When you hear the name ‘Viking Cruises’ you most likely think of river cruising. That’s especially true if you watch or watched Downton Abbey on PBS (I stopped watching it, too) since they were one of the show’s main sponsors.
What you might not know is that Viking is taking their river cruising business to the high seas. They just launched Viking Ocean Cruises and I was fortunate enough to be one of the first passengers on their maiden ship, Viking Star.
What’s bizarre is that while exploring the ship, I came across a digital plaque of the high ranking crew and the ship’s Godmother (the Mayor of Bergen, Norway), which stated that it was officially christened in Bergen, Norway during a citywide celebration on May 17, 2015 – Norwegian Constitution Day. I scratched my head for a second because the day I boarded in Lisbon, Portugal, it was May 7, 2015. I showed it to my dad, who was my guest on our media preview cruise to London (they hosted us), and I watched his eyes circle like Moe from the Three Stooges.
The point of the story is that it shows that Viking didn’t leave anything unfinished before sailing the new ship out of the Italian shipyard. Though not everything was perfect. My first impression of the crew was that they aren’t that friendly or knowledgeable. But the good definitely outweighs the bad, so if you are into cruising and/or are a fan of Viking, then checkout these 23 reasons to sail on Viking Ocean Cruises:
1. They aren’t mega ships
The first thing I noticed when our taxi pulled into port was that Viking has chosen to create a new kind of vessel, compared to today’s mega liners. Viking Star was classified by CruiseCritic.com as a “small ship” but I definitely wouldn’t call it small. It’s more of a medium ship since it has 465 staterooms that can accommodate 930 passengers; the gross tonnage is 47,800 tons.
2. The interior design
The moment you step onto the ship you will feel like you are in Scandinavia with the modern Scandinavian décor of woven textiles and light wood. The ship was designed by nautical architects and engineers, including the same interior design team responsible for Viking’s Longships (their river cruise ships). Throughout the ship, details are incorporated to pay homage to Nordic heritage. For example, the walls of every stairwell have a scene from the Bayeux Tapestry. In the Wintergarden, there are blonde wood “trees” and the handrails and doorknobs are all wrapped in leather.
In addition to the Bayeux Tapestry, there’s a carefully curated collection of Scandinavian artwork on the walls of the restaurants and public spaces.
4. Viking Heritage
I love the fact that Viking Star has a corner of the second floor devoted to Norway’s Viking heritage. There are all kinds of artifacts and museum-quality pieces like clothes from the Viking era. The most popular part of the mini museum is an animated video of The Bayeux Tapestry. Here’s what I learned: “The Bayeux Tapestry (actually an embroidery measuring over 230 feet long and 20 inches wide) describes the Norman invasion of England and the events that led up to it. It is believed that the Tapestry was commissioned by Bishop Odo, bishop of Bayeux and the half-brother of William the Conqueror. The Tapestry contains hundreds of images divided into scenes each describing a particular event. The scenes are joined into a linear sequence allowing the viewer to ‘read’ the entire story starting with the first scene and progressing to the last.”
The cabins, just like the rest of the ship, are simply and beautifully designed and are of a generous size. They range from 270 to 750+ square feet including the veranda. They all come with a sleek flat screen TV, a coffee maker, a working desk, binoculars and numerous electrical outlets for both U.S. and European style plugs. There are also four USB ports built into the desk lamps.
6. Bathrooms have heated floors
You can’t see it but you sure can feel it when you walk into the bathroom with bare feet – the floor is heated! Gotta love that. And when my dad got out of the shower for the first time, he said it was absolutely perfect.
7. Everyone has a balcony
What could be the most influential reason to book a cruise with Viking Ocean Cruises is the fact that every cabin has their own veranda! That is huge since passengers won’t feel claustrophobic or miss out on the views, sunrises and sunsets or fresh ocean air. Verandas range in size from 46 to 490 square feet.
8. The indoor/outdoor pool
If you like to go for a swim or just lounge around a pool, then you will love the ship’s Wintergarden, which has a retractable roof so no matter what the weather is outside, you will be in a comfortable and dry environment.
9. Infinity pool
In addition to the indoor/outdoor pool, there’s a glass-backed infinity pool that extends off the stern, which must look insane to passengers on passing ships.
10. Plenty of good food
One thing is for sure, you will never go hungry or thirsty on Viking Star. They have six restaurants and six bars and there’s a wide selection of food and scenery. If that’s not enough, they offer 24-hour room service. My favorite, and arguably the most popular, restaurant is the World Café, which features global cuisine with live cooking and open kitchens. It’s open for breakfast, lunch and dinner and has something for everyone. Other restaurants include Manfredi’s Italian Restaurant that serves authentic Tuscan and Roman cuisine, Chef’s Table, Pool Grill and The Restaurant. There’s no surcharge for these restaurants but they do require advance reservations so do it right away when you book your cruise. You can always change or cancel.
A hidden gem is Mamsen’s, which features Norwegian deli-style fare that the owner’s mother, Ragnhild, otherwise known as Mamsen, used to make. It’s a cute little cafe.
12. The Kitchen Table
Viking Star has a cooking lover’s dream excursion, which is limited to just 10 people ($299 per person) and it’s only available in ports where there’s a great outdoor market, like Bergen. The 10 guests will accompany the chef to the market and they can pick out whichever ingredients they want for dinner. The chef will later show them how to make regionally-inspired dishes in the dedicated high-tech space.
13. Beer and wine
If you aren’t a huge drinker but still enjoy a glass of beer and/or wine, then you will be happy to know that Viking offers both complimentary with lunch and dinner.
If you have a sweet tooth like me, then stay away from the World Café as they have a dessert section filled with cakes, pies, cookies and homemade gelato. They usually have half a dozen flavors including one sorbet. My favorite was the blueberry with chocolate.
15. No excuse not to workout
If your daily routine includes going to the gym or you suddenly get the desire to pump iron or jump on the treadmill because of all the food (ahem, gelato) you are eating, then you’ll be relieved to know that Viking Star not only has a gorgeous gym with state-of-the-art machines, but they also have an outdoor circuit of machines on the sun deck, where the weights are your own weight (you see them in parks around the world) and there’s a jogging track on deck 2. Four laps equals a mile.
On the sun deck at the Aft of the ship they have two shuffleboard lanes and a Bocce Ball court made out of artificial grass so it’s really fast. Despite them spelling the word Bocce wrong “Boccie” and using a golf ball as the Palino (they also called it a “Jack” in their rules) it was a lot of fun to play with my dad with France as a backdrop. FYI: Yes, he kicked my a*s.
The Nordic Spa is beautiful with its Swedish limestone and black slate finishes, juniper and teak wood details, recycled and etched opaque glass, and cast iron. The spa is run by a Swedish company called Nordic. They have four masseuses, all from Sweden, and the gentleman who worked on me was excellent (a 50-minute deep tissue massage costs $174). But if you ask me, there aren’t enough employees since all of the appointments but one were booked before I even stepped onboard the ship, so book your appointments well in advance. The same goes for getting a haircut – I tried to get one but it was always full, even though the barber’s chair was always empty when I walked by. A men’s haircut is $35. I asked why and was told that they only have one person who cuts hair and does manicures and there was always someone getting a manicure. They definitely need more spa employees. They also kind of messed up with the design of the men’s locker room as the lockers are near the hot tub so the floor is soaking wet, which makes it a challenge keeping your clothes dry getting into or out of your robe.
18. Snow room
However, the spa has the first Snow Room at sea, which is really cool … or should I say cold? During the night, it literally snows about four inches in the room so guests can properly partake in the Nordic ritual of going from the snow to the hydrotherapy pool. It’s part of the holistic wellness philosophy of Scandinavia.
19. Free shore excursions in each port of call
Just like Viking’s river cruises, the ocean cruises also offer free guided tours at each port at no additional charge. Just make sure you pick a cruise itinerary that has plenty of stops since that was the only real complaint I heard from guests. They said Viking changed the original itinerary that was published two years ago and now there weren’t as many ports of call. Here are two examples of the free tours:
-At Home in Haugesund, Haugesund, Norway – Visit a traditional home for tea. Your hosts, a local garden designer and architect, welcome you into their wooden house that dates to 1884. You visit and enjoy tea steeped from herbs in their garden.
My dad and I went on their full-day tour to the historic beaches of Normandy after docking in the port city of Rouen, France on the River Seine. I had never been to this area and it was on my bucket list to see the famous WWII beaches. However, I thought about passing since it’s a two-hour drive in each direction but it was a beautiful day so it would have been a sin not to go. The tour begins with a lovely lunch in a French manor house (see photos below) but it could’ve been eliminated since most passengers had had breakfast two hours earlier and I bet would have preferred to spend more time at the sites. After lunch, there was another 30-minute drive to Omaha Beach, then it was 10 minutes to the American Military Cemetery. They only give guests 45 minutes at the latter, which is definitely not enough time. The final stop is in the town of Arromanches-les-Bains to spend an hour at the Arromanches Debarquement D-Day Museum.
Tip: They use buses that have the seats on only the top floor so you really want to get on the bus first so you can snag one of the front seats as they not only have the best views but the most legroom (the seats are tight). I got snaked by partners of two separate couples so if you want those seats, get there first. Tour Tip 2: Grab the free bottle of water they hand out when disembarking as there’s no water on the bus.
20. No casino
I’m always trying to keep my dad out of the casino so I was happy to learn that Viking Star does not have one. It’s definitely surprising because they are a huge revenue generator for ships but the owner doesn’t like them.
21. Free Wi-Fi
You have to love a cruise ship that offers free Wi-Fi to passengers. They also have four computers at the guests’ disposal. However, don’t think you will be watching videos or Skyping family back home unless you do it in the middle of the night while everyone is sleeping since the WiFi is slow or nonexistent at times.
22. Free Movies
The beautiful, 40-inch flat screen TVs in the cabins come pre-loaded with a decent amount of movies, TV shows and six television channels (BBC,CNBC, E, FOX News, MSNBC and Prime US). The downside is there are no ship web cams or interactive maps.
23. Free laundry
Each deck with cabins has a launderette that has three washing machines and dryers. What’s great about them, besides being free, is that you don’t even need to touch detergent. It’s built right in, which I’ve never seen before and I think it’s genius. Machines take about 45 minutes to wash and if you don’t feel like doing it yourself then you can always send it out for the crew to do but it’s not cheap. There are also two ironing boards in the launderettes.
As you can see, Viking Star is a beautiful and unique ship. There are many more features that I could have mentioned, like the two-deck Explorers’ Lounge at the bow of the ship, the informative talks from local experts and lecturers in The Theater or the board games to play (love the luxury Scrabble Edition!) But there’s just not enough space!
But I would warn families from taking their kids as they would be bored and the same goes for adults who like a lot of action. This cruise line is geared toward the 55 and older crowd.
Good to know:
-Most, if not all, crew came from other cruise lines not river ships.
-If you need to make an international call, test it out before placing the call. I missed an interview because I couldn’t get it to work and no one at the Voyagers Desk knew how to fix it.
-Here’s a link to the shipping forecast if you are sailing in the Atlantic or North Atlantic like we did. It gives you a good idea if it will be rough or not.
-If you want to know exactly where your ship’s location is you can log on to MarineTraffic.com.
-Viking Ocean Cruises has ordered two additional sister ships – Viking Sky and Viking Sea – all of which will sail itineraries in Scandinavia and the Baltic and the Western and Eastern Mediterranean.
For more information, visit www.vikingcruises.com or if you’d rather speak to an agent, we’ve partnered with Cruise Planners—a top-rated travel agency—to help you plan your perfect trip. Contact Mike Gelman (1-800-724-5868) and tell him Johnny Jet sent you!