The sensibilities of the new Viking Star will be especially appealing to over-50 travelers.
“We like to do things differently,” said Torstein Hagen, founder and Chairman of Viking Cruise Lines, speaking to a group of travel agents and travel journalists shortly after the Viking Star set sail for the first time to its new winter home in the Caribbean.
While the differences between the Viking Star and other mid-size ocean-going vessels in its class aren’t revolutionary, the Star–and her sister ship, the Viking Sea–have a distinct ambiance and personality that will be especially appealing to boomer travelers.
We spent several days onboard the Star as it sailed from New York City to Puerto Rico. While we didn’t have the opportunity to experience port stops and shore excursions, we did get a good sense of life onboard during the course of four sea days.
Here are some of the distinctions we discovered:
Grownup ambiance and sensibilities
The serene onboard environment is unmistakably designed for adults. Viking Ocean Cruises are specifically advertised for and geared to the over-55 market, the same group that has been attracted to Viking River Cruises. In fact, children younger than 16 years of age are not permitted on board.
Call me vain—but there is something comforting about relaxing in the sauna or swim pool, and recognizing you are among your age peers. It is also easy to strike up conversations with people who share the same generational experiences.
The décor and color palate of the ship also appeals to our sensibilities. It is comprised of calming blues, beiges and light Norwegian woods. Design-wise, there is always a quiet spot to sit and relax, or to chat with fellow travelers. Guests don’t have to belly up to a crowded bar for a drink or coffee; when they take a seat, crew seeks them out to for their order. The program of enrichment and excursion talks during the day is geared to intellectually curious travelers of a certain age.
Rethinking the main dining room
Viking Ocean Cruises showcases its finest culinary offerings in their main dining room, called The Restaurant, where passengers have most of their meals. This is a departure from most cruise lines that feature “their best” at smaller, specialty restaurants, often with a surcharge.
The main dining room menus on Viking Ocean cruises change daily, and are history and destination-driven. (Think: Carpaccio and fresh figs in Venice or clam chowder, lobster roll, and Boston cream pie in Boston.)
“If we serve something, we do to right. If we can’t, we don’t do it,” Chef Anthony Mauboussin, Director of Culinary Development for Viking Cruises, explained on our cruise.
The menus feature fresh fish and shellfish; even the lobsters are kept alive onboard before they are served. Prime quality meat is sourced from a dedicated supplier. Hamburgers are made using 40-day aged prime beef.
When guests want to serve themselves, they can eat the exact same foods as that served in The Restaurant at the World Café, an attractive and spacious buffet with multiple stations. The only difference: service and setting.
The line has reconceptualized its smaller venues as “alternative” rather than specialty restaurants. One of them, The Chef’s Table, offers a fixed multi-course tasting menu. When we were on the ship, it featured the regional food of Xiang, China. The other, Manfredi’s, is Italian-themed, a perennial food favorite with travelers. Each alternative restaurant seats 120 persons; reservations need to be made in advance.
Spacious public areas
By doing away with a casino and implementing other design innovations, the ship’s architects have increased the square footage available for public spaces.
There is always ample room (and seating) in the two-story atrium Living Room and the light-filled lounges. The Explorer’s Lounge on Decks 7 and 8 at the bow of the boat offer unobstructed views of the ocean from comfortable armchairs.
While you won’t find climbing walls or discos, you will discover enticing nooks, crannies and libraries. We noticed that large areas are skillfully broken up into smaller dining and conversation areas through the clever use of wall dividers and bookshelves.
Standing upon the shoulders of river cruises (and river cruisers)
When Chairman Hagen spoke, he explained how the line’s river cruising experience has influenced its expansion. The ocean-going vessels incorporate many recommendations from the line’s river cruisers (approximately 479,000 passengers each year). Moreover, small-ship efficiencies garnered from the river ships have migrated to the ocean-going vessels, resulting in costs that are highly competitive with other mid-size ships.
Passengers who’ve been on Viking river ships will notice little things reminiscent of their past experiences like the heated tile bathroom floors and user-friendly shower controls. On a broader level, because the same architect designed both the river and ocean vessels, guests will appreciate the same simple, straightforward design: tasteful and elegant but devoid of glitz.
There are no formal nights. Rather, the dress code during the evening is “casual elegant” although it leaves room for individuals preferences, especially in the more casual buffet restaurant.
With the roots of Viking Cruises being Norwegian, it shouldn’t be surprising that there is a Scandinavian influence throughout the vessel.
Mamsen’s is a small deli counter in the Explorer’s Lounge, named after Hagen’s mother, where guests can enjoy authentic snacks from her cookbook. These include made-to-order waffles with fresh berries, Norwegian goat cheese and chocolate sauce. Also delectable are open-faced sandwiches, such as Atlantic shrimp on white bread, beef tartare on rye bread, and cured salmon on dark bread. Mamsen’s pea soup is served each night between 10PM and midnight.
Throughout the ship, the collection of curated art showcases works by Scandinavian artists. Especially appealing is the huge digital art display in the Atrium lobby. Viking has licensed the digital rights to the entire Munch Museum in Oslo, Norway. Different paintings and lithographs by Edvard Munch rotate across the screen each evening, set to live music.
There are no stuffy butlers or charges for self-service laundry. Instead, the design and décor of the Viking Star feel down-to-earth, welcoming and homelike. But it is the friendliness and warmth of its crew that sets the vessel apart.
“Making people feel comfortable is luxury to me,” says Hagen.
While he admits that Viking Ocean vessels may not suit everyone, these mid-size ships are a perfect fit for over-50 travelers with upscale but no-frills tastes.