Viking Star Brings New Features To Cruising
Photos courtesy of Viking Cruises
Moving thousands of travelers from place to place is something cruise lines have become quite good at. Docking at various ports of call around the world, passengers either walk off to see the sites on their own, buy a shore excursion from the cruise line or plan their time with a third-party source.
When direct access to shore is not available, tender operations provide a steady flow of people to and from the ship, at anchor not far away. Nothing new there, cruise lines have been doing that for years. Then came a new cruise line and a new ship that seem to be breaking the mold, doing things a bit differently.
The new Viking Star from Viking Cruises is the first of perhaps ten 940-passenger ships from the people of Viking River Cruises. A success story in and of itself, Viking’s unique river cruise “longships” have had a considerable influence on the direction of European river cruising.
Other river cruise lines have been left scrambling for ways to set themselves apart from Viking with new ships and new attractions. Targeting groups of potential passengers they had no need for ten years ago, those “other” lines are courting families, solo travelers and more in an attempt to replicate a similar excitement about their brands as well. Viking Ocean Cruises is moving right along on staking claim to a new breed of ocean cruise traveler as well, including a shore excursion at every port of call.
On a recent sailing of Viking Star, we saw firsthand the logistics involved in moving hundreds of people off the ship and on to an included tour. The procedure compares nicely to the included orientation tours offered on Viking river cruises, with a few tweaks for the ocean.
Much like it is fair to say that fans of Viking longships will like the feel of Viking ocean ships, the same can be said for the included tours on both. Nearly interchangeable in length and detail, both provide a good overview of the iconic landmarks at each destination. Both include the services of a Viking-vetted local guide and allow ample free time during and/or after the tour to explore on one’s own. Where the ocean tours differ is in the way they start and how they are operated.
In advance of sailing, passengers are encouraged to visit the Viking website, where the experience can begin to be customized for each individual. A few clicks here and there can sign them up for the included orientation tour or one of a few appropriately optional tours.
The included tour will feature a lively local guide and follow a pre-established route, covering topics introduced to passengers when making their online choices. Once on the ship, Viking passengers find shore excursion tickets waiting for them in their stateroom, noting which small group they will be in for each particular tour.
Allowing a bit of scheduling flexibility, Viking announces the exact start times for each tour group the night before. When appropriate and not until then, group members report to the ship’s main dining venue, The Restaurant. Next stop is ashore either walking off the ship or via tender when the ship is at anchor.
Another element of flexibility: how tour guides pass information to Viking passengers when on tour.
Unlike the river cruise counterpart, using QuietVox headsets is an optional element of the Viking Ocean experience. Groups may or may not use them depending on the size of the group and where it goes. Larger groups touring noisy places might be required to bring the headsets along. Smaller groups going to quiet places, not so much.
How Viking handles all of the above results in a truly unique destination experience that continues on board both before and after touring.
A pre-tour lecture is available live before each port of call or available for viewing later via stateroom television. On the day in port and often after, locally sourced menu items and wines complement each destination as well.
Backing up to months before sailing, resources on Viking’s website provide a good background of the places Viking ocean ships visit. A third-party supplier has a carefully curated selection of related reading for those who really want to get into the destination even more, in advance.
The intense focus on what each element of a cruise vacation should be continues in other areas as well.
Viking Star’s World Cafe is its rendition of the standard cruise line buffet, but there is little ordinary about it. Host to the only open kitchen at sea, buffet menu items are prepared fresh if not to order. No giant batches of food prepared hours before serving here — a distinction that is a whole lot more significant than we might realize.
Galley tours, as conducted on other cruise lines may be a nice way to show off the facility and how clean it is — but it also shows passengers the great big scary 55-gallon steam kettles and industrial sized cooking equipment.
Touring passengers might not make a direct connection to the large batch capability of the galley and why the soup is what it is, but it’s pretty hard to sell them on downsized personal dining venues as a comfy, cozy and intimate experience from that point on. They know the giant steam kettle is back there now.
Alternative Dining Venues Manfredi’s and the Chef’s Table do not carry an extra charge, although they seem like they should. On any other cruise line they probably would. If I were to call these venues a multi-course extravaganza, odds are some reading this would think, “yuck, that sounds like a 3 hour dinner to me.” Surprisingly, it’s not. Unique here: manageable, human-sized courses move right along at a brisk yet comfortable pace.
All Verandah staterooms also add to the destination focus in a very big way: everyone wakes up in the morning with a nice view of whatever amazing place they might be visiting that day.
Like the idea of breakfast in bed but don’t especially care to commit to a specific time the night before with a door-hanger order? Twenty-four hour room service comes in 10 to 15 minutes, the order is always right and you get the feeling that they really do consider it a viable dining option.
In the final analysis, a number of standard cruise line features are absent on Viking Star. No casino. No top deck attractions. No inside or oceanview staterooms. Looking for those? You’ll need to stick with any number of cruise lines that do a stellar job in that arena. New Viking Ocean Cruises and new Viking Star seem to be in a self-defined ocean of their own.
More by Chris Owen
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