Viking Ocean announces New Ships

The march of Viking Ocean Cruises across the globe continues in a strong way. On Friday, the new 930-passenger Viking Sun sailed from PortMiami on the line’s first World Cruise, plus Viking Orion will launch in summer 2018 and an unnamed sister in 2019.

But much more is happening too. On Saturday, European shipbuilder Fincantieri announced that contracts for Viking’s seventh and eighth oceangoing ships are now in effect, finalizing a process that began earlier in the year. These two additional vessels will be delivered in 2021 and 2022.

Most notably, though, Viking appears poised to achieve the ultimate fleet vision of Torstein Hagen, its chairman, who has publicly talked about his desire for a 10-ship ocean fleet.

On Saturday, Fincantieri confirmed that Viking had also exercised its option for two additional oceangoing vessels, the fleet’s ninth and 10th ships. They’re now slated for delivery in 2022 and 2023.

A Ready Source 

So where will the ocean passengers come from? One easy answer is “the rivers.”

When it comes to the Viking Cruises product, the river passenger and ocean guest are “exactly the same,” said Richard Marnell, the line’s senior vice president of marketing, in talking Friday to Travel Agent and other media touring Viking Sun. 

He said there really isn’t a difference in the clientele: “They are absolutely identical.”

In fact, two thirds of the line’s 350,000 ocean passengers who sail each year previously sailed on the line’s river cruise product, Marnell emphasized.

Elsewhere on the ship, guests taking Viking’s first World Cruise (including one greeted above by the ship’s captain upon arrival) were settling into deck chairs, finding a corner with a good book or just enjoying drinks with friends they met on past sailings.

For embarkation day, it was an amazingly quiet, smooth experience – doable given the 930-passenger maximum for the new ship, Viking’s fourth. The ship set sail Friday evening for a sold-out, 141-day journey from Miami to London.

Over nearly five months,  the voyage will take guests to five continents, 35 countries and 64 ports. The ship will be christened in Shanghai, China on March 8 and the World Cruise will end in London on May 5.

Masterful Growth 

The launch of Viking’s first ocean ship, Viking Star, in 2015 was followed by fast paced growth. Today, Viking has four nearly identical, 47,800-grt vessels with 465 staterooms. Plus those other six “sisters” are on the way.

On global rivers, the line – founded 20 years ago to operate Russia voyages – has doubled the size of its market since 2010. Back then, Viking had 26 percent of the market; today that’s 50 percent, Marnell noted.

“Demand continues to be strong in Europe for us,” he stressed, adding that Viking River Cruises is now “leaps and bounds ahead of where we were in 2016.”

Based on North American sourced river cruise passengers, Marnell said the compounded rate of growth between 2004 and 2017 for Viking River Cruises was 18.5 percent, versus 7.7 percent growth for other river lines (not including Viking). That also compares with less than 4 percent for all ocean products.

Today, Viking now operates 64 river vessels in Europe, Asia and North Africa (Egypt). In 2019, the river line will launch seven new vessels on the Rhine, Main and Danube rivers — Viking Einar, Viking Sigrun, Viking Sigyn, Viking Tir, Viking Ullur and Viking Vali. In addition, Viking Helgrim will launch on the Douro River in Portugal.

Ocean Cruise Marketplace

In terms of oceangoing upscale marketshare, today Viking represents 5.3 percent of the target market of 2.2 million high-spending ocean premium and luxury clients from North America. (Viking Sun’s Wintergarden, an interior lounge and relaxation space, is shown above).

Marnell’s numbers show that compares with 33 percent by Princess Cruises, 22 percent by Celebrity Cruises, 18 percent by Holland America Line, 7 percent by Oceania Cruises, 4 percent each by Regent Seven Seas Cruises and Seabourn, 3 percent each by Crystal Cruises and Silversea Cruises and 2 percent by Azamara Club Cruises.

However, by 2021, Viking is expected to have 6.2 percent of that upscale target market, which will rise to 2.7 million North American upscale passengers.

In his presentation, Marnell outlined his perspective about the all-balcony ocean product. He emphasized that the line offers guests spacious, quiet ships with Scandinavian design, an understated elegance, and calming artwork.

Because they’re identical in style and design, “repeat guests begin to feel like they’re home,” he said. They like the familiarity of the ships with the same lay-out.

Value is also important, Marnell said, citing a “no nickel and diming” policy, all balcony accommodations, and included shore trips, port charges and government taxes. Also complimentary are beer and wine with lunch and dinner service, premium dining reservations, Wi-Fi, self-service laundry, access to the Thermal Suite in the LivNordic Spa; and 24-hour room service,

Competitive Insight

On the fare side, he showed a chart providing insight for agents into the line’s competitiveness. It compared fares for cruise products seeking to attract high-end luxury and premium guests.

Marnell said that when comparing northern European itineraries between January and September 2018, the average price per day for the lowest veranda stateroom (includes air and value of included items for each line) is $585 for Viking Sky. That’s just above Celebrity Cruises’ Celebrity Silhouette at $534.

Everyone else was higher, though at $592 for Pacific Princess, $666 for Azamara Journey, $677 for Crystal Serenity, $700 for Holland America’s Prinsendam, $715 for Oceania’s Marina, $1,020 for Seabourn Ovation and $1,140 for RSSC’s Seven Seas Explorer.

So how does the line keep costs down to offer fares that are lower than other competitors. Marnell cited the “cookie cutter” (identical) ship design approach plus energy-efficient features that cut costs on those ships. Also, he said Viking’s approach is to not waste space for such elements as an onboard casino or bathtubs in accommodations (except suites).

Viking also benefits, he said, from its existing management/operational structure set up for the river cruise product plus a high level of repeat guests. It also has a highly inclusive product, but also keeps fares lower, he said, by not including two things that are a personal choice, he said, pointing to gratuities and high-end spirits.

Agents, depending on their perspective and clientele, typically will characterize Viking Ocean Cruises as either within the upper premium or luxury space.

As for how the line describes its product, Marnell said the term luxury – while widely used by guests and media –, well, “it’s not something we’ve used in our marketing. It’s not something we would say about ourselves,” noting that “luxury means very different things to different people.”

On a separate note, when asked if Viking will repeat it’s million-dollar giveaway contest for agents in 2018, Marnell said nothing had yet been decided/announced, but he wouldn’t rule it out either.

One factor is clear. As on the river side, Viking is experiencing fast-paced growth. By 2019, Viking Ocean Cruises will be selling 5,580 beds, versus what’s expected for the others: 5,236 beds for Oceania, 2,884 for Silversea, 2,660 for Regent Seven Seas, 2,558 for Seabourn, 2,304 for Crystal and 2,076 for Azamara.

Viking to Add Seven Longships

Viking Cruises has announced that it has ordered seven new river cruise ships that will launch in 2019, helping it inch closer to its goal of 100 ships. The order includes six additional Viking Longships that will sail on the Rhine, Main and Danube Rivers as well as one additional ship designed for Portugal’s Douro River. With the addition of the new ships, Viking will have 69 river ships sailing around the world. It will also welcome a new ocean ship in 2019.

The new Viking Longships have the line’s patented corridor design and cutting-edge technology for the modern traveler. The ships will have an all-weather indoor/outdoor Aquavit Terrace with floor-to-ceiling glass doors that allows guests to enjoy the views and dine al fresco.

The ship will accommodate 190 passengers in 95 staterooms, including two Explorer Suite, as well as seven two-room Veranda Suites with a full-size veranda in the living room and a French balcony in the bedroom; 39 Veranda Staterooms with full-size verandas; and 22 French Balcony Staterooms. Rooms include high-end amenities like hotel-style beds, heated bathroom floors, mini fridge, and both U.S. and EU outlets. Additionally, all Viking Longships have sustainability upgrades, such as onboard solar panels and organic herb gardens, and energy-efficient hybrid engines that also reduce vibrations.

The new Douro River ship is being designed specifically for the Portugal’s River of Gold itinerary. It will be joining three other sister ships on the same river.

While the new ship will be smaller than the Viking Longships, 106 passengers in 53 staterooms, it will still feature many of the same amenities including Aquavit Terrace, a variety of stateroom choices, onboard solar panels and an organic herb garden.

Viking Ocean to add Fifth Ship

Viking Cruises has announced that former NASA astronaut Dr. Anna Fisher will be honored as godmother to its fifth ocean ship, Viking Orion, set to debut in July 2018. The new ship is named after the prominent constellation and in honor of Dr. Fisher’s contributions to NASA’s Orion exploration vehicle project.

The announcement was first made by Viking Chairman, Torstein Hagen, during a press conference in New York City celebrating the first call in Manhattan for the company’s third ship, Viking Sky.

“The spirit of exploration is at the heart of everything we do, and so I am especially proud that an astronaut will be honored as godmother to our new ship,” says Hagen. “Dr. Fisher is a past Viking guest, a fellow scientist and a true explorer. As one of the first women in space, she has inspired generations of curious minds, and I look forward to welcoming guests onboard Viking Orion to learn more about her impressive career in space exploration.”

Last week, Viking Orion reached an important construction milestone when the ship met water for the first time during the float out ceremony at Fincantieri’s Ancona shipyard. Keeping with maritime tradition, Dr. Fisher, the godmother of the ship, assisted with the ceremony by welding coins under the ship’s mast. The coins she welded represented her birth year, as well as the birth year of Chairman Hagen.

The layout and design of the ship will be identical to the previous four ocean ships. The reasoning behind this, Hagen says, is so that guests and staff know what to expect when they step aboard, making their experience seamless. Viking Orion will have sister ships debuting in 2019, 2020 and 2021; all of which have yet to be named. Viking has an option to add two more ocean ships to its deal with Fincantieri, bringing the total to 10. Hagen says that 20 ocean ships is not out of the question (he also says a goal of 100 river cruises is achievable; currently Viking sits at 44).

The Orion will spend her maiden years sailing itineraries in the Mediterranean, before making her way to Asia, Australia, and then Alaska. The ship will accommodate 930 guests and offer the experiences and facilities that all Viking ships are known for, including all Veranda staterooms, Explorer Suites, two pool choices, LivNordic Spa, and fine dining options.

Viking Sea Adds Fourth Ship

A ceremony was held at Fincantieri’s shipyard in Italy as Viking Ocean Cruises took delivery of their fourth cruise ship, Viking Sun.

Viking Sun’s maiden voyage will set sail from Venice, Italy on October 4, making her way through the Adriatic and Ionian Seas. In early November, Viking Sun will cross the Atlantic to sail fall itineraries.

On December 15, the ship will embark on Viking’s first-ever World Cruise. Over the course of 141 days, Viking Sun will journey around the world, visiting 35 countries and 66 ports, before the itinerary ends in London on May 5, 2018.  In 2019, Viking Sun will continue to sail the globe on the recently-announced second World Cruise, which spans 128-days, five continents, 21 countries and 44 ports with 10 port overnights.

Torstein Hagen, Chairman of Viking, gave the following statement about the newest addition to Viking’s fleet: “As we celebrate two decades of helping guests travel the world in comfort, this year also marks one of significant growth. We are pleased that with the delivery of Viking Sun we now have four small ships, each carrying only 930 guests.

Features Found on Viking Sun

All Veranda Staterooms: Guests can choose from five stateroom categories, starting from 270 sq. ft. Veranda Staterooms, all with private verandas, sweeping views of the destination and premium amenities that include king-size beds with luxury linens, generously proportioned closets, large interactive flat-screen LCD TVs with movies-on-demand, unlimited complimentary Wi-Fi and award-winning bathrooms with large showers, premium Freyja® bath products developed exclusively for Viking and heated floors.

Explorer Suites: The ships feature 14 Explorer Suites, which are two-room suites ranging from 757 to 1,163 sq. ft. that offer expansive views from wraparound private verandas as well as the most amenities and privileges of any category on board.

Two Pool Choices: In addition to the Main Pool with a retractable roof permitting any-season swimming, the ships feature a first-of-its-kind glass-backed Infinity Pool cantilevered off the stern, allowing guests to swim surrounded by their destination.

LivNordic Spa: In keeping with Viking’s Nordic heritage, The Spa on board 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. Berlitz Cruising & Cruise Ships 2017 named it one of the “5 best cruise ship spas.”

Explorers’ Lounge and Mamsen’s: Share a cocktail with friends. Linger over a Norwegian breakfast and a nautical history book. The Explorers’ Lounge and Mamsen’s gourmet deli are thoughtful spaces located at the bow of the ship and designed to represent the Scandinavian spirit for complete relaxation and for marveling at sweeping views through double-height windows.

The Wintergarden: Guests looking for serenity will find it in the Wintergarden. In this elegant space under a canopy of Scandinavian trellised wood, guests can indulge in afternoon tea service.

Dining Choices: Viking’s ships offer eight dining options, all with no additional charge or fee—from fine dining in The Restaurant, which serves three full meals and a variety  of culinary options, and the World Café, which features  international fare and regional specialties including a sushi and seafood cold bar—to intimate alternative dining experiences at The Chef’s Table, which offers  a multi-course tasting menu with wine pairings, and Manfredi’s, which features freshly prepared pastas and Italian favorites. The Pool Grill specializes in gourmet burgers, while afternoon tea and scones are available in the Wintergarden. Mamsen’s serves Norwegian deli-style fare, and complimentary 24-hour room service allows all guests to enjoy many signature dishes in the comfort of their stateroom. Furthermore, with multiple choices for outdoor seating during meals, Viking’s ocean ships offer the most al fresco dining at sea. Additionally, The Kitchen Table specializes in regional dishes from market to table.

Cultural Enrichment: Viking experiences from ship to shore are designed for unparalleled access and cultural enrichment. Viking Resident Historians deliver high-level historical and cultural education specific to the journey, offering invaluable insight in to the rich history of the destination. Guest Lecturers who are experts in their fields shed light on the destination’s art, architecture, music, geopolitics, natural world and more. Destination Performances represent the most iconic cultural performing arts of the region—whether it be Italian opera or Portuguese fado. Resident Classical Musicians—pianists, guitarists, violinists and flautists—perform classical compositions throughout the ships. And Culinary Classes in The Kitchen Table, Viking’s onboard cooking school, focus on regional cuisine.

Nordic Inspiration: Even the smallest details take their inspiration from the exploratory spirit of the original Vikings, reflecting deeply held Nordic traditions. Light wood grains, touches of slate and teak, Swedish limestone and fragrant juniper appear throughout the public spaces and Spa. The Clinker-built design of the Viking Bar mirrors the construction style of the original Viking Longships. A Viking Heritage Center provides history and context from the Viking Age. And characters from Norse Mythology are subtly incorporated into the design, providing curious guests with inspiration to further explore Viking’s Nordic heritage.

Sustainable Features: Designed to be environmentally friendly, Viking’s ships feature energy-efficient hybrid engines, hydro-dynamically optimized streamlined hull and bow for maximum fuel efficiency and equipment that reduces exhaust pollution and meets the strictest worldwide environmental regulations

River Cruises Are Not Just for Old Folks

As I boarded the plane to Basel, Switzerland to catch my Viking River Cruise, I swore on a stack of Bibles I would be bored to death among all the ‘old’ people on that cruise. I’m ashamed to say that was my perception of what a river cruise offered; no casino, no bars, no shows, no pool all equated to boredom. Well as Gomer Pyle would say, “Surprise, surprise, surprise.”

I walked onto the Viking Kvasir in Basel to smiling faces and helping hands. I was led to my stateroom, which had a lovely balcony and ample room for my two large suitcases (to this day I still don’t know how to travel light). Eager to explore my new surroundings, I freshened up and headed to the main room of the ship. There I found the one and only bar with guests already ensconced. And lo and behold, they were young. I pulled up a stool and became fast and furious friends with the bartender and maitre d’.

So, here is what I found to be one of the many perks of a river cruise- it’s your own floating Cheers. Everyone knows your name. No matter where I went on the ship, I was not only greeted but also engaged in conversation. The staff was always so willing to assist in anyway possible, right down to the pianist who would play well after his time was up. Ok, I bribed him with a drink but he cheerfully stayed.

If you are looking for and expect that big cruise ship feel, don’t book your ticket on Viking because that is not what a cruise like this is about. What it is about is that feeling of being ‘home’, it is small without all the distractions, guests will mingle with each other more and the staff is pretty entertaining. They spend time with you and do the little things that you don’t get on a huge cruise ship. For example, one day after an excursion, we all came down the walkway and some of the staff were on the upper deck with a banner that read “Welcome Home” and singing and clapping. This is the type of thing that makes a river cruise so memorable.

Speaking of mealtime, the food was outstanding. The menu was fabulous each and every day down the Rhine. The service was impeccable and my wine glass was always full.

My cruise took me through four countries and 9 cities. My first port of call was Breisach, Germany where I disembarked to explore the magical Black Forest. Next stop was Strasbourg, France, which made me feel like I had stepped into a fairy tale. I visited Strasbourg Cathedral and rode the carousel that sits in Cathedral Square. Day 4 found me at Heidelberg Castle and enjoying traditional German food and music at a tavern in Rudescheim. Day 5 was spent cruising to Koblenz, Germany where I was completely enthralled by the little towns, castles and ruins that dotted the riverbank. I headed to Marksburg Castle and yet another glimpse into a time gone by. Day 6 was Cologne, Germany where I was awe struck by the gothic cathedral. Day 7 was a drive into the picturesque Dutch countryside to see the nineteen, mid 18th century Kinderdijk Windmills.

The next morning I said goodbye to all my new friends and disembarked for three days in Amsterdam (another story for another time). Drifting off to sleep on the plane back to Miami, there was only one thought on my mind. How could I return to my little floating ‘home’ on the Rhine?

 

Viking Adds Trips to Norway, Sweden and Denmark

Viking Ocean Cruises is doubling down on Scandinavia with three new itineraries that focus on Norway, Sweden and Denmark.

New on the fast-growing line’s website as of this month:

► Majestic Fjords & Vibrant Cities. An 11-night itinerary between Bergen, Norway and Copenhagen, Denmark that features stops in Eidfjord, Stavanger, Kristiansand and Oslo, Norway; Gothenburg, Sweden; Alborg, Denmark; and Warnemunde, Germany. Initial departure dates are June 16 and Sept. 15, 2018; and May 16, June 20 and July 21, 2019. Fares start at $4,699 per person, based on double occupancy.

► Scandinavia & the Kiel Canal. A 10-night itinerary between Copenhagen and Amsterdam that features stops in Gothenburg, Sweden; Oslo, Norway; Fredericia, Denmark; and Hamburg, Germany. Initial departure dates are June 27 and Sept. 26, 2018; and May 27, April 6 and April 16, 2018. Fares start at $3,999 per person, based on double occupancy.

► Viking Shores & Fjords. A seven-night itinerary that between Amsterdam and Bergen that features stops in Skagen, Denmark; and Oslo, Kristiansand, Stavanger and Flam, Norway. A single departure date is set for July 7, 2018. Fares start at $2,999 per person, based on double occupancy.

The voyages will take place on Viking Ocean’s new Viking Sky and its soon-to-debut sister ship Viking Sun. The vessels hold 930 passengers.

Two-year-old Viking Ocean has made Scandinavia-focused voyages one of the cornerstones of its schedule. It already operates 14-night summer sailings between Bergen, Norway and London that center on the coast of Norway. Stops in Norway as well as Sweden and Denmark also are a significant part of the line’s signature, 14-night Baltic itinerary called Viking Homelands.

Viking Ocean also recently unveiled plans for voyages along the Norwegian coast in the winter, when the Northern Lights are visible. That’s a rarity in the cruise world.

Launched in 2015, Viking Ocean is a sister line to 20-year-old Viking River Cruises. It currently operates three ships with five more on order.

Viking Along The Danube

 

(This is a recent post by Claudia and Bill Perozzi who live in California.   I have done this same cruise and thank goodness when we did it the water was not that high and we did not have to transfer to another boat)

It pays to advertise.  As frequent travelers, it would be hard for us not to be captivated by the commercials for Viking River Cruises.  Seeing the televised long boat glide on a ribbon of blue water past glorious sights convinced us to book our own cruise.  We chose the Romantic Danube cruise, eight days from Budapest, Hungary, to Nuremburg, Germany.

This experience was definitely different from an ocean cruise.  The Viking long boat was just that, a much longer than wide boat with rows of cabins on both sides of  hallways.  Two floors of cabins above us had balconies but our cabin was on the lowest level with a small porthole just above the water’s edge.  We could see the rising water which became an important factor later.

Our cabin itself was clean, compact and comfortable.  It had everything we needed and nothing more.  That statement goes for the whole ship.  There was no theatre, no shopping area, no casino, no workout room, no pool–and we didn’t miss any of it.  Like a cruise ship, the food was excellent.

The number of passengers on ocean cruise ships is about 1800 but on this ship we passengers numbered about 180, all English speaking.  Seeing the same people day after day, it was easy to get acquainted and find that we had much in common.  After all we were with others who probably liked the same commercials.

We gathered as a group in the dining area for our first and subsequent briefings by our program director, George.  Most days we had an included excursion in the morning and options in the afternoon.  George’s level of enthusiasm was perfect for our group with, I guess, a median age of 65.  He was upbeat, entertaining and answered endless questions.

I’m not sure anyone could adequately prepare us for our first stop, Vienna, Austria.  Everyone took the same first tour of this magnificent city with highly decorated buildings, flourishing fountains and heroic statues seemingly every where.  The predominant architecture was gothic but some of it was converted to baroque as styles changed.  Green domes atop white stones structures gave a majestic effect throughout the city.

Vienna was the seat of the Hapsburg monarchy for several centuries.  In the eighteenth century Maria Theresa ruled, had 16 children and arranged for most of them to be married to royalty in other countries.  Franz Joseph, who had the longest and last reign ending in 1916, was born and died in Schonbrunn Palace, which we toured in the afternoon.

One could easily get lost in this huge palace, I thought as we wandered into the oversize Rococo ballroom.  Our guide explained the importance of ballrooms as the places young eligible royals and aristocrats could mix, mingle and maybe eventually marry.  Making a good match mattered immensely and networking has been going on for a long time.

The palace itself was imposing and its gardens flowed equally majestically.  Stylized mazes decorated acres, followed by massive fountains, followed by a “gloriette,” a series of archways with statues of heroes set on a hillside.

That evening we returned to Vienna again, this time to hear delightful operatic performances from very talented students in a small venue set up just for our ship.  We all reveled in the music, the culture, the beauty of Vienna.  We left wishing we could have stayed longer.

As we continued on the cruise, it became apparent that water in the river was rising to such a height that soon our boat would not be able to pass under some of the bridges ahead of us.  We passengers were told to pack our suitcases and leave them in the hallway.  Then everyone was booked on day long excursions.

In an amazingly smooth feat, the crew from our ship transferred all of our belongings onto a practically identical boat on the other side of  low bridges.  Our new cabins looked just like our former cabins.  In fact everything looked just the same but we had a new captain and crew.  Happily our constant was our program director, George, who stayed with us the whole way.

Along the way, we visited churches and monasteries in valleys and on hills.  The most memorable church was St. Stephen’s Cathedral in Passau, Germany.  With 17,774 pipes, it boasts the world’s largest pipe organ.  Our tour was timed perfectly to coincide with a short recital on the booming instrument as the setting and the sound enhanced each other.

Some days we sailed during the day.  While nibbling on snacks such as the omnipresent chocolate chip cookies, we watched the world pass by.  Green hills, rows of fertile vineyards, red tiled roofs on stone buildings and little grottoes amid fields gave us memorably scenic views.

Now would be a good time to answer the question:  Is the Danube really blue?  No and yes.  Most of the time the river shimmers silvery green-gray, like a sophisticated celadon Asian vase.  But once in a while, when the sky is very blue, the water reflects the sky and becomes azure, pure blue, just like in the Strauss waltz, The Blue Danube.

One theme that ran through the optional excursions we chose was the terrible treatment of Jews.  In Regensburg in particular our attention was called to Jewish headstones that had been desecrated and reused as building blocks.  A sculpture of a sow on a church was a derogatory statement toward Jews.  Now some towns have inscribed the names of Jews on sections of pavement where they had lived before being sent to extermination camps.

Our most comprehensive tour was provided in Nuremburg.  Our guide took us to a gigantic unfinished amphitheatre where Hitler had delivered his diatribes to huge adoring crowds.  His ego was larger than the largest theatre and he seemed able to mesmerize his audience.  In the adjacent museum we saw photos of many of the atrocities of World War II.

Then we wound up at the Nuremberg Hall of Justice where the trials were held after the war.  Germans had expected the Allies to simply sentence all the indicted military to death but all were given fair representation and some were even exonerated.  Just being in the hall where history took place made a powerful impact.

We all gathered again back at the ship for our last night together.  After dinner, as a special  treat, opera singers came on board for a musical farewell.  And then we all joined in singing “Edelweiss.”

Viking Adds The Sky To Its Fleet

 

(article was recently published in USA Today)

TROMSO, Norway — River cruise giant Viking’s move into ocean cruising hit another milestone on Thursday as the company christened its third ocean ship, Viking Sky, along the waterfront of Tromso, Norway.

Marit Barstad, the sister of Viking chairman and founder Torstein Hagen, served as godmother for the 930-passenger vessel during an hour-long christening event that included performances by Norwegian musicians Lisa Stokke, Violet Road, Sara Marielle Gaup Beaska and Jørn Hoel. They were accompanied by Norway’s Arctic Philharmonic orchestra.

Located above the Arctic Circle on Norway’s northwest coast, Tromso is one of the key ports of call on Viking’s Norway-focused Into the Midnight Sun sailings, which take place in the summer when the sun in northern Norway stays up around-the-clock. Norway-born Hagen has made the route and others around Scandinavia and the Baltic region a cornerstone of the company’s schedule.

Speaking at the event in Norwegian, Hagen spoke about how pleased he was to be having the christening in Tromso.

“This is a special time of year in Norway – these are the days of the midnight sun and the perfect backdrop for a celebration,” Hagen was quoted as saying in an English-language statement released later. “All of our ships proudly carry the Norwegian flag, and it is an especially proud day to officially welcome our new ship in Tromsø, the Arctic capital of the world.”

Several elements of the christening ceremony paid homage to the Norwegian heritage of both the company and godmother. Instead of champagne for the traditional bottle-breaking, Barstad christened Sky with a bottle of Gammel Opland aquavit, which hails from the same county in Norway where Hagen and Hagen’s mother, Ragnhild, were born. In honor of the original Viking explorers, Barstad used a gilded Viking axe to cut the cord for the aquavit christening. The axe was a replica of an artifact discovered near Tromso. The chopping block used for the ceremony was brought from the Rotnes Farm in Nittedal, where Barstad grew up.

Sky is a sister to fast-growing Viking’s first two ships, Viking Star and Viking Sea, which debuted in 2015 and 2016, respectively.

Like Star and Sea, Sky is relatively small at 47,800 tons. That’s less than a third the size of the latest megaships from the likes of Royal Caribbean and Norwegian Cruise Line.

Like the earlier vessels, Sky boasts a modern, Scandinavian-influenced design, and its cabins are large by cruise ship standards. Even the smallest rooms offer 270 square feet of space. In addition, every cabin comes with a balcony.

Since debuting in 2015, Viking has made a mark in the cruise industry by focusing on itineraries that feature more time in ports than is common at many ocean lines. The company also is setting itself apart from many cruise operators with a “no nickel-and-diming” philosophy. In a relatively rare twist, Viking offers a shore excursion in every port that is included in the fare. Also included in the fare is beer and wine with lunch and dinner and unlimited WiFi access — something that can cost up to 75 cents a minute at other lines.

Sky will remain in Europe until the end of summer, when it will cross the Atlantic to the Caribbean.

Sky is just one of two ships that Viking is adding in 2017 as it continues a rapid expansion. Another sister ship, Viking Sun, arrives in the fall. Four more vessels in the same series are on order for delivery in 2018, 2019, 2021 and 2022, and the line also has an option for yet two more.

Viking Expands its Culinary Choices

Enjoy wines, cheeses, and other European cuisines while cruising
As river cruising grows and grows in popularity, Viking River Cruises, the giant of the industry and its most award-winning cruise line, has added something new. Its world-wide itineraries now feature culinary tours, wine tastings, and multiple opportunities to sample local cuisine on board and ashore, at virtually every port. We went along for the ride on Viking’s Rhine River Getaway to sample what was on offer. Miraculously, we didn’t gain an ounce, but it wasn’t for lack of trying on Viking’s part. Fortunately, there’s a lot of activity along with a lot of delicious food.

We joined Viking Hlin, one of Viking’s fleet of 60 river ships, in Basel, Switzerland. This itinerary can be taken in either direction from Amsterdam to Basel or vice-versa. While Viking includes a complimentary guided tour at every stop, many of its culinary offerings require an extra fee, ranging from $49 to $199 for a day-long culinary adventure. We’d barely had time to unpack before the first (complimentary) wine and cheese tasting took place in the ship’s airy lounge. Here we sampled the wines we were to drink as our longship traveled through one of the world’s great wine-growing regions. Included in our fare, these were the wines selected to be served at lunch and dinner. Rieslings predominated, given that they account for 80 percent of the grapes grown on the banks of the Rhine. Also on the list were several Rheingau reds. Lighter than their Spanish or French counterparts, these German wines were wonderful complements to lighter items on the chef’s menus. As to the cheeses, every country we passed through was represented, from Swiss comté to German muenster to France’s tomme d’Alsace and tomme de Savoie.

Monte Mathews

Our next culinary treat was presented the next day in Germany’s Black Forest. There, most appropriately, a Black Forest cake was put together before our eyes. Layers of chocolate sponge cake were covered in mounds of whipped cream, while sour cherries occupied a single layer and local Kirschwasser (cherry brandy) moistened the surprisingly light and not-too-sweet cake. The cake, however, was no match for the contemporary version created by the Hlin’s on-board pastry chef and served that night.

Monte Mathews

For a passionate foodie, the next day’s all-day excursion, “Taste the Best of Alsace” was sheer nirvana. The glorious city of Strasbourg was the setting for this remarkable experience. Viking prides itself on the quality of its guides, and here in Strasbourg, ours was a fount of information. The city has a somewhat tortured history. Strasbourg alternated between being part of France and part of Germany, often within the same war, as was the case in World War II. You can see these influences in the city’s culinary heritage. The hearty breads of Germany live side by side the delicacy of French pastries. Blending both food and history in one monumental walk, we took in bakeries and cheese shops, a wine-tasting with cheese pairings, a shop that made nothing but gingerbread, and even a hands-on cooking class. There we made tartes flambées(or Flammekueche in German), a sweet or savory Alsatian version of pizza that gives the real deal a run for its money.

Monte Mathews
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Viking Adds Historian to Some Cruises

Ready to be schooled in history on your next cruise? Viking Cruises has created a new resident historian program on its ocean ships that goes way beyond the usual on-board lectures.

This team of historians lead refresher courses on the history of European art, music, architecture and other cultural subjects.

Viking describes the program in a statement as providing passengers with “high-level historical and cultural education that is specific to their journey …”

The first three historians sail on Empires of the Mediterranean itineraries and lead roundtable and dinner discussions about subjects such as the Greek sculptures known as the Elgin Marbles, women explorers and Venetian naval power. They lecture in the ships’ theaters and even hold one-on-one “office hours” for passengers who want to know more.

The 10-day Empires cruise starts in Venice and stops in Koper, Slovenia; Zadar and Dubrovnik, Croatia; Kotor, Montenegro; Corfu, Olympia, Santorini and Athens in Greece.

Prices start at $2,999 per person, which includes shore excursions, Wi-Fi, beer and wine, spa and fitness center access, port taxes and fees and airport transfers.

Mark Callaghan, who has a PhD in history and specializes in 20th century European art and culture, will lecture on the Viking Sky. European military historian Lt. Col. Tony Coutts-Britton will sail aboard the Viking Sea. And Fenella Bazin, who specializes in the Vikings era and modern Norway, will appear aboard the Viking Star.

Lectures will be filmed and shown on the ship’s in-room entertainment system. The series will be available to all Viking river and ocean ships next year.

The new program complements other cultural programs introduced last year on Vikings’ ocean cruises. The cruise line brought New York’s Metropolitan Opera to sea by showing the HD video of “La Boheme” and partnered with the Munch Museum in Oslo to provide daily “Munch Moments” about the Norwegian painter Edvard Munch.

Info: Viking Ocean Cruises, (866) 984-5464 or contact a travel agent