Celebrating a first with the Viking Star
After its first sail across the Atlantic, the elegant Viking Star made its inaugural debut in North America this month. We were thrilled to be invited onboard the 930-passenger (considered mid-size) passenger ship at the Manhattan Cruise Terminal in New York City as the ship set sail on October 14, 2016 for its new winter home in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Another milestone: This is the first time Viking is expanding its itineraries to the Americas and the Caribbean.
During a festive Sailaway Party kicking off this mini four-day celebration, we joined other guests on the outside deck of the ship’s Explorers’ Lounge to soak in the stunning views of the Manhattan skyline at night, which never gets boring even to native New Yorkers.
Of course, the highlight was sailing past Ellis Island the Statue of Liberty. No matter how many times we catch a glimpse of Lady Liberty, we still get goose-bumps trying to imagine how our immigrant grandparents felt arriving here from Europe with only the clothes they had on their backs to be greeted by the 151-foot copper statue.
Viking expands its journeys
Most travelers tend to associate the Viking brand with Viking River Cruises; that’s not surprising. The line has launched a staggering number, 59 river cruise vessels since 2012.
Viking now also operates two sister ocean cruise vessels, the flagship Viking Star (introduced in 2015) and the Viking Sea (introduced in 2016). As part of an ambitious expansion plan, four more ocean vessels are set to launch by 2020: The Sky, Sun and Spirit will set sail in February 2017, October 2017 and June 2018, respectively. The last ship is yet unnamed, which leaves us wondering what other “S” name the line might choose.
On our first morning onboard, we attended a special event for trade and press by Viking founder and Chairman Torstein Hagen, entitled “The Viking Story.” An industry giant and engaging storyteller Hagen explained how the goal of the company was to “reinvent cruising” by developing ocean cruises built upon the shoulders and success of their river cruise cousins.
The line conducted copious research among its guests to learn why their river cruises are so popular with older (over-55) travelers. This group has many strikingly different sensibilities than passengers booking the large mass-markets cruise ships.
Some of the features he pointed out, now obvious on the Viking Star include:
- Ship design and décor that might be described as understated elegance;
- All-balcony cabins;
- User-friendly cabin space and bathrooms with “efficient” layouts;
- Minimizing add-ons so that fees are highly inclusive;
- Minimal age threshold of 18 years of age for passengers
- “Keeping casinos where they belong” (in Las Vegas, not on cruise ships)
- Emphasis on feeding curious minds interested in history, geography and culture (through shore excursions and enrichment programs);
- Offering value by maintaining a reasonable ship size that delivers a quality product at a good price.
The success of this strategy has been remarkable. Hagen reported that Viking has captured a 49 percent share of the North American river cruise market.
One snapshot of how the man behind Viking thinks: He told an anecdote of how frustrated he is when he stays at luxury hotels that use water restrictors to limit shower pressure, usually under the environmental guise of saving water. Hagen said that property operators are usually more concerned with cost and use the environment as an excuse.
We will continue to report on our experience on the Viking Star but we can affirm that the extra wide showers have great pressure and user-friendly controls. Without a doubt, you don’t have to be over-50 to appreciate a great shower experience—on land or sea.