom. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
Penthouse Veranda Bathroom. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Unusually, both couch and chair are equally comfortable. For whatever reason, I find most cruise ship staterooms feature one comfortable piece of furniture, and one that is god-awful. Not so here.

New toiletries adorn Viking's ocean product. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
New Freyja toiletries adorn Viking’s ocean product. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

In the bathroom, you’ll find some differences: L’Occitane has been replaced with a brand made in Germany exclusively for Viking’s oceangoing vessels. Both the scent of the toiletries and the design of the bottles are more than a little reminiscent of those featured aboard Hapag-Lloyd Cruises’ EUROPA 2 – and once again, that’s not a bad thing.

The bathroom floor is heated (hooray!) and lighting is excellent throughout. The mirror is also non-fogging; a hugely attractive option if, like me, you enjoy your showers hot.

A quick look at my stateroom - Penthouse Veranda Suite 5099. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
Penthouse Veranda Suite 5099. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

The only thing I’m not a fan of is the lack of a proper storage shelf in the shower. Rather than having a traditional metal shelf or ‘basket’ to place your toiletries in, a small stone shelf has been carved out of the wall of the shower at about kneecap height. The shower (which features some very strong water pressure) has a tendency to blow your toiletries straight off the ledge – and in rough seas, they’d all slide straight off. It’s a small thing, but something I’d like to see them address on Viking Sea and Viking Sky, coming next year to an ocean near you.

The striking Explorer's Lounge: my Oasis at Sea, as seen from the Deck 8 vantage point. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
The striking Explorer’s Lounge: my Oasis at Sea, as seen from the Deck 8 vantage point. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

As I write this, I am sitting in the beautiful Explorer’s Lounge on Deck 7. Spanning two decks in height, the views from here are unparalleled, and the multiple shades of blue chairs and the full-service bar make the room a pleasure to be in.

But tucked off to the starboard side is a place that is very dear to the heart of the Hagen family. Mamsen’s is named in honour of Chairman Torstein Hagen’s mother – and the addition was a complete surprise to him; a gift of sorts orchestrated by his daughter, Viking’s Vice President and all-around fabulously nice person, Karine Hagen.

Mamsens is located on the Deck 7 starboard side of the Explorer's Lounge. The waffles are amazing, and the split-pea soup (served after 10pm) is to die for. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
Mamsens is located on the Deck 7 starboard side of the Explorer’s Lounge. The waffles are amazing, and the split-pea soup (served after 10pm) is to die for. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
"Mamsen" Hagen. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
“Mamsen” Hagen. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
You wouldn't think a menu could be touching - but it can be when Karine Hagen pens it. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
You wouldn’t think a menu could be touching – but it can be when Karine Hagen pens it. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

To that end, Mamsen’s features specialities like Scandinavian Waffles during the morning, and split pea soup at night – all of which are derived from Hagen family recipes. I had the split pea soup tonight – it’s spectacular. There’s also a really heartfelt description written by Karine in the beautifully-designed menus that grace Mamsen’s, and a photograph of “Mamsen” Hagen pulling a young Karine in a sled across the snow printed on the sliding panels that obscure the food service area when the eatery isn’t in service. The photographer? A young Tor Hagen.

When closed, Mamsen's displays a blown-up photograph of "Mamsen" pulling a young Karine Hagen across the snow-covered Norwegian landscape. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
When closed, Mamsen’s displays a blown-up photograph of “Mamsen” pulling a young Karine Hagen across the snow-covered Norwegian landscape. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

For me, that’s the real defining feature of Viking Star. Though it involved countless creative people, this is not a ship designed by committee. There’s a lot of the Hagen family wrapped up in this ship. It’s a very personal work of art. But the interesting thing is it’s not their work of art, or their ship. Instead, everything they’ve done is created for you, Viking’s valued guest.

Other spaces aboard VIking Star pay homage to the line's striking Longship river cruise vessels - like the Aquavit Bar... Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
Other spaces aboard VIking Star pay homage to the line’s striking Longship river cruise vessels – like the Aquavit Bar… Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
...and the amazing outdoor Aquavit Terrace...Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
…and the amazing outdoor Aquavit Terrace…Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
...where even the smallest structural element has a purpose to it. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
…where even the smallest structural element has a purpose to it. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Personally, I like that someone is willing to build a ship without a Casino (there’s not one onboard Viking Star – and no one could care less). I like that there are books literally scattered throughout the ship. I like that the artwork is all Scandinavian-inspired or derived. I love that there is a huge focus on live music throughout the ship. I love that the shops are tucked away on Decks 1 and 2, and don’t overpower the ship. There’s just so many things to like on this ship.

This afternoon, we sailed out of the Thames, and set a course for the North Sea. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
This afternoon, we sailed out of the Thames, and set a course for the North Sea. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
An attractive corridor running between the Atrium and Torshavn on Deck 2. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
An attractive corridor running between the Atrium and Torshavn on Deck 2. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
The Atrium boasts impromptu dance routines...Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
The Atrium boasts impromptu dance routines…Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
...while live music graces...Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
…while live music graces…Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
...the pool deck and Wintergarden. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
…the pool deck and Wintergarden. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
Wintergarden artwork. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
Wintergarden artwork. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Fellow cruise journalist and colleague Gene Sloan of USA Today also let me in on a little secret: the furniture used onboard is really, really expensive. I watched as Gene flipped over chairs to see who manufactured them. We’re an odd bunch, cruise writers. As he’s doing that, I’m pulling all of the books off shelves and opening up credenza drawers to check out the fit and finish inside.

I can appreciate good interior design, but I couldn’t tell you about who manufactured the chairs. Gene can – and he’s excited about what he sees onboard Viking Star.

Torshavn, named after the city of the same name in the Faroe Islands, is Viking Star's cool nightclub. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
Torshavn, named after the city of the same name in the Faroe Islands, is Viking Star’s cool nightclub. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
Torshavn also boasts the most innovative lighting I've ever seen, period. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
Torshavn also boasts the most innovative lighting I’ve ever seen, period. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Viking Star is a modern throwback to how cruising used to be. This is an experience that is all about the joy of being at sea, without onboard photographers dressing up in whale costumes, without the added costs and extras, without crazy initiatives like banning you from taking food back to your room or charging nearly $10 for room service.

My greatest hope for Viking Star is not that she succeeds; that seems assured. My greatest hope is that she will be a force of influence within the industry; a catalyst to change things for the better.

Because there’s nothing wrong with cruising like a Viking!

Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Viking Star Christening Cruise - London to Bergen

DAYPORTACTIVITIES
Day 1London (Greenwich, England)Embark Viking Star
Day 2Cruising the North Sea
Day 3Cruising the North Sea
Day 4Bergen, NorwayTouring Bergen
Day 5Bergen, NorwayViking Star Christening Ceremonies

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6 Comments

  • this new ship was created for adults who want to be treated as adults who love to travel by sea…

    Reply
    • Couldn’t have said it better myself. The great thing about Viking Star is that she isn’t trying to be everything to everyone.

      Reply
  • I have been on three Viking river cruises and have loved them! We are sailing on Star in November. I have seen a few negative comments about food and restaurant service and itineraries and front desk service. Comments, Aaron? Or anyone who has sailed?

    Reply
    • I sailed her from Barcelona to Lisbon. Could not have higher praise for a new vessel. The food was excellent – don’t miss the sushi at the World Cafe (as good as Crystal’s? possibly). I had the Florentine Steak in Manfredi’s both times I was there. It was that good. Restaurant service? Not Seabourn or Silversea, but definitely good. I didn’t use the front desk, and itineraries? How can you go wrong in the Baltic, where she is operating right now? I’ve spent eight springs and summers here. It doesn’t get any better. You’d need to be a real nit-picker to find fault with Viking Star. It’s a great ship with great “software.”

      Reply
      • We think the service on the three other Viking ships have been better than average, maybe way above average, having the same waiter through the whole 2-1/2 hr meal, offers to try another serving, etc. I read that someone had to wait 1-1/2 hrs and then was told they were out of what he wanted. Sorry, I meant excursions, not itineraries; itineraries are awesome! I read someone booked an excursion and waited in line at the desk to leave, then was told the group left early. We have so enjoyed the walking tours and paid excursions on river cruises, but I am having a difficult time imagining getting 900 off the boat and seeing the cities. We have never been on an ocean cruise, ever, so I don’t understand how the big ships work. We will definitely have sushi! And Scandinavian waffles! We are traveling w/ another couple, as we have for the others. I will stop Googling to find reviews and trust you! We are sailing from Venice to Istanbul, w/ three nights in Venice before boarding.

        Reply
        • I think Aaron and I would both agree: Viking Star is one of the best ships we’ve been on. If this is your first ocean cruise, well, you are starting at a good place. Let me just add that with any new cruise or ship, there are going to be issues. By the time you are on board, all should work well.

          Reply

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