From its television commercials and word of mouth, Viking has established itself as a well-known river cruise brand – even among those yet to sail. But with the introduction of Viking Star in 2015, the company has rapidly expanded into the ocean space, as well.
Viking Sea was even voted Best Small Ship in the 2019 10Best Readers’ Choice Awards, with Viking Sky coming in third. The current fleet of six highly-acclaimed ships is scheduled to grow to a staggering 16 by 2027, and each takes the company’s successful river cruising philosophy to the seas.
First and foremost, Viking differs from other contemporary cruise lines by countering the mega-ship trend. While ocean cruising giants are often fixated on a “bigger is better” mentality – crafting giant floating resorts that are destinations unto themselves – Viking respectfully disagrees. Its primary focus is still the actual destination, believing that the main reason people travel is to discover new places and learn about them along the way.
The sleek Viking Star along the River Thames in England — Photo courtesy of Jason Leppert
All of its fresh ships are modeled after the original 2015-launched Viking Star. With a capacity of only 930 guests each, the nearly identical sister ships are a delightful return to cruising basics, but without compromise. All accommodations come equipped with balconies, and even entry-level cabins have spacious bathrooms with sizable showers, setting a new standard in the cruise industry for cabin comfort.
The vessels may be smaller overall, but their shared spaces are larger than expected, from the soaring Viking Living Room atrium to the double-decker Explorers’ Lounge observation venue. Like its Viking Longships riverboats, modern Scandinavian decor welcomes passengers in an inviting homey setting stretching across all decks, and nothing is ever too formal – country club casual is customary.
What carries over most significantly from the river to the ocean are Viking’s extensive inclusions, the most notable of which is also destination-centric: a free shore excursion in every port. Top-dollar luxury lines may offer such a perk, but at this price point, they were previously all but unheard of.
Other headlining value additions include complimentary Wi-Fi; house beers and wine, as well as soft drinks at lunch and dinner; specialty coffees, teas and bottled water all the time; meals at alternative restaurants; 24-hour room service and spa thermal suite access. All that to say that Viking by no means believes in a nickel-and-dime approach.
The magnificent double-decker Explorers’ Lounge on Viking Star — Photo courtesy of Jason Leppert
The line also prides itself on what it specifically omits. You’ll notice a lack of casinos, art auctions, photographers, smoking (save for a small designated outdoor deck area) and even children. Passengers under 18 are not permitted to sail. What that leaves – sans water slides or any other extraneous deck attractions – is a purified cruise experience.
Certain competitors will likely never follow in these footsteps, but as Viking amasses an armada, others will have to take notice, if only to consider offering more bang for the buck. For now, Viking has itself a pretty unique program, and many of those individual inclusions are standouts.
While many lines are abandoning traditional observation lounges, the aforementioned Explorers’ Lounge is a breath of fresh air. Lined with floor-to-ceiling windows, the space comprises two levels of plush seating where you can appreciate the passing scenery – all of which are serviced with delicious drinks and Norwegian treats from the attached Mamsen’s Deli.
All the food onboard is remarkable, and passengers can freely access the two alternative restaurants – The Chef’s Table and Manfredi’s Italian Restaurant – with a simple reservation. The former features rotational themed tasting menus, and the latter is one of the best ethnic eateries at sea. Even the round-the-clock room service selection is decidedly gourmet compared to most.
The sublime spa thermal suite aboard Viking Star — Photo courtesy of Jason Leppert
If you’re more about sheer rest and relaxation, the spa is the place to be. Unlike other operators, LivNordic does not try to up-sell participants, and its thermal suite is completely complimentary, regardless of any treatment purchases.
The sublime free facilities include a dry sauna, chilled plunge pool, steam room, snow room, whirlpool, thalassotherapy pool, icy water bucket and heated tile loungers. They’re in place for Nordic bathing, a practice of alternating between hot and cold environments to stimulate healthy circulation.
The best way to experience the Viking difference is to set sail. The Viking Jupiter launched in February 2019, following the five other ships. And they’re already sailing all around the world, from the Mediterranean to the Caribbean – even Alaska for the first time in 2019.