Cruising the North Sea with Viking
Viking Cruises Viking Star was greeted by cold temperatures and grey skies for the first time on our journey so far. Still, at 7:00a.m., I braved the wind and the chill and went for a two-mile walk around the Promenade Deck on Deck 2 – and I wasn’t alone. Other guests were also using the Promenade for an early morning jog. I liked that. It convinces me of the worth of one of my favorite spaces, in an age where so many lines seem eager to get rid of it entirely.
Despite the cold temperatures and moderate swell, guests were undeterred. With the magrodome cover fully shut, the midships pool area and adjacent Wintergarden were comfortably warm. It’s such smart space – and so rare that it can be enjoyed in beautiful weather like we’ve had for the last two days, and in inclement weather like today.
Unlike other cruise ships I’ve been on that have had magrodome-covered pools, the one aboard Viking Star almost completely lacks humidity. It also doesn’t have that heavy chlorine smell that can be prevalent on other ships. Credit here goes to a massive number of recirculating vents that pull the air from the entire midships pool area and exchange it. The end result is a public space that is comfortable to sit in and enjoy at any time.
The lack of humidity in the pool is just one of many technological enhancements that occur behind-the-scenes. But the biggest has been reserved for how Viking Star moves through the water in the first place.
Rather than utilising the pivoting Azipod propulsion systems that many newbuilds feature, Viking Star has become the first-ever cruise ship to feature the Rolls-Royce Promas propulsion system.
Essentially, Rolls-Royce Promas is made up of two traditional, shaft-driven propellers that operate on a variable-pitch arrangement. This means that the blades can be “feathered” or rotated to increase, decrease, or reverse the motion of the ship, all without changing the direction of the shaft itself.
What makes Rolls-Royce Promas different from other systems is that the flap-style rudders are positioned within centimetres of the end caps of the propellers and fitted with a prefabricated “bulb” that bows out like a jet engine. In fact, at first glance it nearly looks as though the two are connected – but they’re not. Instead, this arrangement allows the flow of water to pass more cleanly between the spinning screws and the rudder flaps. This reduces drag and wake turbulence, which can result in fuel savings of between five and fifteen percent. The reduction in wake turbulence and cavitation means that guests experience a smoother ride.
Rolls-Royce Promas has been used on Baltic ferries for years now, so it’s not surprising that the technology finally made the jump to cruise ships.
Viking also chose Thordon Bearings Inc., COMPAC propeller shafts that are lubricated by seawater instead of traditional marine oil. With no oil needed to maintain these shafts, Viking’s costs are directly reduced along with their environmental risk exposure; Thordon COMPAC shafts have no risk of oil pollution, because it simply isn’t used.
“We chose Thordon COMPAC for all our newbuildings because of the long experience of these seawater lubricated bearings which present no risk of oil pollution. With the elimination of aft seal maintenance and no oil required, we are expecting considerable cost savings over the life of the vessels,” said Richard Goodwin, Vice President, Engineering at Viking Cruises.
If you’re wondering why I am telling you all of this – and why you should care – the details are in that last sentence. Simply choosing the right kind of propulsion system for a vessel of this size helps Viking save on fuel costs – the single biggest technical expense for most operators – which means they can offer better fares. Choosing the right system means less vibration and noise, which makes a huge difference in your overall cruise.
The odd “duck tail” ledge affixed to the stern also helps Viking Star in ways that guests may not fully appreciate. By creating a surface plane for the water that is disrupted by the spinning propellers, the duck tail acts as a damper for the ship’s wake. This again reduces wake turbulence, minimizes the wake size (important in congested harbours), and results in increased fuel savings. If you stand on a normal cruise ship, you can watch the wake “slam back” into the stern of the ship at times. With this duck tail acting as a buffer, the screws don’t have to deal with water that is, in effect, bouncing back.
The enhancements don’t end there: Viking also spent US$10-million on advanced, closed-loop scrubber technology to remove harmful emissions from the ship’s exhaust, while still allowing the line to use more economical heavy fuel oil to power the ship and still meet (or exceed) environmental regulations in ecologically-sensitive areas.
We’re making an easy 16 knots as I write this from the comfort of the Explorer’s Lounge on Deck 7 – which, along with the Living Room on Deck 1 – just might be my favorite spot onboard. It’s positively nasty out, with a strong headwind and cold temperatures, but here inside the Explorer’s Lounge, I can look out over the bow of the ship from my toasty-warm perch, do some writing, and sip a nice hot cappuccino.
By modern ship standards, Viking Star is not a big ship. Yet she seems absolutely huge onboard – public spaces are large and well-designed, and I’m not sure where my 929 fellow guests are – it feels like we’re cruising with barely a hundred people onboard, despite the fact that we’re 99 percent full.
It’s important to remember: Viking Star boasts roughly the same physical dimensions as Holland America’s Statendam-class – but with 300 fewer guests onboard.
Before we get to Bergen, Norway tomorrow, let’s quickly talk itineraries. I like Viking’s Mediterranean voyages, but they’re very safe. They’re kind of your standard Med runs, hitting all the major ports-of-call you’d expect. Barcelona. Rome. Athens. Repeat.
Where I think Viking really has the market cornered is with their Northern European itineraries. Yes, the weather’s going to be colder, but when you’re on a ship as well designed as Viking Star, who cares what it does outside?
For example: after the christening ceremonies on Sunday, Viking Star will set sail on a 15-day Viking Homelands journey from Bergen to Stockholm, Sweden. Along the way, she’ll call on the Norwegian ports of Flam and Stavanger before visiting Aalborg, Denmark; Warnemunde (Berlin), Germany; Gdynia (Gdansk), Poland; Tallinn, Estonia; St. Petersburg, Russia; and Helsinki, Finland.
Then, on May 30th, she’ll operate the reverse journey from Stockholm to Bergen. This is the staple of Viking Star’s Northern European itineraries, and she’ll operate these throughout the summer, with the last departure on July 25, 2015.
Following that, Viking Star will operate the inverse of the journey that brought her here in the first place, sailing on August 8, 2015 from Bergen to Barcelona, Spain. This 15-day journey calls on Greenwich (London), England; Rouen (Paris), France; Lisbon, Portugal; Cadiz, Spain; Gibraltar; and Cartagena, Spain.
The bad news: Finding an available stateroom aboard Viking Star might be difficult this year: from what I hear, the ship is almost entirely sold out for the remainder of 2015 – and half-booked through September 2016. But, if you’re not particular about your departure date or stateroom category, you still might be able to sneak onboard before the year is out.
That Viking Star is popular is undeniable; what is surprising, however, has been the demand for the ship’s longer itineraries. There are a total of 125 guests onboard my sailing who have booked to be on the ship for 50 days. All of them have been on since the ship first set sail in April, and they’ll remain on until the end of the month. The vast majority of these guests are Australian, and according to Viking, demand for these multi-month sailings continues to outstrip supply.
And why not? Viking’s first Viking Cruises brochure prices these 50-day voyages out at $14,999 per person – which works out to about $300 per person per day. You can’t stay on-land in Europe in similar accommodations with meals and beverages (beer, wine and soft drinks) included for that price.
Two solid months on this ship? Sign me up.
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|