Christening Viking Sea In London: A Firsthand Look

Encore! Viking Does It Again With Viking Sea

Fireworks blanketed the skies over Greenwich and the River Thames as Viking officially christened its second oceangoing ship. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders
Fireworks blanketed the skies over Greenwich and the River Thames as Viking officially christened its second oceangoing ship. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Aaron Saunders, Live Voyage Reports

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Today, along the banks of the River Thames, Viking Cruises officially christened its newest ship, Viking Sea. The 930-guest ship is the sister-ship to last year’s trendsetting Viking Star, and I joined Viking Sea in London for the big event and a short preview cruise to Bergen, Norway.

Viking Sea at anchor off Greenwich, England on May 5, 2016. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders
Viking Sea at anchor off Greenwich, England on May 5, 2016. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

If you’ve sailed aboard Viking Star – or even the company’s hugely successful Viking Longship river cruise vessels in Europe – you’ll find much to love about the new Viking Sea. Stepping onboard in Greenwich, England, I found myself greeted by familiar fabrics and color patterns. Friendly smiles from the personable crew. And a pleasant air of informality, evident from the first moments onboard when guests are checked in at a series of unassuming computer stations tucked away in a corner of The Living Room, the ground floor of Viking Sea’s sweeping three-story atrium.

Welcome Aboard! This gorgeous space serves as the gateway to everything that Viking Sea - and Viking Cruises - has to offer. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders
Welcome Aboard! This gorgeous space serves as the gateway to everything that Viking Sea – and Viking Cruises – has to offer. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

What’s fascinating to me about Viking is that the company pays attention to details – the little details – in a way that you rarely see from cruise lines these days. Most of the time, competitors talk about how they’ve managed to squeeze every last available dollar out of the ship. They talk about the calculations that go into itinerary planning that, frankly, would make even the most optimistic person wonder why they got into the business anyway. There are profit margins, onboard revenue expectations, return on investment.

Those things are important to Viking, too. It is, after all, a successful company that has been in existence since 1997, and certainly Viking chairman Torstein Hagen wants to see that continue.

The Viking difference, however, can be immediately felt onboard.

Feel The Difference. Like Viking Star, Viking Sea is an odyssey of colors and textures. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders
Feel The Difference. Like Viking Star, Viking Sea is an odyssey of colors and textures. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders
Stateroom Textures. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders
Stateroom Textures. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Take a stroll up to the Explorer’s Lounge, a spectacular forward-facing public area spanning the height of decks eight and nine, to see what I mean. The place is my fantasy library, mounted on a ship. The entire room pays homage to famed Norwegian polar explorer Roald Amundsen – the Amundsen who beat Robert Falcon Scott to the South Pole. The Amundsen that claimed the North Pole for Norway, and discovered the Northwest Passage for the first time. The guy was a one-man polar wrecking ball, yet we never hear about him in North America because he was the only one to not completely eviscerate himself on the ice.

My Undisputed Favorite Place Onboard: the two-story Explorer's Lounge that pays homage to famed Norwegian Polar Explorer, Roald Amundsen. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders
My Undisputed Favorite Place Onboard: the two-story Explorer’s Lounge that pays homage to famed Norwegian Polar Explorer, Roald Amundsen. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Viking has dedicated this entire room to him. To that end, you’ll find books dating back hundreds of years. Artifacts. Memorabilia. And books on nearly every aspect of Polar exploration and navigation. Some are new. Others are quite old. All can be read in the comfort of the lounge, or by taking them back to your stateroom.

The book collection in the Explorer's Lounge aboard Viking Sea is so tightly packed...Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders
The book collection in the Explorer’s Lounge aboard Viking Sea is so tightly packed…Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders
...and extensive that it nearly brought me to tears (hey - it's cool to love books!). Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders
…and extensive that it nearly brought me to tears (hey – it’s cool to love books!). Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders
Grab a book and settle down on Deck 8 of the Explorer's Lounge. Then try to move. Go on - I dare you! Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders
Grab a book and settle down on Deck 8 of the Explorer’s Lounge. Then try to move. Go on – I dare you! Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Now, maybe you don’t like Polar Exploration. That’s okay. Every other lounge aboard Viking Sea features books on nearly every subject, including books produced on the onboard art collection. Viking Sea introduces a new partnership with Oslo’s Munch Museum that not only features dozens of works by the famous artist onboard, but also introduces guests to these works through a series of “Munch Moments” held each day.

The Living Room, spanning the Atrium on Decks 1 to 3, is equally inviting. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders
The Living Room, spanning the Atrium on Decks 1 to 3, is equally inviting. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

There are onboard games like Scrabble and Monopoly that adorn tables in the beautiful three-story atrium; they aren’t relegated to some sad-looking, windowless games room as on other lines. There’s no casino onboard, but you can play digital blackjack (no money involved) on one of the interactive multimedia tables.

Everything in The Living Room reflects Viking's intellectual and Scandinavian heritage. And nothing - I mean nothing - is here by accident. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders
Everything in The Living Room reflects Viking’s intellectual and Scandinavian heritage. And nothing – I mean nothing – is here by accident. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

This space – known as The Living Room – encourages guests to sit and admire the live music in the stunning atrium, or simply sit and watch the ocean go by through the spectacular oversized windows.

Everything in this room is chosen carefully, from the chairs to the tables to the bookcases. The attention to detail is astonishing. At a press conference onboard, Torstein Hagen stated that guest satisfaction rates for the company’s ocean product (along with the river cruise product) are through the roof. In fact, Viking outperforms several luxury cruise lines in terms of overall guest satisfaction.

My stateroom for three all-too-short nights: Penthouse Veranda PV2 Stateroom 5023 on Deck 5. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders
My stateroom for three all-too-short nights: Penthouse Veranda PV2 Stateroom 5023 on Deck 5. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders
Viking doesn't like to use the "luxury" word, but many of its offerings come tantalizingly close to besting ultra-luxury cruise lines. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders
Viking doesn’t like to use the “luxury” word, but many of its offerings come tantalizingly close to besting ultra-luxury cruise lines – like heated bathroom floors and no-fog mirrors. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

“We’ve had many debates internally about the “L” word,” he said. “Since the beginning of Viking, with the four ships in Russia, it would be somewhat of a stretch to call that luxury. But we have really debated that: should we use the word or not? My mentor, Warren Titus of Royal Viking Line, said we should never use the “luxury” word.”

Like Viking Star, Viking Sea boasts what I consider to be the best pool deck in the industry, hands-down. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders
Like Viking Star, Viking Sea boasts what I consider to be the best pool deck in the industry, hands-down. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Hagen is careful to not mention the word. Viking’s stance has always been that it should deliver a high quality cruise product, that it’s okay to not be everything to everyone, and that it should never insult its guests with a stream of onboard revenue sources. Hagen himself relates a story of sailing on a competitor once and having to trudge to the Reception Desk just to buy tokens (“at two dollars apiece”) for the so-called ‘free’ onboard laundry service.

Viking Sea's main Restaurant is indicative of the decor onboard: bright, elegant...Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders
Viking Sea’s main Restaurant is indicative of the decor onboard: bright, elegant…Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders
...and reflective of the Viking homelands that permeate the spirit of this wonderful vessel. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders
…and reflective of the Viking homelands that permeate the spirit of this wonderful vessel. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Still, the fact remains that, luxury or not, Viking is delivering a cruise product that comes very, very close to approaching luxury levels. If you purchase the company’s Silver Spirits package, your beverages suddenly become all-inclusive. Coupled with the onboard free wi-fi, complimentary dining choices, free shore excursions, and longer hours in port (12.1 hours on average), Viking starts gaining a real advantage.

Viking Sea is, as expected, beautiful. But this new ship is also personal for the Hagen family, and tonight’s christening ceremonies revealed that.

Godmother (and Viking Senior VP) Karine Hagen gives a moving speech in the Explorer's Lounge. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders
Godmother (and Viking Senior VP) Karine Hagen gives a moving speech in the Explorer’s Lounge. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

In her christening speech, Godmother Karine Hagen – daughter of Torstein Hagen and Viking’s very own Senior Vice President –  thanked the crew of the Viking Sea for their hard work and tireless efforts. She thanked the guests who have returned to sail with the line again and again. And she thanked her father, company chairman Torstein Hagen, telling him that her beloved grandmother Ragnhild – affectionately known as “Mamsen” – would be proud of the company he has built. Karine Hagen teared up on one occasion, and, emotionally, caused many guests to do the same. I think everyone, regardless of their role here onboard, feels quite protective of the Viking legacy. I know I do.

Fireworks were lit off over the bow and stern of Viking Sea along the Thames. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders
Fireworks were lit off over the bow and stern of Viking Sea along the Thames. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

With that, the ceremonial ribbon was cut with a replica Viking broad axe. A bottle of Gammel Opland Aquavit – Mamsen’s favorite – smashed against the hull, shattering on the first attempt. Fireworks were set off over the bow and stern, and the Thames came alive with cheers both onboard and ashore.

Fireworks smoke drifts past the starboard bridge wing overlook aboard Viking Sea as crowds on-shore cheer. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders
Fireworks smoke drifts past the starboard bridge wing overlook aboard Viking Sea as crowds on-shore cheer. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Four coins have been inserted into the forward radar mast of Viking Sea. These “good luck” coins – a long-standing maritime tradition – represent three generations of the Hagen family. There’s Ragnhild “Mamsen” Hagen, born in 1911. Torstein Hagen, born 1943. Karine Hagen, 1970. Finally, Karine’s travelling yellow Labrador Retriever, Finse, is honoured with a coin of her own. Finse is the subject of Karine’s series of children’s travel books, The World of Finse.

What do you do when you christen a Viking Cruises ship? Bring along a real Viking, of course! Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders
What do you do when you christen a Viking Cruises ship? Bring along a real Viking, of course! Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Once upon a time, a young Tor Hagen headed up the beloved cruise company, Royal Viking Line. Royal Viking Line may be dead and gone, but its spirit has been resurrected for future generations to enjoy. Viking Sea embodies the very best of ocean travel, without the gimmicks and distractions that have become so common on mainstream ships. This is the way cruising used to be – made cool, relevant and so very timely.

Another year, another well-deserved win for Viking Cruises. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders
Another year, another well-deserved win for Viking Cruises. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Our Live Voyage Report from onboard Viking Cruises’ Viking Sea continues tomorrow with a tour of this exciting ship! Be sure to follow along with our adventures on Twitter @deckchairblog.

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