Sam Ballard joins Viking Cruises’ newest ship Viking Sky in Norway and discovers that the river cruise line has made the transition to ocean cruise perfectly
As we flew, at breakneck speeds, across the icy cool waters of the Barents Sea, I couldn’t help but smile.
We were on board Viking Ocean Cruises’ latest ship, the Viking Sky, shortly after the vessel had been christened in Norway, and were being shown just what one of the line’s most renowned shore excursions entailed: the King Crab Safari.
In short, the experience meant donning some pretty serious looking overalls, boarding a Rib boat and clinging on for dear life as we skidded across the water’s surface – to the whoops and cheers of the passengers hanging on. We fired past the beautiful, rugged terrain and made our way out towards the fishing nets where our catch awaited.
Having never seen a king crab up close and personal, I was taken aback by the sheer size of the monsters that were pulled out of the water. King crabs have been known to have leg spans as wide as two metres, and to suddenly be pretty intimate with one was slightly daunting. As was the prospect that the sea beneath us was “crawling with them”.
We were then taken to the shore and given a talk about the history of the crabs’ migration from Russia and told just how valuable their meat – widely regarded as a delicacy – was in foreign markets. They were then expertly ‘dispatched’, cut up and taken into a tipi where a large pot of boiling water had already been prepared over a roaring fire. We took our seats on benches around the flames and were handed a glass of prosecco as our guides cooked their catch and we warmed ourselves up.
It was the freshest seafood I have ever tasted, simply served with a piece of lemon and a chunk of bread. Absolutely delicious.
Viking Ocean’s migration from the biggest river cruise line in the world to a serious player in the ocean cruise industry has been well documented. and we’ve covered it in these pages extensively. How the company has managed to take the aesthetic that it created on board its famed longships and transfer it to a vessel that can carry five times as many people is nothing short of genius. And the fact that the company will have a fleet of at least eight identical ships, according to its current order book,
is testament to that. No wonder Torstein Hagen, the company’s founder and chairman, claims that the ships are perfect.
It could be argued that Viking Cruises is the world’s biggest exponent of hygge cruising – the increasingly popular Scandinavian concept of cosiness that can be enjoyed with friends or family in
a convivial atmosphere. The entire ship focuses in on this. Take food, for instance. Whether it’s the incredible “home-made” waffles at Mamsen’s, named after the Hagen family matriarch, or lunch while looking out to sea on the Aquavit Terrace, next to the glorious infinity pool. It is all about making the most out of those precious holiday moments.
Even the ship’s speciality Italian restaurant, Manfredi’s – where the ribeye needs to be tasted to be truly believed – is named after the chairman of rival Silversea Cruises, Manfredi Lefebvre d’Ovidio (there’s also a Tor’s Observation Lounge on board Silversea). Proving, perhaps, that friendship is even more important than business.
Our cruise on the Viking Sky saw us travel from Tromso, the self-proclaimed capital of the Arctic Circle, north to Honningsvåg, at the very tip of Europe, before heading south to the Lofoten Islands, Orkney, Shetland and Edinburgh. While on board we would also be experiencing one of the world’s greatest natural phenomena: the midnight sun. Not a bad trip by anyone’s standards.
Scandinavia is an incredible place. The landscapes are like nowhere else on Earth. Vast, green and menacing. With hardy local communities scattered across them that are always happy to see you. The air feels like it’s almost medicinal and, judging by how healthy said locals look, it probably is. Perhaps, there’s something to spending most of your year in either constant light or darkness.
For us outsiders, though, the midnight sun is like nothing else. It almost sneaks up on you. You’ll be enjoying your evening, having a few drinks after dinner and someone will point out that it’s 11pm – but the sky is still a brilliant blue. It’s disorientating, but standing out on deck in the early hours of the morning (yes, after a few more drinks), staring up at a cloudless azure sky, is something I will never forget.
As Viking grows its fleet it is going to be able to offer more and more of these types of explorative itineraries. There is already a huge amount of excitement about the company debuting in Alaska in 2019 and embarking on its mammoth 141-day world cruise this December – a trip that has already sold out.
Our time on Viking Cruises passes all too quickly. I get a spectacular Swedish deep tissue massage in the ship’s palatial spa, which includes a snow room and an ice bucket for those who take their relaxation seriously. It’s free to use the spa’s facilities, too, which is a rarity at sea. The wi-fi is also gratis – one of the many elements that has made Viking Cruises stand out among its premium competitors. The onboard gym is as good as my one on land – although even it can’t stop me putting on about a stone.
Viking Cruises has really caught hold of something with its ocean product. There are so many areas that are designed to enjoy those small moments that make life worth living. From The Living Room to Torshavn or the Wintergarden. Even the place names themselves evoke a serene sense of calm. Whether it’s enjoying a cocktail in the Explorer’s Lounge or some king crab on one of their excursions. If we can’t live like the Scandinavians then at least we can holiday like them.
It’s Hygge. Like cruising, but not as we know it.
The christening of Viking Sky, Viking Cruises’ third ocean ship, marks a continuation of the company’s assault on the global cruise industry.
The event, which was held in Tromso, was watched over by Viking Chairman Torstein Hagen, along with Marit Barstad, his sister and the ship’s godmother, as well as dignitaries and hundreds of locals who were treated to a concert by the Arctic Philharmonic and an array of Norwegian stars.
The self-declared capital of the Arctic provided an epic backdrop to proceedings, which Hagen said was the most northerly launch of a cruise ship, ever.
The event was capped off by two real Vikings, who entered at the zenith of proceedings and handed Barstad a decorative axe, which she used to cut the rope and smash a bottle of Norwegian aquavit (what else?) into the ship’s hull.
Hagen claims that every one of Viking’s ocean ships is a carbon copy of the others. He’s putting
his money where his mouth is, too, with plans to make Viking the biggest operator in the world within its category. Based on the events today, his confidence may not be misplaced.
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