We’re on location to watch the former Viking River Cruises become Viking Cruises with the expansion of its product. The company, which has invested heavily in producing new ships (like its recent Longships) unveiled its brand-new ocean product line, Viking Ocean Cruises. This makes Viking the travel industry’s first new cruise line in nearly a decade. Viking Ocean Cruises will begin sailing in May 2015 with its first vessel—Viking Star—embarking on maiden voyages in Scandinavia and the Baltic; and the Western and Eastern Mediterranean.
Torstein Hagen, chairman of Viking Cruises, spoke to a gathering of consortia, media, agents and cruise passengers at the Beverly Hilton in Los Angeles, claiming that many cruise lines have “lost sight of the destinations” in their goal to build ever-bigger ships. And while Viking was doing quite well with river cruises (35 percent growth each year, he said, compared to 7 percent from the ocean cruise companies), there were cities they couldn’t reach without going out to sea. Beyond that, he had heard complaints from cruise fans that ocean ships are too big (and the smaller ones are too expensive); that they spend too little time at each destination; and that most ships are "old and outdated."
And so Hagen and his team set out three years ago to develop an ocean cruise option that would appeal to the classic Viking guest: educated, mature and eager to see destinations up-close. “We want to be very clear about who our customer is,” he emphasized.
Classified by Cruise Critic as a “small ship,” the new 928-passenger all-veranda Viking Star is engineered at a scale that allows direct access into most ports, so guests have easy and efficient embarkation and debarkation. Hagen said that the ship would most likely sail under an EU flag, and would not reach out to the MICE market in an effort to keep the ambiance relaxed. Staterooms will have a maximum capacity of two passengers, making the Star a good pick for couples but less so for families.
Highlighted features include:
• All Veranda Staterooms: Guests can choose from five stateroom categories, starting from a 270 sq. ft. veranda stateroom, all with private verandas, king-size beds, large showers, and LCD TVs.
• Explorer Suites: Viking Star’s 14 Explorer Suites are two-room suites ranging from 757 to 1,448 sq. ft. and offer sweeping views from wrap-around private verandas as well as the most amenities and privileges of any category onboard.
• Two Pool Choices: In addition to the Main Pool with a retractable dome permitting any-season swimming, Viking Star features one of the only infinity pools at sea, allowing passengers to swim surrounded by their destination in a glass-backed pool cantilevered off the stern. (Below.)
• The Spa: In keeping with Viking’s Nordic heritage, The Spa onboard Viking Star is designed with the holistic wellness philosophy of Scandinavia in mind—from the centuries-old tradition of the sauna to a “snow grotto” where snowflakes gently descend from the ceiling through chilled air.
• Explorers’ Lounge and Wintergarden: Spaces designed to facilitate mingling and storytelling, the two-deck Explorers’ Lounge at the bow of the ship is the perfect spot for taking in scenery through double-height windows over a glass of aquavit or pint of local craft beer; and the Wintergarden is a serene environment in which to relax and enjoy afternoon tea service complete with a curated tea selection.
• Dining Choices: Viking Star offers multiple restaurant locations and food choices—from The Restaurant and the World Café, serving a variety of global cuisines and regional specialties—to intimate dining experiences at The Chef’s Table, Italian Grill and The Kitchen Table, all serving meals prepared with fresh, local ingredients. Furthermore, with multiple choices for outdoor seating during meals, Viking Star offers more al fresco dining than any other ship.
• Enriching Entertainment: The centerpiece of the Star is the three-deck atrium where passengers can enjoy musicians playing regional and classical music; the Star Theater, home of enrichment lectures from scholars and experts; an onboard cooking school where guests can learn local specialties; and the Viking Piano Lounge, where guests can relax, mingle, and exchange stories after a day of exploring.
• Sustainable Features: Designed with the environment in mind, Viking Star features energy-efficient hybrid engines, a hydro-dynamically optimized streamlined hull and bow for maximum fuel efficiency, onboard solar panels, and equipment that minimizes exhaust pollution and meets the strictest environmental regulations.
The ship has been designed by experienced nautical architects and engineers, including an interior design team of London-based SMC Design, and Los Angeles-based Rottet Studios. The first of two ocean ships on order, Viking Star will be built by Italy’s Fincantieri shipyard.
2015 Maiden Voyage Itineraries
Itineraries are designed for maximum time in port, often with late evenings or overnights, so guests can experience local nightlife or evening performances. Ports include both cosmopolitan cities and “collector ports,” and appeal to those with an interest in history, art and culture. In addition, Viking will offer genuine all-inclusive pricing—with every cruise fare including a veranda stateroom, shore excursions in each port of call, all onboard meals, and all port charges and government taxes. Other complimentary amenities include: beer and wine with lunch and dinner service; Wi-Fi; self-service laundry and 24-hour room service.
• Viking Homelands (15 days; Stockholm – St. Petersburg – Copenhagen – Bergen) – This itinerary features a blend of northern continental European cities, imperial Russia and the homeland of the Vikings. The journey includes overnights in Bergen, Stockholm and St. Petersburg, plus calls in Helsinki, Tallinn, Gdansk, Berlin (Warnemünde), Copenhagen, Aalborg, Stavanger, and Flam. Introductory 2-for-1 pricing starts at $4,999 per person with discounted airfares from $895 per person.
• Passage Through Western Europe (15 days; Bergen – London – Paris – Barcelona) – The Viking Star will go to the heart of the Continent as well as coastal cities on this cross-region itinerary that journeys from the Viking waters of Bergen to London on the Thames, down the Atlantic Coast of France and Portugal, and to the Mediterranean. Ports include Lisbon, Cadiz, Gibraltar, and Cartagena with overnights in Bergen, London, Paris (Rouen) and Barcelona. Introductory 2-for-1 pricing starts at $4,499 per person with discounted airfares from $795 per person.
• Mediterranean Odyssey (13 days; Barcelona – Rome – Dubrovnik – Venice) – Spain, France, Italy, Croatia and Greece—this cruise has it all. Visit Toulon, France; Monte Carlo; Tuscany (Livorno), Rome and Naples in Italy; Corfu (Kerkira) Greece; Dubrovnik and Split in Croatia; plus overnights in Barcelona and Venice. Introductory 2-for-1 pricing starts at $3,999 per person with discounted airfares from $595 per person.
• Empires of the Mediterranean (10 days; Venice – Athens – Ephesus – Istanbul) – From ancient ruins to medieval cities, this Mediterranean journey starts in Venice and journeys to Pula and Dubrovnik in Croatia; Kotor, Montenegro; Santorini, Athens (Piraeus), and Ephesus (Kusadasi), plus an overnight in Istanbul. Introductory 2-for-1 pricing starts at $2,999 per person with discounted airfares from $695 per person.
Combination cruises of the above are also available, ranging from 22 to 50 days, and starting at $6,799 per person for introductory pricing with air specials from $695 per person.
Viking is continuing to expand in both the ocean and river cruise categories, with a second ocean ship on order for delivery in 2016 and conditional orders and options for four more additional ocean vessels. For the river cruise sector, 10 new river ships recently christened in March of this year and 12 new river ships planned to launch in 2014.
From now through July 31, 2013, Viking is offering an introductory Early Booking Discount in the U.S. market for the 2015 maiden season with 2-for-1 pricing on cruise departures and savings of $2,000 per couple on international air. The 2015 maiden season is initially being offered only in the U.S.; Viking will begin marketing the new ocean cruises in the UK, Australia and New Zealand later this year.
The Agent's Perspective
Tim Colbie, owner of Great Escape Travel, has been selling Viking cruises for years. The new trend, he said at the reception, is for ships to go smaller. "People are tired of big ships," he explained. "The industry started small, then got big, then got too big, and now it's getting smaller again." Smaller ships, he added, are a good pick for older passengers who may have difficulty getting around larger vessels and may feel like they're missing something if it's too far away for them to get to easily. A small ship like the Star is a good middle ground.