Aaron Saunders, Live Voyage Reports
Friday, May 15, 2015
I’m not sure who the Norse god of the weather is, but he (or she) must absolutely love Viking Cruises. I’ve been to Bergen, Norway twice before, but I have never seen a day like this. Viking Star was completely illuminated by the overpowering sunshine, her superstructure glistening and flickering with the reflection of the light bouncing off the crystal-blue waters.
The colour of the water was matched only by the colour of the sky, which was uniformly blue with not a single cloud to be seen anywhere. This is the first time I’ve been to Bergen that it hasn’t absolutely poured rain – and the timing couldn’t be better. Even if it dumps on us on Christening Day, today was a photographer’s dream come true – a fact that was driven home by the helicopter that repeatedly buzzed the ship as we entered the harbour. I’m not sure if it was the rotors I heard, or the rapid-burst of a DSLR camera! Even I managed to rattle off 200 photos of our entry between 06:30 and the time when we docked at 07:30.
And who was on the Deck 7 viewing area overlooking the bow in front of the Explorer’s Lounge? Mr. Torstein Hagen, Viking Cruises’ Chairman and founder. Holding a cup of coffee and dressed in a black Viking Cruises jacket, Hagen was all smiles as he chatted with guests watching our arrival. I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a high-profile figure in the cruise industry so happy to converse with their guests; certainly, Hagen is the first executive I know that’s hopped onboard before dawn with the pilot boat!
As we approached the pier, Hagen leaned over and shouted something to a woman walking below with several port officials dressed in reflective vests. The woman looked up, smiled, and enthusiastically waved the Norwegian flag she was holding. She and Hagen shouted back and forth to each other in Norwegian for a bit; joking and laughing despite the eight stories that separated them.
The exuberant lady on the pier was none other than Viking Star’s Godmother and the Mayor of Bergen, Trude Drevland. She enthusiastically waved to the crowd of guests that had lined the rails of the open decks by this point. “Welcome to our city! Thank you for coming!” she said.
For those who haven’t been, Bergen is a truly wonderful city – and Viking has secured the best docking spot in the city, just a short stroll from the historic UNESCO World Heritage Site of Bryggen.
If you’ve seen pictures of Bergen before, chances are good you’re actually looking at Bryggen, with its distinctively colourful wooden buildings that seem to “lean” on to each other. Translated from the Norse to English, the word Bryggen literally means “the wharf.” Practical.
I say “best docking spot” because there is actually another passenger terminal on the other side of the city that is used by Hurtigruten on the one side, and by other cruise lines on the opposite end of the dock apron. Larger ships are accommodated there; Viking Star is about as large a ship as the Skolten South 3 pier can take.
Today, modern Bergen is the second most populous city in Norway after the capital, Oslo. Founded before 1070 AD, Bergen has remained a city of historic and commercial importance ever since, and today nearly 300,000 people call the city home.
With two additional days coming up in Bergen, to be honest I hadn’t planned to get off the ship today. That all changed when I saw how fantastic the weather outside was. So, I set the laptop to ‘charge’ and set out for a morning and afternoon of casual strolling along Bergen’s historic streets – and I wasn’t disappointed. For me, my sunny stroll was an excellent example of seizing the moment when opportunity presents itself.
A few photos from my Bergen Adventure:
On my walk, I got to thinking: Viking’s new Viking Star isn’t flawless. Like any product launching for the first time, be it a land-based hotel or a floating resort, there are kinks that need to be worked out. There are a few glitches with the onboard interactive television system, and judging by the fluctuation of the lights aboard the ship from time to time, some more work to do in the computer programming department.
By and large, though, the ship has come out of the yard with an uncommon amount of polish. The reason I am so exuberant about Viking Star, though, has less to do with the ship – beautiful as she is – and more with what Viking is trying to achieve: they want to make educational, enriching cruise vacations cool again. And I couldn’t be happier about that.
A cruise line designed for the thinking man (or woman), Viking Cruises greatest strength is the entire package they offer to their guests. Let’s face it – without a friendly and dedicated crew, Viking Star is just a very pretty box floating on the ocean. Without in-depth excursions, it wouldn’t matter that Viking plans to spend more time in port than their competitors. Without inclusive options like complimentary excursions and beer, wine, and soft drinks, their aggressive price-point wouldn’t matter one iota.
Instead, Viking is looking at the bigger picture – that much is clear. Long-term growth is Viking’s strategy, and it’s paying off handsomely. You know the saying, “If you can’t beat ‘em, join em”? Well, that doesn’t apply to Tor Hagen. He’s not just playing the game – he’s actively moving the goalposts and rewriting the rules as he goes along.
By the way – it’s not just Torstein Hagen behind the wheel of these ships, though he does have an incredibly hands-on method that just isn’t found at many lines. Rather, an entire team of Very Smart People support him at every turn. Viking Star does represent a single man’s dream, but she remains everyone’s collective achievement.
I’ve spent a lot of time over these past days telling you why I love Viking Star, and why she’s made such an impression on me. They say you can never go back to your first cruise, but Viking Star transports me closer than I’ve ever been to that kind of “classic” cruising that has become little more than an idealized memory for me for so long.
I’m also happy for Torstein Hagen. Karine Hagen. The staff and crew of the Viking Star. The newbuild team. The incomparable PR and marketing departments. The guy who mops the floor of the offices in California. Sunday is a Very Big Deal, and it’s only now that I realize how big the stakes have been up until this point. It’s very rare, I think, to get to actively participate in such a defining moment of the cruise industry as Viking Star’s christening in Bergen will be tomorrow.
I don’t own Viking Star, and my involvement with her is very peripheral. But I know I am not alone in feeling a sense of pride in her. Myself and my colleagues here onboard Viking Star had all assembled two years ago in Los Angeles to see the first builder’s model of the ship, and her general arrangement plans. Now, here we are – preparing to christen this masterpiece of a ship in Norway, on Norwegian Independence Day, with the Mayor of Bergen serving as the Godmother and the entire town acting as witnesses to this blissful union.
Tomorrow isn’t just your average christening: we’re witnessing the dreams, hopes and ambitions of hundreds of people come true in an instant. When many of us are little more than ghosts of this world, Viking Star will still exist as a reminder of this day. She’ll carry countless people around the world – and introduce countless more to the wonders of ocean travel.
Viking Star is, without a doubt, the crowning achievement of a true Viking.
|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|