Viking Cruises’ Viking Sky was delivered in January and will be christened in June. High standards, rather than bells and whistles, are the key to its evident appeal.
You’ll have to be a serious cruise geek to spot the differences between Viking Sky, which launched earlier this year, and her sister ships. The gym is a little bigger, but after that we’re getting pedantic.
When I board the ship, the journalist in me is a little disconcerted that Viking Sky is a near carbon copy of Viking Star and Viking Sea. It’s hard to write news where there is nothing new.
However, from a trade perspective, Neil Barclay, head of sales, Viking Cruises UK, argues that consistency across the ocean fleet is a very good thing.
“It’s an easy sell,” he tells me, as we drink coffee in the Explorer’s Lounge, an airy observation venue that also serves as a travellers’ library filled with interesting books and artefacts. “You don’t have different deck plans to navigate, and there’s a set structure of cabin grades. From a customer perspective, there’s continuity. If you go on one ship, you can expect the same standards of service and options on all ships.”
As soon as I have experienced the service myself, I’m inclined to agree with him. The Viking Sky crew have an intuitive and obliging way of looking after their guests, and they go about their duties with warm, friendly smiles.
Typically cruise lines want to shout about what they do have onboard their ships, but in an unexpected twist, Neil and I spend time chatting about what’s missing on Viking Sky. But the experience is made richer when you consider what’s not there.
There are no children whatsoever. “We only have two-berth cabins, so we really don’t book any [young kids],” he says.
There are no casinos, no water slides, and announcements are kept to the bare minimum. There are no photographers capturing your every move and flogging the pictures. There are no nasty surprises when it comes to your bill at the end of the cruise. WiFi is included and there’s a laundry on every deck, where you can do your own washing. “Our only chargeables are drinks outside of lunch and dinner, spa treatments and shore excursions,” explains Neil.
But even these are not totally prohibitive. There is always one excursion in every port call that is included in the overall cruise price – usually a snapshot overview-style coach and walking tour.
Neil points out the value of inclusive shore excursions. “Some lines might charge in the region of £100 for a tour we include. A week on Viking Star in the Med leads in at
£1,490 for a week, including flights. Deduct the cost of five shore excursions from that and the value element becomes massive.”
There’s no charge to use the spa facilities, which include the wonderfully invigorating Nordic bathing rituals of sauna, ice plunge, steam room, snow room and Jacuzzi. “It’s like a spa you would pay to visit for the day in the UK, but it’s all included,” he adds.
Viking has also ripped up the rule book when it comes to dining onboard. The Restaurant is the main dining venue in the evening, or you can choose Italian in Manfredi’s or the Chef’s Table for an interactive dining experience. Neither attract an additional charge; guests just need to make a reservation.
“Charging for speciality restaurants gives the impression they are superior quality,” says Neil. “But we say the Restaurant is the best dining on the ship.”
There are drinks packages on offer, starting from $167 for a 10-day cruise. But there’s also no corkage fee – so if guests want to bring wine back from a cruise port and drink it on their balcony, they’re welcome to do so.
It’s the kind of ship where you can dictate your own levels of sociability. If, after dinner, you want to curl up with a book in one of the ship’s many comfortable nooks and crannies or watch a movie from the up-to-date selection on the widescreen TV in your cabin, you can. But for those who fancy something a little livelier, there are musical shows in the Star Theater and a live band in Torshavn, which entices a few couples to show off their best moves on the dance floor.
“We don’t really shout about Torshavn. People tend to stumble across it, and then return every night of their cruise for the atmosphere,” explains Neil.
It’s this understated elegance that ties loyal customers to the brand. You won’t find any bells and whistles in the Viking fleet, but you will find each ship is a calming, peaceful oasis that has a therapeutic influence on its guests. And I’ll take that as my headline any day.
Peter Ruck, GoCruise
I’m surprised they call it four-star. I have been on similar-size ships that have far more passengers onboard. It’s more understated premium.
It’s the little touches that really make it for me, such as underfloor heating in the bathroom and soft-closing drawers.
The extra added value is also impressive: complimentary WiFi, drinks with your meals and alternative dining options with no surcharge.
The crew is so welcoming and attentive. On some cruise ships at mealtimes you see waiters rushing around frenetically trying to get things cleared, but this, even in the main World Café, feels so much calmer.
I’ve driven from Civitavecchia to Rome before and I wasn’t looking forward to the long coach journey but our guide kept us so informed with insights into Rome and its history that the journey sped by.
For a new-build company that hasn’t gone into ocean cruising until now, they have it right first time.
Claire Paterson, Affinion Travel
This is my first time on a cruise ship and I am blown away. Everyone is so welcoming. I felt instantly calm and relaxed because of the ship’s beautiful design. I can see Viking Cruises suiting both active clients and those who simply want to chill. It has that variety to suit different types of people.
It’s good value too. It’s hard to believe we had a private dining experience in Manfredi’s for no extra cost.
And when we returned from our shore excursion to Rome yesterday we had missed lunch, but it had been delivered to our individual staterooms. That was just so thoughtful and unexpected.
A 15-day Viking Homelands itinerary, from Bergen to Stockholm and visiting eight countries, starts from £3,590pp. Vikingcruises.co.uk