The launch of Viking’s ocean ships has caused more than a ripple of excitement within the travel industry. It’s been a tidal wave. For one thing, this doesn’t typically happen. River cruise lines operate ships that carry fewer than 200 people. Not thousands. Those size differences will, more often than not, dictate the size of the companies behind the hardware. Carnival Corporation measures its revenues in the billions, which means that it is capable of far greater investment when it comes to purchasing hardware. River cruise lines don’t launch ocean ships because – apart from being a different business altogether – they can’t afford to do it.
That is, until now.
Viking Cruises is a company that hasn’t ever listened to convention. Established in 1997 and launched in Russia – with a product aimed at the Europeans – it has gone on to dominate the river cruise industry. It continuously breaks its own record for the number of ships it brings to market. Last year it launched Viking Star. The first of three ocean ships, with Viking Sea launched in Greenwich yesterday and Viking Sky to be launched next year.
Having previously had a tour of the Sky, Cruise Adviser was offered a place on a short sailing on the Sea from Lisbon around to Coruna. We outlined our thoughts below about what the ship offers the market.
First of all, what is immediately noticeable, is the quality of everything on board. These aren’t big ships for the ocean industry – they hold fewer than 1,000 passengers – however, compared to river boats, they are enormous. For Viking’s ship designers, who have previously been so confined by the parameters of its river boats, they now have a far bigger canvas to work with. The ship is all the more refreshing for it. There is an effortless, Scandinavian charm behind the interiors. The whole vessel is relaxed. In many ways it is an ocean-going river ship.
The spa is possible the venue on the ship that garners the most attention. And it’s no surprise. It is possibly the best of any cruise ship spa we have ever seen. From saunas and steam rooms to snow rooms and ice buckets. As well as a pages of treatments, which are orchestrated by actual Swedes. The spa is the epicentre of the ship’s Scandinavian culture. There is even advice telling guests how locals relax back home (a combination of steam room, plunge pool and snow room) that many people we spoke to vouched for.
All of the restaurants on board are well thought out. Mandredi’s, the ship’s Italian, offers sumptuous meals cooked to perfection. We had veal ravioli and one of the best steaks available at sea, which will go some way to being beaten. The Chef’s Table is a fine dining experience where six courses are accompanied with wines. Both restaurants really suited the atmosphere on board. These are passengers that are used to the finer things but do not necessarily want the formality that goes with it all. More casual dining venues such as the pool grill, World Café, and the adjoining Aquavit Terrace, offer a high quality buffet with the option to eat outside, by the infinity pool. The ship’s main restaurant also offers a refreshing number of two person tables, a lack of which can be a real bugbear to many passengers who don’t always want to share their holiday with ‘new friends’.
Staterooms are well appointed and generously sized. There are modern USB charging points by the bedside, which mean one less device you need your adapter for. Rooms also come with a mini bar, huge shower, coffee machine and flatscreen TV, with a built in entertainment system. All modern conveniences that you would associate with a high-end hotel room.
When it comes to entertainment, the ship has a show lounge that can be extended with the help of cinemas which sit either side. It’s just another example of how much fun the architects and designers have had with this class of ship. There is Torshavn – named after the company’s enigmatic founder – which offers shows such as Rat Pack tributes or French musical productions.
Our tour was with a number of travel agents, chosen by Viking to join them for a few days. Without exception, they were all left spell bound by the vessel. It’s a luxury proposition, no doubt about it, and one that is built in a modern way, that offers class, sophistication and fun – but without the formalities and stuffiness of some of its rivals in the sector.
Time will tell as to whether it is a success, but we have a feeling that this next step in Viking’s journey is one that has been very well made.