Viking Star: Day 2, Departing Barcelona, Tor Touts ‘Understated Elegance’ For Nearly 60 Percent Cheaper Than Oceania

Scandinavian influence. © 2015 Ralph Grizzle
Scandinavian influence on Viking Sky. © 2015 Ralph Grizzle

Yesterday, I toured Viking Star with Tor. Torstein Hagen, that is, the chairman of Viking Ocean Cruises.

During the tour, I learned just how much Nordic influence went into Viking Star. A lot. The ship’s interior made me feel as if I were on a stroll through Scandinavia, even though the interior design firm (Rottet Studio) hails not from Oslo or Stockholm but from Los Angeles. See Boarding The Nordic Inspired Viking Star.

At a press conference after the tour, Hagen suggested that he preferred to see his new creation as one that embodied “understated elegance” more than a vessel that featured Nordic-inspired design. I confess that the latter appeals a bit more to me. The Nordic design is a key differentiator, something that sets Viking Star apart. There’s a lot of competition at the “elegance” end of the scale.

Nonetheless, Hagen isn’t far off the mark when he makes the claim of having built an elegant vessel. One experienced journalist in our group likened the design to Hapag-Lloyd’s Europa 2. I think we both agreed that there were similarities, but Europa 2 is a work of art, with possibly the most beautiful interiors of any cruise ship afloat. Viking Star isn’t that, but certainly there are elements of elegance aboard the vessel. How elegant? It depends on who you are and where you’ve been.

Those coming from the small ship luxury lines — Seabourn, Silversea, Regent, Crystal and Hapag-Lloyd’s Europa 2 — may find Viking Star to be less elegant than the ships they are accustomed to. Those moving horizontally, however, from Azamara or Oceania, may find Viking Star to be more elegant than the ships they are used to cruising on, excluding Oceania’s Marina and Riviera, both of which would give Viking Star a run for its money. But Viking Star has an advantage: It is newer than any of the ships operated by Azamara or Oceania, more than a decade newer, in fact, than the majority of ships in those fleets.

Still, elegance is something that is not readily quantifiable. Where numbers can be applied is to Viking Star’s pricing, and if Hagen’s math is to be trusted (he does hold an MBA from Harvard), Viking Star is priced at rates that are considerably less than its competitors in the upper-premium category.

Can We Trust The Math?

To illustrate his point, Hagen showed journalists a slide comparing nearly identical itineraries — both in Northern Europe for sailings in August 2016. Data was gathered for rates in comparable stateroom categories for both Viking Star and Oceania Nautica. With air from New York included, the 14-day itinerary goes for $2,005 more on Oceania Nautica than on Viking Star. That’s not the whole story, though.

Pricing comparison chart that Torstein Hagen presented to media on Viking Star. © 2015 Ralph Grizzle
Pricing comparison chart that Torstein Hagen presented to media on Viking Star in May 2015. © 2015 Ralph Grizzle

With the included options factored in, Oceania turns out to be 59 percent more — or $3,697 more — than a comparable experience on Viking Star, according to Hagen’s math. Is that math to be trusted? Skeptics could certainly quibble about the cost of transfers, shore excursions, internet and beverages, but even if the numbers Hagen used were reduced by 50 percent on Oceania, Viking Star would still come out way ahead.

To be sure that Hagen wasn’t hyperbolizing, I checked pricing for Nautica’s August 4, 2016, London to Stockholm sailing in a Category B2 Veranda Stateroom. The brochure rate was a shocking $20,198 per person. The promotional rate, as Hagen noted, came in at a more reasonable $8,299 per person.

In contrast, Viking Star’s Veranda Stateroom begins at $6,294 per person, including complimentary WiFi, one excursion in each port of call, transfers as well as beer, wine, and soft drinks with lunch and dinner, none of which are included in Oceania’s fare.

Hagen did make a mistake in his math, but the correction turns out to work in his favor. He calculated per-diem costs wrongly. While Oceania would cost you $714 per person, per day, double occupancy, Viking Star would cost you $419 (not $450) per day. Hagen had calculated Viking Star as a 14-day itinerary, when it is actually 15 days, according to Viking’s brochures.

Moreover, Viking Star’s staterooms are nearly 25 percent larger, measuring 270 square feet compared to Oceania’s 216 square feet. “So they are 59 percent more expensive than us … and they have a ship which is 17 years old, and with smaller cabins,” Hagen told reporters. “I wish them luck.”

Viking Star’s Inclusives

That last remark should sink any doubt that Hagen is gunning for Oceania and Azamara. He has armed himself with a newer ship with lower price points and more inclusives than his competitors. The list of what Viking Star includes:

  • Complimentary transfers between airports and ship
  • Complimentary excursion in every port
  • Complimentary beer, wine and soft drinks with lunch and dinner
  • Complimentary specialty coffees and teas served 24 hours
  • Complimentary Wi-Fi internet access (and it works well)
  • Complimentary self-service laundry
  • Complimentary 24-hour room service
  • Complimentary specialty restaurant reservations
  • Complimentary mini-bar (in all but Deluxe Veranda and Veranda staterooms)
Viking Star is lower priced across the board. © 2015 Ralph Grizzle
‘In my mind, our competitors won’t only be Azamara and Oceania, but it will be a big segment of some of the other larger cruise lines like Holland America and Princess,’ said Viking Ocean Cruises Chairman Torstein Hagen. Viking Star is lower priced across the board. © 2015 Ralph Grizzle

In launching Viking Star, Hagen adopted many of the principles that made Viking River Cruises successful. River cruising is a mostly all-inclusive product, he told reporters, “and I think that is really what people want. They can afford the price. What people hate is being nickeled and dimed — and cheated.” Not one to hide behind words, he accused cruise companies of “fleecing” people once they are onboard. “You think you get a good deal when you buy the cruise, but then there are all of these additional charges.”

Of course, this is not the case in the small ship, luxury end of the market, where ships are mostly all-inclusive. Those ships include gratuities, for example. Viking Star’s recommended gratuity is $14 per day, per person. Unlike the luxury players, Viking’s ocean liner also has a 15 percent at the bars.

Still, Viking has removed many of the onerous shipboard charges — included WiFi being perhaps the best example. Hagen also cited the self-service laundries on Viking Star. They’re free to use and they won’t have you scrambling for coins or tokens. Even the soap is dispensed at no charge.

The company told LivNordic, the spa operator on board, that it would not tolerate sales pressure on guests. On some ships, spa staff can exert a lot of pressure to sell goods following treatments. “We do not depend on on-board revenue,” Hagen said. “We take a fair price upfront. We don’t have sales pressure.”

Another principle that Viking Ocean took from Viking River: efficient utilization of space. Over and again, Hagen emphasized, “We don’t waste space.” You won’t find a casino on board. “It takes up space, and it is so important to have good space utilization.” You won’t find a bathtubs, except in the suites. “A bathtub takes up 6 percent of the space of the cabin, so [not having one] means we can save 6 percent of the cost of the ticket price.” What you will find in place of the tub is a large shower, smaller than the space a tub would occupy, but larger than the average showers on cruise ships.

“From our river cruises, we know how to design efficient ships,” Hagen said. “That is really what we have to do when we have smaller ships … ocean cruise lines do not manage to operate small ships economically. What they have to do when they have small ships is that they have these astronomical prices. We have the benefit that we are a river cruise line so we’re really quite cost-conscience people, and we’re space-conscience.”

Viking Star’s target group is the same as it is for Viking River Cruises: 55-years-plus, English-speaking, well-educated, affluent, curious and interested in history. At 72, Hagen said he sees the target customer each morning when he looks into the mirror.

At 57, I too am within Viking’s target group, and I like what Viking has done. I believe the company has created a new category of cruise, between upper premium and luxury. Viking Star has taken many of the best characteristics from Oceania and Azamara (i.e. small ships, multiple dining venues) and married those with some, but not all, of the inclusive features found on the small ship, luxury cruise lines.  The company has done all of this on a ship that was inspired by Viking’s success on the rivers.

“I think we have done quite an amazing thing,” Hagen told reporters. “We have designed a ship that can offer this kind of product at a very competitive price.”

So far, I’m impressed. Let’s see what tomorrow brings.

Viking Star, Barcelona to Lisbon

DAYPORT
Day 1, Barcelona: Boarding The Nordic Inspired Viking Star, A Tour With TorBarcelona, Spain
Viking Star: Day 2, Departing Barcelona, Tor Touts ‘Understated Elegance’ For Nearly 60 Percent Cheaper Than OceaniaDeparting Barcelona
Viking Star: Day 3, Cartagena, Spain, Has Viking Created A New Category Of Ocean Cruiser? Cartagena, Spain
Viking Star: Day 4, Gibraltar, United Kingdom, A Peak Inside My Penthouse Veranda Stateroom On Viking StarTrapani, Italy
Viking Star: Day 5, Avid Cruiser’s Viking Star Introduction Video Valetta, Malta
Viking Star: Day 6, Lisbon, Portugal, End Of A Journey, Summing Up Viking StarLa Goulette, Tunisia

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One Comment

  • Excellent article Ralph. Judy and I look forward to adding to what you have reported in a future Viking Star cruise article. Thank you for the primer!

    Reply

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