(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.
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.