Photo courtesy of Viking Cruises
As Viking Cruises prepares for a spring launch of the Viking Sea - its second oceangoing ship, it's time to reflect on the company's first year with the new ocean product. Viking has successfully combined what passengers love about river cruising with the benefits of a larger ship. After cruising on the Viking Star (sister ship to the Sea), here are 10 things I loved about Viking's ocean cruises.
1. The Ship is Gorgeous
The light and airy decor on the Viking Star presents itself as modern - yet intriguing - with hints of Nordic culture infused throughout (such as a display of Viking clothing). In the stunning Explorers' Lounge, there are antique typewriters, telescopes and nautical items thoughtfully displayed without feeling cluttered. In the evenings, the lighting takes on a magical illumination - particularly in the retractable-roofed solarium and indoor pool. When it launches, the Viking Sea will be identical to the Star.
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2. Cruises are All-Inclusive
In addition to included shore excursions at every stop, specialty restaurants are no additional charge - just be sure to make reservations in advance. Complimentary room service is available 24 hours a day and wine is included at lunch and dinner. Free, functional Wi-Fi can be found throughout the ship, and most rooms come with handy items like binoculars, mini fridges, bathrobes and single-serve espresso machines.
3. Service is Excellent
Almost immediately upon arrival, the cabin steward gave a welcome-aboard "tour" of the cabin to show all the features it offered. Any questions I had throughout the cruise were answered, and the Explorers' Desk (guest services) was open 24 hours for assistance. Feedback sheets were given after each excursion and at the conclusion of the cruise. There was rarely a long wait for anything in the restaurants - even during the busiest dining periods.
4. Attention to Detail is Everywhere
Ever stumble along those long cabin hallways when the boat is rocking? Viking installed handrails to help guests keep their balance during high seas. Other thoughtful touches include automatic closet lights, a jewelry/vanity drawer in the desk and even a tiny washing machine in the spa for bathing suits. Hot towels were presented every time guests returned from shore (it was chilly on my voyage), and umbrellas and bottled water were readily available near the exit.
5. They Use All the Latest Technology
Prior to arrival, I was able to make online reservations for dining, spa treatments and shore excursions. The flat-screen television in my stateroom had a channel that showed a calendar with my selections. Coffee tables in the Explorers' Lounge have digital touch screens with information about Viking destinations, and screens near the elevators provided a schedule of the day's events and dinner menus.
6. The Food is Fabulous
Not only is the cuisine delightful, the flexible dining options allow passengers to mingle or have a table to themselves. At the World Cafe (buffet) options on my voyage included sushi, chilled shrimp, crab legs, a salad and cold cut bar, daily soups and made-to-order stir-fry dishes. I often find cruise ship desserts to be subpar, but on the Star I looked forward to them - not to mention the changing menu of gelato. Both alternative restaurants were unique - Mamsen's specialized in Italian cuisine while the Chef's Table offered a five-course tasting menu.
7. There is Plenty of Space to Relax
With a 930-guest capacity, the ship doesn't feel crowded. Areas like the whimsical Wintergarden lounge, the outdoor infinity pool on the aft, or the three-deck atrium, offer a quiet area to unwind. Every stateroom comes with a private balcony, and the minimum stateroom square footage is 270 - significantly larger than the average ocean-going ship.
8. The Spa is Outstanding (and Complimentary)
The spa on Viking Star is the one of the best I've seen on a ship - with the buzzworthy "snow grotto" adding to the experience (a small, snowy room to cool off in). Unlimited access to the steam room, sauna, Jacuzzi, snow grotto, and hydrotherapy pool (and adjacent fitness center) is included in the fare - yet during my cruise there was never a large crowd in the spa.
9. The Relaxed Cruising Style
Although Viking does not have an outrageous number of entertainment options (as compared with other ocean ships), it is ideal for those who prefer a quieter cruise experience instead of a floating amusement park. That's not to say there aren't things to do: there are enrichment lectures, trivia nights, live music, evening performances in the theater, yoga and Zumba classes, and other scheduled events. Viking's port-intensive schedule allows guests to spend most of the days on shore - or they could opt to relax on board and enjoy the ship.
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10. The Focus on Ports of Call
Onboard enrichment lectures with experts and port talks before arrival give guests a better sense of the area. In addition, excursions are included (although optional tours can be booked for an extra charge), so cruisers can learn about the history and culture while they explore without having to make their own tour arrangements.
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