VIKING OCEAN CRUISES TRAVEL GUIDE

Very Inclusive: Everything from Wi-Fi to specialty restaurants, beer and wine with lunch and dinner, and access to the thermal suite in the spa is included in the base rate, o Elegant Design: The modern Scandinavian decor, with lots of light-colored wood and references to nature, is chic and understated, a rarity at sea. o One of the Best Spas at Sea: Along with individual rooms (for paid treatments) a gorgeous thermal suite is open to all passengers at no extra charge, including hot and cold plunge pools, saunas, steam rooms, and a Snow Roomfilled with, you guessed it, snow.

Exceptional Italian Restaurant: Manfredi’s, the Italian trattoria on board, is one of the best of its kind at sea and there’s no upcharge to dine there, o Well-Designed Bathrooms: Cabins have large showers and heated bathroom floors, o Verandas for Everyone: All cabins are outsides with private balconies.

Slow Wi-Fi: The Internet access may be complimentary, but as on many ships, it can get overwhelmed when the entire vessel tries to connect, o Sedate: The music you’ll be given is generally classical, and if you need to be constantly entertained, this isn’t the ship for you. The Viking experience is a more cerebral one than is offered on other lines.

Overview

This company, well known for being the largest river cruise operator in Europe, christened its first ocean-going ship, Viking Star, in May 2015. An identical sister-ship, Viking Sea, set sail in 2016 and two more ships are slated for 2017. In the summer of 2016, Travel + Leisure readers named Viking the world’s best oceangoing cruise line, marking the first time in 20 years that Crystal Cruises hasn’t been awarded the top honor.

EXPERIENCE

Viking has translated its river-going product to the high seas incredibly smoothly. On board, you’ll find a tranquil ambiance, with guests flocking to afternoon tea and the spa’s thermal suite on sea days and making dinner the main event most evenings. Ashore, a selection of excursions is offered at no additional charge, while optional tours carry a per-person cost.

ROUTES

Viking primarily focuses on the Mediterranean, Western Europe, and the Baltics, with special emphasis on Scandinavian itineraries that depart from Bergen, Norway the homeport for Viking Star and Viking Sea. In the fall of 2016, Viking Star set sail on Viking’s first-ever transatlantic crossing, where she operated the line’s first Canada and New England, East Coast, and Caribbean itineraries.

PASSENGERS

Most passengers are older American couples, largely in their 60s and 70s with an additional number in their 50s and 80s. These cruisers tend to be well traveled, and many passengers choose the line because they have cruised on the line’s river ships.

DINING

Viking offers a striking variety of cuisines on board, offering a mix of regional specialties from the areas being visited and North American favorites. Among the best dishes are the Norwegian fare, like the homemade waffles and the split-pea soup. Both are served up inMamsen’s, named for Chairman Torstein Hagen’s beloved mother (that’s her nickname); its largely her recipes you’ll be enjoying when you sit down at this casual venue.

Full sit-down meals are served in The Restaurant for breakfast, lunch and dinner, while more casual fare is on offer in the World Cafe on Deck 7. Interestingly for a cruise ship, the World Cafe features an open-galley arrangement that lets guests see the behind-the-scenes food preparation. The

Pool Grill also offers casual, pool-grill fare during the afternoon. We personally couldn’t resist the Pancho Villa Burger, which still ranks as the best burger we’ve had on a ship outside of Carnival’s Guy Fieri grill.

Each ship also has two specialty restaurants: the Italian-inspired Manfredi’s; and the intimate Chefs Table that is designed to accommodate just a handful of guests at a single time, all dining on a set menu. The afternoon tea, which takes place in the Wintergarden, is the best at sea outside of those offered by Cunard. Guests choose from 19 varieties of tea, which are served alongside multitiered trays of finger sandwiches and miniature desserts.

ACTIVITIES

The focus on board is to be as all-inclusive as possible and most days the only activity with a fee attached is the wine tasting class. Other onboard activities are low key on sea days, with shuffleboard and bocce up on deck and trivia, knitting, chess, and dance classes inside. There are also cooking demonstrations in the polished Kitchen Table cooking school, and academic-style enrichment lectures, often (but not always) on topics related to the ports.

Less structured play time takes place in the ship’s multiple pools, including our fave: the infinity pool on the aft deck, a first at sea. On sunny days, these spots fill up. However, on cold, grey, or rainy sea days, the most popular spot to congregate is the spa (for more, see p. 279 ).

CHILDREN’S PROGRAMS

There are no children’s facilities at all on Viking Ocean Cruises, and the minimum age to sail is 16. ENTERTAINMENT

Entertainment tries to be higher-brow. Sometimes it’s a pianist, sometimes chamber music or an impromptu aria. Later at night, the most popular shows include a Rat Pack tribute show by one of the young resident vocalists. Stage shows, though, are not Viking’s strong suit. Our show aboard Viking Sea a tribute to, surprise surprise, ABBA was embarrassingly amateur, and doesn’t fit at all with Viking’s brand of graceful elegance. But, the line is barely over a year old; it’s safe to assume programming will be ironed out in time.

SERVICE

The service varies from efficient and polished to still-getting-up-to-speed, but it is always warm and friendly just like the line’s river cruises. The ship also has a complimentary self-serve laundry rooms that feature free-of-charge detergent. Viking recommends $14 USD per person, per day for gratuities.

Viking Star – Viking Sky

Viking hit it out of the park with these handsome vessels. They bring Viking’s river cruise-style amenities and Scandinavian heritage to the oceans of the world, a contemporary interpretation of cruising’s glory days.

THE SHIPS IN GENERAL

Sometimes being the new kid on the block has its perks. Viking had the leisure to study what the other cruise lines were doing…and improve upon it substantially. The 930-guest Viking Star (2015 debut) and her sister Viking Sea (2016) brought back a number of classic features that had gradually started to disappear off many contemporary cruise ships, foremost among them: space. Too many cruise lines have been sacrificing open air decks in favor of cramming more cabins aboard each vessel. Not Viking. On these ships you’ll find such delights as wraparound promenade decks, glass Magrodome-covered pools, and plenty of floor-to-ceiling windows. To this they added smartly designed common areas with few-to-no points of congestion; and snappy, chic Scandinavian decor (it echoes the design and textures found aboard the line’s river cruise vessels). We also like how Viking placed the main dining room high up on the ship, with floor-to-ceiling windows that can completely open when conditions allow. That same feature was applied to the World Cafe, the ship’s casual dining venue. There’s nothing like having breakfast in Bergen, Norway in a massive, open-air restaurant at sea.

These ships do practically everything right. Elevators are quick and responsive, and signage is well-labeled. The LivNordic Spa offers the best thermal suite we’ve seen outside of Cunard’s Oueen Mary 2, with the major difference being that Viking provides its version completely free of charge. Furniture is soft and yielding; clearly, someone tested every piece of furniture before committing it to the ship. Books on polar exploration, Norwegian history and travel are placed throughout the ship for guests to enjoy, and Viking even produces a gorgeous print brochure that you can take home, detailing the ship’s multi-million-dollar collection of artwork. In staterooms, artwork created by school children at one of Viking’s sponsored schools in China grace the walls, a truly lovely touch.

On our first voyage on board Viking Sea, we’d been on for mere minutes when one guest exclaimed, That’s it! I’m never leaving this ship. We feel the same way.

Viking Sky and Viking Sun will launch in 2017, and should be more or less identical to Viking Star and Viking Sea. A fifth and sixth ship, as yet unnamed, will set sail in 2018 and 2020, respectively.

Cabins Aboard Viking’s oceangoing ships, all staterooms have private balconies, a lovely perk. There are essentially five categories of staterooms and suites to choose from and as you move up in category, Viking adds more amenities: The larger, more expensive staterooms and suites get to pick their excursions and dining options earlier (online, using My Viking Journey), and are able to embark the vessel earlier.

The most basic option (which aren’t very basic at all) are the Veranda Suites which feature an embarkation time of 11am, with stateroom access at 3pm Shore excursions can be pre-booked 60 days in advance, but Veranda Suites don’t include guaranteed specialty dining reservations. That doesn’t mean you can’t get them; it just means that you’re not guaranteed to. Deluxe Verandas are essentially the same as Veranda Suites, but rooms are available an hour earlier, at 2pm, shore excursions can be booked at 67 days out, and these rooms have the addition of an in-suite coffee

Maker, and a mini-bar that’s replenished daily. Guests in these staterooms are also guaranteed reservations in the ship’s specialty restaurants.

Jumping up a few levels, Penthouse Suites include the best of everything on board, with room access at 11am, shore excursion reservations at 97 days out, guaranteed restaurant reservations and complimentary pressing, dry-cleaning, laundry, and shoe-shine service.

Public areas & activities The ships are a big part of experience, with a soothing Scandinavian design that displays a thoughtfulness seldom seen in modern shipbuilding. Materials, fabrics and furniture are all top-of-the-line, and considerable thought has been put into passenger flow. Lounges are rarely crowded. Sightlines in the main theater are unobstructed and the outdoor movie screen, mounted near the midships pool, has a clever perk: Guests tune into the soundtrack with wireless Bose noise-cancelling headphones that keep that rich, movie-quality sound while allowing other guests to use the pool deck without having to hear the movie, too.

The heart of these ships is known as The Living Room a casual, couch-lined space surrounding the three-story high atrium, with a grand staircase, living garden, and massive two-story LED screen that showcases itinerary-specific images of upcoming ports of call.

Tucked away on Deck 2 is one of our favorite areas: Torshavn, a sweet little lounge with seating clustered around a decently sized dance floor. A nightclub with live music, its bar serves up a wide array of drinks including the largest selection of vintage Armagnacs at sea. We road-tested a 1965 one that set us back a cool $79 for four centiliters (about 1.3 fl. oz.) and now we’re hooked on rare, hard-to-fmd Armagnac. Thanks, Viking.

Live music can also be found at the Explorer’s Lounge. With two-story forward-facing windows and upper and lower observation areas (including an outdoor viewpoint that spans the width of the ship), this area is one of the most popular spots during the day though you may find, that the best spots get taken early and are so comfortable some guests simply nap in them

You’ll feel like you’ve arrived in Cruise Heaven when you see the pool and spa offerings aboard these two ships. A midship pool is covered by a retractable glass magrodome roof, while an infinity pool (a first at sea) is cantilevered out over the stern. Kudos to Viking here for doing away with the ugly-as-sin standard hot tubs found on most cruise ships; the hot tubs aboard Viking Star and Viking Sea are rectangular rather than circular. Have you ever seen guests stop and admire the hot tubs on board a cruise ship? You will here.

The design sets the spa apart as well: Inside the dressing rooms, you use your room key to secure your things in a locker a first at sea, but a design that needs some work since, when the ship is moving quickly, the unlocked doors swing back and forth.

The thermal suite, which is complimentary to all of the ship’s passengers, regardless of whether they book a treatment, is designed around the Swedish love/ethos of alternating between hot and cold temperatures. The hot tub is adjacent to the hydrotherapy pool, and two showers one with pressure point spouts, and the other with a wooden bucket that dumps cold water on you to cool your body down. There are also an aromatic steam room, heated ceramic lounge chairs, and the highlight of the thermal suite a real, honest-to-gosh Snow Room This small room has a bench and ample snow to stand in as well as icicles hanging from the ceiling.

Next door to the thermal suite is an ample gym with complimentary classes every morning, including Pilates, Zumba, and yoga.

Dining The main dining room is open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner with floor-to-ceiling glass windows that can actually open to the adjacent promenade deck when conditions allow, to let fresh air in. Food here is well executed, service a bit less so, but friendly nonetheless.

The same open-window feature is featured at the buffet World Cafe (breakfast, lunch and dinner and decidedly classier than most shipboard buffets). One highlight: The chef picks up local ingredients in port on some days and serves them here. At the center of the World Cafe is a completely open galley space that lets you watch the chefs while they work.

At lunchtime, right outside the cafe doors, is the Pool Grill (see p. 276 for more). Forward in the Explorer’s Lounge, Mamsen’s serves Norwegian waffles for breakfast and smorbrod (sandwiches) and cakes at lunch. At night, the best split-pea soup we’ve ever had is served but only after 10pm

The specialty restaurants, which come with no additional charge, offer up a wide array of cuisines. The galley-style Chef’s Table serves a set five-course tasting menu that changes every nine days. Manfredi’s is a home run. Curiously named for the founder of luxury line Silversea (Manfredi Lefebvre d’Ovidio), everything here is perfectly executed, from the house-made pasta to the soups, salads, and grilled meats.

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