|The aft Infinity Pool on Viking Star. The pool area borders the Aquivit Terrace, which Viking adopted from its river ship design.|
A 930-passenger ship wasn’t considered small or mid-sized two decades ago, but many lines today are building new mega-ships that serve 2,000 to 5,000 passengers. So, when clients want something a bit smaller — yet with a full-service spa, two pools and myriad dining choices — the new Viking Star, the first ocean vessel for Scandinavian-based Viking Ocean Cruises, is a creative choice.
Travel Agent magazine sailed on the ship’s five-night Lisbon to Greenwich (London) voyage, just prior to its May christening. Here’s a look at our initial impressions.
With modern Scandinavian design, the ship’s three-level Living Room, (its atrium space) is a laid-back “relaxation hub.” Throughout this 47,800-ton ship you won’t find razzle-dazzle action. Top Living Room activities are reading, playing board games or cards, listening to light music or nestling into cozy individual seating areas to check a tablet or Smartphone as the ship offers free Wi-Fi/Internet. Art books, decorative pieces and throws are nice touches.
|The Penthouse Veranda Stateroom comes with a king-size bed, and has a large horizontal credenza with seven full drawers.|
A grand, wide staircase extends from the first to the second level, and a humongous lighted scenic art visual continues upward from the second to the third level. At the staircase’s base is an open area with a grand piano, where a string quartet, guitarist, singer, piano player or folkloric troupe might perform. A small Internet café is behind the staircase.
The Living Room’s library has books for guest use, while the Living Room Bar provides drinks and full-service at reasonable prices. Most alcoholic drinks — wine, beer, spirits and cocktails — were in the $2 to $6 range. Complimentary snacks like cheese sticks, flaky pastries with black olive filling or nuts were also served. The purser’s desk and shore trip desk are also on the lower level, using desks rather than long counters.
Another place guests really liked was the two-level Explorers’ Lounge, with forward-facing windows. On the first level is Mamsen’s, named for owner Torstein Hagen’s mother. This off-the-beaten-path Norwegian deli offers meals plus is open at other times (up to midnight for late night cravings). Pea soup, salmon, antipasto and yummy desserts are served on a complimentary basis.
Our favorite spot in the Explorers’ Lounge was the second floor, reachable by a forward staircase. Here you’ll find a telescope, a ring of constellation drawings below (so you can see what constellation you’re looking at) and “exploration” books — so guests can delve into tales of Ernest Shackleton and others who pushed the envelope of discovery.
Wintergarden puts on a lovely afternoon high tea with all the trimmings. It also attracts guests just wanting a relaxing place near the pool to sit indoors and enjoy a drink. Large sliding glass doors open to the pool area in good weather.
Pools? Viking Star has two including a Main Pool with magradome, so it’s usable in rainy or cool weather. Nearby is the Pool Grill and Pool Bar; a crew member brought a cheeseburger grilled to order directly to my table, or you can help yourself to salads and other light fare. Most stunning, though, is the second pool — an Infinity Pool, located aft, along with a hot tub. This aft pool area borders the popular Aquivit Terrace, which Viking adopted from its river ship design.
The full-service Viking Spa offers a full range of treatments, but was most popular on our cruise for its complimentary access to a relaxation area with lounge chairs and hot and cold features. These included a warm thalassotherapy pool, cold plunge, sauna, hot tub and a Nordic Snow Grotto with snowflakes wafting from the ceiling.
Not surprisingly, this relaxation and hot-cold features area was very busy on sea days, but guests told us they appreciated the complimentary access. Visiting during port days or during off-hours such as meal times is a good option for a more intimate aura.
Among the other complimentary Viking Star features are room service, basic shore trips, alternative dining and even totally free Internet Wi-Fi. That said, with free access, guests were always online, sending e-mails, and uploading videos and photos. The overindulgence greatly slowed the service.
Manfredi’s, one of two alternative restaurants, gets our vote for the ship’s top dining experience. We dined there three times and consistently, without fail, cuisine and service were superb. Highly recommended is the restaurant’s signature steak, Bistecca Fiorentino, a thick-cut rib eye coated in garlic oil and rubbed with porcini mushroom powder, kosher salt, brown sugar and red chili flakes. On another night, a thick cut of salmon was artfully prepared. The soups, hot and cold, were very tasty.
The restaurant’s name? Torstein Hagen, Viking’s chairman and CEO, and Manfredi Lefebvre, chairman of Silversea Cruises, are friends. If your clients look on the far right corner of one wall, they’ll spot a photo of Hagen and Lefebvre cooking together.
Not surprisingly, the word gets around a ship and Manfredi’s was in strong demand. Clients should reserve alternative dining in advance online as soon as it’s offered, or head immediately to the desk at Manfredi’s upon arrival. Hint? Given the older clientele on our cruise, it was easier to get 8 p.m. or 8:30 p.m. reservations rather than earlier times.
Chef’s Table, another complimentary dinner venue, offers a fixed cosmopolitan menu of small plates (foams and tuiles, among them) with no substitutions. Overall, dishes were creative, modern and tasty, but may not appeal to the most traditional diners. The ship’s main dining room, called the Restaurant, performed admirably for both cuisine and service during the times we dined there, although some guests felt the service was a tad slow.
The 338-square-foot Penthouse Veranda Suite #5099 (check out www.travelagentcentral.com for a slide show) has a seating area with couch, chair, coffee table and large desk area with minibar. The middle section of the desk can be pulled up — revealing a handy storage compartment for small items. A pullout minibar with spirits, beer and sodas is replenished for free daily. The balcony is typical in size with two chairs and a small dining-height table.
In addition to the king-size bed, this stateroom has a large horizontal credenza with an amazing seven full drawers. This may just be the first such stateroom that has all the drawer space you’ll ever need. Nearby is the closet as well as more built-in drawers and a safe big enough to accommodate a laptop. The bathroom is soothing in decor and offers a heated floor, large walk-in shower and modern square sink, not to mention more drawers.
We also toured the Owner’s Suite, which has a common living area, dining room and wet bar, as well as a bedroom, master bath, guest bath and more. For those booking meetings onboard, one great perk is that this suite offers a full-blown boardroom with large table and 11 chairs. Unusual? This suite has a sauna facing the ocean — accessible from both the long balcony and the bedroom. The 1,448-square-foot Owner’s Suite has Hagen family’s personal touches and plenty of bells and whistles for high-end clients. You can visit www.luxuryta.com for a look at this suite.
On the service side, it’s important to know for any client sailing that this is a new line. It’s not the tried-and-true river line re-packaged for an ocean product. Crew members are hired from other ocean cruise lines or hospitality organizations, not Viking’s river ships. During our pre-christening stay, there were friendly, helpful and professional crew and others still in the learning mode. However, guests who’d sailed on the ship since its first voyage from Istanbul told us that the service and smoothness of onboard processes were improving day-by-day, week-by-week.
Could be improved? Besides slow Internet, guests complained to us about the shore excursion desk and tours. That said, agents on subsequent cruises report increasingly smoother operations.
Overall, Viking Star is a stunningly beautiful, artfully designed ship and this new highly inclusive Viking Ocean cruises product differs from anything else in the industry. It represents a creative new choice for clients — those seeking a smaller or mid-sized oceangoing vessel with many amenities and services and not a mega-ship approach. It also delivers relaxation in a modern, yet comfortable way.