Photo by Jason Leppert
Fresh off Viking Ocean Cruises’ inaugural cruise to the Caribbean, it can be said that the company is well on its way to making a bigger splash in the industry. Up until now, Viking Cruises, with its Viking River Cruises brand, has predominantly covered the European continent, but as its ocean fleet expands, so too does its international itineraries.
The 2015-launched Viking Star and 2016-launched Viking Sea initially started out with sailings in the Baltic and Mediterranean with farther jaunts west to the British Isles and north to Norway. The Viking Star has now left from Bergen, Norway to cross the Atlantic and visit Canada and New England before calling on the United States In New York City (where we boarded) for the first time on the way down to San Juan, Puerto Rico. Currently, it is embarking on a season of roundtrip 11-day West Indies Explorer itineraries.
Most remarkably on the first run, the Viking Star was almost always the only ship in port, only encountering two other Carnival Cruise Line ships and a Royal Caribbean International one in San Juan. Even in those cases, one of the greatest benefits to sailing on Viking was apparent in seeing ample lines for guests returning to the larger ships as we swiftly boarded the intimate 930-guest Star with no wait.
However, it was the inclusions that most set Viking apart in the Caribbean, especially a free shore excursion in every port, most of which were welcome off-the-beaten-path alternatives, save for St. Thomas and St. Martin. Complimentary tours were mostly island overviews ranging in length from two to five hours, but for anyone new to the destinations, they were very good primers. And if you wanted to take a deeper dive, optional paid excursions were fairly priced. It’s even possible that the line will eventually offer exclusive tours as well.
Viking is all about full immersion, and the Caribbean experience did not only begin and end ashore. Before heading out, wonderfully detailed port talks briefed guests with cultural and historical context as well as shore excursion details, and enrichment lectures weaved a narrative tying all the islands together in a larger tapestry.
The already excellent dining onboard was enhanced with regional flavors courtesy of a daily appetizer, main course and dessert featuring local tastes like jerk pork medallion and banana tarte tatin. Even Caribbean beers were brought onboard and served for free, all part of the line’s complimentary house beers and wines available at lunch and dinner.
Of course, the Viking Star was built from the very beginning to emphasize the destination wherever it is deployed, and venues like the double-decker Explorers’ Lounge inside observation area was an excellent place to comfortably take in the Caribbean scenery. Also for an outdoor variety, the genuine infinity pool overlooking the stern was usually pointed for the best vantage point to take a gander at the tropical vistas while swimming up to its cantilevered translucent side.