Viking River Cruises is charting an aggressive course for a new ocean-going brand.
Viking Ocean Cruises, on offshoot of the river cruise giant, will be hitting the high-seas in May 2015 with a fleet of new ships, all-inclusive pricing options and more amenities included than any other cruise line in the price range.
Viking River Cruises is the biggest river cruise line in the fastest growing sector of the cruise industry: river cruising. The cruise line plans to launch its first ocean ship --the 928-passenger Viking Star -- in 2015. A second ocean ship is on order for delivery in 2016. By the end of 2014, Viking plans to have 20 sleek new river boats in service, including10 new “Viking River Longboats” the company christened in one day back in December– a new Guinness-certified world record.
Viking River chairman Torstein Hagen, speaking at the Beverly Hilton Hotel in Beverly Hills last week to unveil the plans, said the line is the most “all-inclusive” cruise ship yet.
"There is a hole in the market somebody should fill," said Hagen. "I feel we invented modern river cruising. Now I hope we can revive the destination part of ocean cruising."
What is the Viking difference?
The experience is expected to be different from other sea-going cruises in several ways. Like Viking River cruises that include port stops every day and often include a stay overnight or longer -- Viking Ocean Cruises will begin and end with overnights in the first and last ports on the itinerary. Cruises itineraries of nine to 15 days have already been calculated to average more time (over 12 hours) in more ports per cruise than any current cruise line. There will be at least three overnight port stays on each cruise and never more than one day at sea without a port call.
In addition, shore tours for everyone are included in the fare. So are wine, beer, soft drinks and special coffees with meals. Most unusual, free Internet access is available ship-wide, 24-hours a day.
Simply put, Viking Star will bring the river cruise experience to the high seas; but for sea cruises, that is a revolution. The only company that comes close to the Viking Ocean concept is Regent Seven Seas, the most expensive cruise line in the world.
Adapting a river cruise to an ocean experience
“Ocean cruising is a drinking man’s cruise, while river cruising is a thinking man’s cruise,” says Hagen.
To find out how best to adapt a river cruise to an ocean experience, Hagen said the company polled his clientele about the current cruise industry. Viking River guests are generally 55+, English-speaking, well-educated, affluent, curious and active in culture, music and history, according to Hagen.
The upshot of the poll concluded that respondents thought that most cruise ships have become too big, passengers spend too little time in the destination, the value is not there when you add in the extra charges and small ships have become too expensive, while many of the upscale ships are small and outdated.
Hagen asked them, “If we build a cruise ship like our river boats, will you come?” Some 84 percent said “Yes.”
Hagen said the new Viking ocean ships will be smaller than the bigger ocean-going cruise ships so they can get access into most ports. Smaller ships also cut down on boarding and disembarking time. Another difference is that the Viking ocean ships won't have casinos, a traditionally fixture on larger ships.
Viking Star details
The Viking Star will be built at the Fincantieri shipyard near Venice, Italy, with space for 928 passengers in 48,000 gross tons. It will be 754 feet long by 94.5 feet wide, and will have only balcony cabins -- a generous 270-square feet on average, with king-sized beds and extra-large showers.
An identical sister ship, yet to be named, is slated to debut in 2016. Both will feature modern Scandinavian décor, and in many ways the floor plan resembles that of the Viking River Longboats – but on a much grander scale.
In addition to the all-balcony staterooms there will be 14 two-room Explorer Suites, ranging from 757 to 1,448 sq. ft. with wrap-around private verandas. There will be no private areas on the vessel for “suite guests only,” and there will not be abundant pull-down or sofa-beds to try to fit in as many people as possible.
Public rooms will be light and airy, starting with the two top decks (seven and eight), all the way forward is a two-story Explorer’s Lounge with a 270-degree view to the front and sides of the ship. On its lower level is the Viking Deli, serving finger-style food when the other dining venues are closed.
Behind the Explorer’s Lounge is a two-story Wintergarden, a glass-enclosed space that allows natural sunlight to warm the room in any climate. Next is a “magrodome” enclosed swimming pool – i.e., one with a retractable ceiling to allow fresh air in or to seal it out depending on the weather.
Next we see the “World Café” – the casual dining area of the ship but with “action stations” rather than buffet-style lines. Additional al fresco seating for the World Café is offered in the Aquavit Terrace. On the rear of deck seven is an Infinity Pool with a rear-facing glass wall below the pool's water line built into the aft end of the ship.
Decks six through three have staterooms, and each deck has a self-service laundry. Deck three also includes the top story of a three-deck atrium that is surrounded by public rooms on decks two and one. Deck two features an outdoor Promenade that surrounds the Restaurant, the Viking Piano Bar and two separate Cinema Rooms with theatre-style seating. Fully forward is the Star Theater, the venue for daytime enrichment lectures and nighttime entertainment.
The Spa on deck one will have a large “thermal suite” – a self-service area with a large hot tub, a dry sauna, and what Hagen called a “snow room” where guests can dial up a light or moderate snowfall or “blizzard conditions” at the touch of a button.
Hagen says Viking Star will be priced more in line with the brands his customers say they sail the most -- Oceania, Celebrity and Holland America. The first Viking Star sailings in 2015 will start at $2,999 per person for a 10-night trip in the Mediterranean, and company is offering discounted airfare from the U.S. to Europe starting at $695 per person. But a large attraction will be the all-inclusive pricing.
"People are sick and tired of being nickel-and-dimed on cruise ships," Hagen said. "It's bloody annoying if you ask me."
Paul Motter is the editor of CruiseMates.com, an online cruise guide. Follow him on Twitter @cruisemates.