Yesterday, I wrote about a Northern Europe itinerary on which Viking Star was priced nearly 60 percent lower than Oceania Nautica when all inclusives were factored in. And that differential was based on Oceania’s promotional rate of $8,299. Using the brochure rate of $20,198 per person, Oceania Nautica would be priced more than 200 percent higher than Viking Star for the August 2016 sailing. Clearly, there were opportunities in the upper-premium segment. Viking Ocean Cruises’ Chairman Torstein Hagen identified those opportunities and built a product to take on the key players within that segment. At a press event on Viking Star this past weekend, he told journalists that by offering attractive lead-in rates with many inclusives, he had delivered on a promise he made two years ago at the Beverly Hills Hilton.
I attended the Hollywood event, and indeed the cruise product that Hagen presented back then was perfectly aligned with the one I am cruising on today. What I’ve discovered during my few days on board is that Viking Star represents something new and fresh for the cruise industry — a welcome change, a breath of fresh air. Viking Star features a slew of inclusions, a handful of innovations (such as the Infinity Pool and doors that slide open for al fresco dining in the main restaurant), and a Nordic aesthetic — all on a brand new and well-thought-out ship.
In launching his new cruise line, Hagen demanded that guests not be nickeled and dimed, and that also applied to the spa, where the hard-selling of products after treatments — a widespread practice on all but the luxury lines — has been prohibited.
With the core principles that define the company, Viking Ocean Cruises may have created a new category of cruise, wedged 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, emphasis on destinations) 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, where ships plying the likes of the Danube and Rhine are practically all-inclusive, minus gratuities and drinks outside of lunch and dinner.
Also as on its river cruises, Viking Ocean Cruises’ has put in its crossfires the same group that it did 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.
In addition to being of the same demographic as the target customer, Hagen brings nearly 40 years of professional experience to Viking Ocean Cruises. From 1980 to 1984, he ran the venerable (and now defunct) Royal Viking Line, with its headquarters in Bergen, where Viking Star will be christened on May 17, thus representing full circle for the Norwegian-born Hagen. In designing Viking Star, Hagen says he took inspiration Royal Viking Line, namely “a simple and elegant design,” he told reporters.
Light-filled and featuring modern Scandinavian décor, Viking Star was designed by the same interior design team responsible for the Viking Longships’ fleet. There is a sense of continuity, in fact, for those who move from Viking on the rivers to Viking on the oceans. Some of the fabrics are the same on both vessels, as well as the same brand of main dining room plates, glassware and cutlery.
The Quietvox system used for shore excursions on the rivers is in staterooms on Viking Star. Also as on the Longships, Viking Star offers one complimentary shore excursion in each port of call; beer and wine are served free of charge during lunch and dinner; and WiFi, which has functioned well for me so far, costs nothing. I also appreciate that I do not have to log in and log off each time I want to use WiFi.
From his mentor Warren Titus, who launched Royal Viking Line and later Seabourn, Hagen said he also learned, not to do “opulent things.” Viking Star’s atrium does not glitter. In fact, it’s called The Living Room, and Hagen said he believes it has a residential feel.
At 57, I too am within Viking’s target group, and I like the product the company has given birth to. I find it unlike any other cruise I have ever experienced. Viking Star doesn’t fit squarely into any category — perhaps none of the cruise lines do. The new ship does, however, bring a refreshing change to a segment of cruising that needed some fresh air — and a new competitor.
“We believe that we should try to serve customers well,” Hagen told our press group on Viking Star. “And we believe that we should have a good-looking product, great service, and we also believe that we should have a great value-proposition.”
So far, Viking Star is hitting on all cylinders.