Photos by Jason Leppert
Viking Ocean Cruises
At a Glance
By the Numbers
Take a Bow (What to Like)
Pain in the Aft (What to Dislike)
Every once in awhile a unique ship comes along that makes waves in the industry, and Viking Ocean Cruises' first Viking Star has done just that by heading in the opposite direction of the predominant trend to build increasingly larger vessels. Instead of a ship carrying thousands of guests, the Star comfortably accommodates only 930 in an intimate ship that remains very roomy. First and foremost, it is dedicated to the destination, sporting spaces like the marvelous double-decker Explorers' Lounge observation venue (pictured below), easily the best at sea for its sheer comfort and uninterrupted vistas, plus attached bar and Norwegian deli.
The Viking Living Room (seen below) sets the scene as more than just an atrium and reception area. The vaulted ceiling frames a dramatic digital tapestry of destination images while plush seating and nooks and crannies invite passengers to relax with a refreshing drink or good book in hand. After all, there is no central library onboard, but rather every venue is stocked with volumes to encourage academic exploration, as the ship's art also does, introduced with a great complimentary Viking Art Guide app.
Architecturally, the majestic ship also shines with graceful exterior lines. An authentic infinity pool with a translucent side cantilevered high over the stern (pictured below) punctuates a pool and lido deck that gradually flares out as it heads aft for increased buffet seating, and swooping flying buttress-like support pillars line the promenade deck below, itself a welcome full wraparound variety. Meanwhile, the ship's duck tail may be a tad unsightly, but as it makes the vessel far more fuel efficient, it's easy to overlook.
Accommodations on the Viking Star are nearly perfect as entry-level cabins are larger than average with all featuring verandas. Most feature an abundance of super helpful USB and standard electrical outlets like the Veranda and Penthouse Veranda (pictured below) staterooms, but the otherwise wonderful Explorer Suite inexplicably features zero USB ports. Regardless of accommodations, Viking's inclusivity is lauded for providing all guests with complimentary Wi-Fi internet access; house beers, wines and soft drinks at lunch and dinner; specialty coffees, tees and bottled water all the time; port taxes and fees; on-demand films and television programming and self-service laundry.
Also worthy of high praise are the ample showers across all stateroom categories. The line set out to craft ones you can actually turn around in, and they definitely succeeded. I only wish there was a torso-height soap and shampoo dish in addition to the nice leg-shaving ledge below. Besides featuring a massive corner balcony with two sides and a great living and dining room separate from a master bedroom and walk-in closet, Explorer Suites also showcase a premium shower and bath combo with a window to the outside, that our plush Viking Erik traveling companion also enjoyed (pictured below).
Activities understandably center mostly around the destination, and Viking pleasantly provides a free shore excursion in every port to that end. Back onboard, there may not be rock climbing walls and water slides, but enrichment programs are high on the Viking Star's list as detailed port talks brief guests on the region's culture, as well as the day's tours. Lectures infill with additional historical context from a unique resident historian. Otherwise, it's all about rest and relaxation onboard, from the outdoor infinity pool to the indoor Liv Nordic spa facility (both pictured below).
In fact, the common spa areas and fitness center are freely open to guests to enjoy the exhilarating Nordic bathing ritual of alternating from hot and cold environments including a thalassotherapy pool, hot tub, snow room, steam room, dry sauna and chilled plunge pool. Only treatments cost extra like the highly recommended Viking Restart featuring reinvigorating dry brushing, a deep tissue massage and stretching. Elsewhere, it's fun to play plenty of board games scattered throughout or practice your golf putting up on deck.
The food on the Star is excellent and once again shows the incredible value of Viking as it closely mirrors luxury quality for a fraction of the cost. Even included 24-hour room service and pool grill fare are gourmet onboard, but the cuisine is also very approachable from varied palates. The Restaurant main dining room serves delicious courses that are nicely lighter than they are rich but still full of bursting flavors. Much of the same food, including regional samplers like a tasty banana tarte tatin in the Caribbean (pictured below), are also available from the great World Cafe buffet as well.
Additionally, there are two alternative restaurants that are complimentary but require reservations: Manfredi's Italian Restaurant and The Chef's Table. The former is very popular and fills up fast thanks in large part to the mouthwatering Bistecca Fiorentina (enjoyed by Viking Erik below). The latter serves a wide variety of delicious set tasting menus on rotation from Asian to Norwegian. Also, The Kitchen Table nestled between the two is a very worthwhile premium dining experience that follows a local market visit with a culinary demonstration and dinner featuring the day's freshly selected ingredients.
If there's one main shortcoming of the Star, it's the entertainment. Viking cruise directors and companies of singers and dancers are actually very good, but the material doesn't always do their talents justice. Production shows are narratively corny and feature canned soundtracks that do not mix well with the live performers, and sadly the sound system in the dedicated theater is really lacking drive. However, the attached cinema extensions are a nice design touch as are poolside film screenings fun options.
Where the cast talent is truly apparent is in the Torshavn nightclub (pictured below), where the sound is far superior and the live music better backs cabaret shows. Boosting such paired down shows would actually be an improvement over the mediocre production ones, particularly if they were more destination-driven. Meanwhile, other live musicians throughout the ship, from classical pianists and guitarists to string trios and party bands, also outshine the main theater offerings.
The excellent hardware of the Viking Star would be nothing without the wonderful officers and crew that man it, and the service is top notch onboard with no pretense and genuinely friendly attention to all guests and details. Everyone from our room steward Harries to our favorite bartender Igor (pictured with Viking Erik below) followed the fine example set by general manager Karl. As the fleet expands to at least six planned ships, it's the personnel that will keep it strong wherever it's deployed.