As a fanatical devotee of Viking river cruising, I was admittedly anxious when I booked passage on the ocean-sailing Viking Star. However, an itinerary called the “Viking Homelands” both enchanted and piqued my curiosity, proving to be the tipping point for giving it a try. After all, with 15 days in 8 countries and 11 ports, I knew I would satiate my quest to discover more about my Viking heritage.
The very mention of Vikings conjures up images of marauding seafarers from Scandinavia with their sleek longships: intrepid invaders who pillaged, raped, and even slaughtered wherever they went. No wonder they were widely feared from north of the Arctic Circle to the Mediterranean and beyond.
However, the term “Viking” is a modern-day construct that loosely refers to the Nordic-speaking peoples from the Scandinavian countries of Norway, Sweden, and Denmark. Known as raiders, they also traded and settled in their conquered territories, with the age of Vikings peaking between the 9th and 12th centuries.
For about four centuries, Vikings traveled farther afield than any known civilization of their time. Norwegian Vikings sailed to and settled Iceland, Greenland, the Faroes and Shetland Islands. They also discovered America more than 500 years before Columbus. Swedish Vikings navigated the Baltic, leading to the exploration of rivers in modern-day Russia while Danish Vikings journeyed to England and Northern France, where the Viking Chieftain Rollo was ceded land in exchange for peace. Nowadays, this area is known as Normandy – land of the North men or the Norsemen.
Viking heritage permeates the 930-passenger Viking Star, with artwork by Norwegian artists and a Scandinavian décor that would make any modern-day Viking descendent proud. Of note is the Viking Museum on Deck 2, a compact collection and narration of who the Vikings were, where they went, as well as the legacy they left behind. (Some of that was DNA).
A sleek, stylish mid-sized ship, the Viking Star cruise of the homelands is all about the ports and “included” items such as a complimentary shore excursion at every stop. The itinerary was crafted to maximize time in port. Also free are onboard Wi-Fi; included beer, wine and soft drinks with onboard lunch and dinner; alternative restaurant dining; 24-hour room service; spa facilities with a complimentary hot sauna, thermal pool and Snow Grotto; and self-service laundry. It’s an ideal way to discover the Viking homelands.
The Viking Star hosts only 930 guests, a relief to know it’s actually a “small” big ship. Built in 2015, the award-winning ship features subtly colored modern Scandinavian décor with Nordic references throughout the ship. (Think Viking artifacts, Munch moments, lichen gardens and more). One of my favorites was the ship-wide library corners for a slice of solitude.
I shared a Deluxe Veranda with my cruising friend Alana, a spacious room of 270 sq. ft. that included a mini-bar with soft drinks, water and snacks that were replenished daily; luxury robes, slippers and toiletries; 42” flat-screen LCD TV with movies-on-demand, Wi-Fi, and 24-hour room service which was a real bonus for breakfast due to our early morning land excursions. Plus, our cabin entitled us to priority embarkation and stateroom access as well as a priority reservation at each specialty restaurant.
The Food & Beverage
From lobster, crab cakes, salmon, shrimp and steak to international fare and regional cuisine, choices abounded for Viking explorers. Venues included the World Café, The Restaurant, Manfredi’s Italian Restaurant, The Chef’s Table, poolside grills, The Wintergarden for afternoon tea, and Mamsen’s for casual Norwegian deli fare.
One of my favorite dishes was what I imagined the Vikings may have enjoyed. A favorite of Viking Chairman Torstein Hagen as well, the salmon and boiled potatoes with cucumber salad was a dish I ordered several times at The Restaurant during the cruise. The only menu deviation was that I requested my salmon be grilled vice poached.
The Public Spaces
Standout features on the Viking Star include a grand staircase and 3-deck atrium defined with sophisticated elegance and an indoor/outdoor Wintergarden that beckons guests to enjoy a sumptuous afternoon tea accompanied by more than ample scones, sandwiches, and macaroons.
The LivNordic Spa and Wellness Center delivers hot and cold wellness treatments and is the first to offer a Snow Grotto at sea. A favorite with many is the expansive Explorer’s Lounge with birds-eye views of the horizon and delicious fare at Mamsen’s – where Norwegian waffles with mixed berries, sour cream, blueberry jam and Norwegian brown goat cheese rule the day.
Live classical music, evening entertainment, and educational enrichment added to the list of activities on the ship.
Our journey sailed through the ice-carved Norwegian fjords and the Baltic Sea, plotting a course that many Vikings probably sailed. We started in Bergen, Norway, home of Viking sagas and historic Bryggen wharf. Next, we made a port call in Stavanger, where we cruised on a small ferry through the majestic fjords to Pulpit Rock, one of Norway’s most famous natural attractions.
Other land excursions included the charming and historic town of Alborg, Denmark which was founded by the Vikings in late 900s. Then it was on to Copenhagen to glimpse the Little Mermaid and visit Nyhaven where Danish fairy tale writer Hans Christian Anderson penned many of his tales.
I sobered to the heartache of “Checkpoint Charlie” and remnants of the Berlin Wall in the former East Germany.
I was charmed by the historic city centers in Gdansk and Tallinn, Estonia one of the best preserved medieval Old Towns in Northern Europe. Gdansk, Poland was a surprising favorite of mine, and like a phoenix rising from the ashes, the town has rebuilt in medieval baroque and gothic architectural-style with statues and etched wall-flourishes everywhere. Save time to shop for amber jewelry, some of the best in the world.
We visited Russia’s “Window on the West,” also known as St. Petersburg. The city enchanted us with ballet, palaces, and maritime monuments. In Helsinki, Finland, I paid tribute to Finland’s most famous composer at the Sibelius Monument.
Our cruise ended in Stockholm, Sweden, a city on 14 islands and linked by 54 bridges.
The Viking Family
My Viking experience was extraordinary in so many ways, from the luxurious comfort of the Viking Star and its Scandinavian décor to fine-dining in multiple venues. A Viking cooking class and curated a wine-tasting to classical music and nightly entertainment and dancing. And while the ports-of-call allowed me to connect with my Viking heritage, it was the onboard Viking family that elevated my journey to the realm of one that was truly special.
They are my real Viking family. From Chef Rafael and Restaurant Manager Zrinka to Sommelier Maksym, Waitresses Marta and Zelijka and Waiters Albert and Szabolcs. A hearty thank you to Assistant Spa Manager Stevan for the best massage ever to Stateroom Steward Rio who diligently attended to our Stateroom and every need. And to Hotel Custodial Yuni who so kindly showed me a quiet corner when I needed to work on my computer.
My deepest gratitude goes to Dr. Aleksander and his wonderful medical team, as they helped me contain a very bad case of bronchitis. To the entire Viking Crew, from the Captain to the service and maintenance crew, they are the part of the Viking family that will ensure your journey though the Viking Homelands is unforgettable.
Viking Ocean Cruises