Viking’s newest ocean ship, Viking Orion, is on her way to Australia – and local cruisers couldn’t be more delighted.
According to the ship’s General Manager Marcel Gademan, Australians are already Orion’s second biggest market for cruises in the region.
Few cabins remain for her first Australian season. And half those who have booked for her repositioning cruise to Alaska are Aussies, Mr Gademan said.
That’s an incredible climb up the popularity charts for a line just three years old – and a testament to Australia’s love of a long voyage.
Orion will travel from Auckland to Vancouver in 92 nights.
Cruise Passenger is on board the Orion this week. She is carrying over 800 passengers and 400 crew on her inaugural Asian voyage from Bangkok to Hong Kong.
The ship’s manifest reflects the line’s policy of exploiting its rich reputation among Americans for European river cruising. Over 670 guests come from the United States, followed by 60 Australians, 41 from the UK and 35 from Canada.
A number are indeed Viking veterans from the huge river fleet assembled by the line’s chairman, Torstein Hagen, who is listed in the Guinness Book of Records for launching the most river ships in a day: 16.
But many on the Orion – cruising through Cambodia, Vietnam and China – are Viking newbies, attracted by the size and style of the six-strong fleet of small ships.
Noreen from Brisbane is on her fourth Viking ocean trip. “We’ve found the one we like,” she told us. ‘The food, the décor – we really like it all.”
Cruise Passenger’s verdict: a lot of luxury lines had better watch out.
Viking’s brilliant compact design, “no kids and no casinos” mantra and philosophy of creating the thinking person’s cruise looks like a winner.
The Fincantieri-built fleet of six 745-foot small ships are perfect for exploring, getting passengers closer to cities like Ho Chi Minh, and for parking in front of the main town in Ha Long Bay.
Each, like Mr Hagen’s river fleet, are identical in almost every aspect so passengers feel at home right away.
Indeed, it was the proud boast of executive chef Edward Phillips that consistency in flavor across the fleet was a passion. Even the menus, apart from local dishes, are exactly the same.
But if that sounds boring, it isn’t.
Food is a high point. Manfredi’s – impishly named after one of rival ultra-luxe line Silversea’s owners – is one of the best Italian restaurants on the oceans.
The steak is a sensation and the zabaglione is stunning, considering we are thousands of miles from its heritage.
The Chef’s Table serves up a series of exclusive dishes every night and there is a Chef’s Kitchen, where you can go to local markets with Edward, then cook what you bought for lunch.
The Scandinavian interiors are clean, light and modern.
There are nooks and crevices everywhere to hunker down with a good book or enjoy the free Wi Fi with your iPad.
And nice touches like Viking artworks, a café serving Norwegian dishes designed by the owner’s mum (think steak tartar, gravlax salmon and waffles) give the ship a unique Nordic flavour.
The Asia itinerary had a heap of choices and, for an inaugural, was a big hit with passengers.
Viking insists it is more “deluxe” than luxury. But it’s hard not to compare its ships with lines that are in the luxury class.
Pricewise, Viking sits at around $466 as day per person – a significant difference from Silversea’s $620 a day and Seabourn’s $892 a day per person for Asian journeys.
Our cruise in a deluxe Veranda (270 sq feet) with soft-drinks mini bar, one shore excursion included at each port and very drinkable beer and wine with lunch and dinner is great value by comparison.
There are shows, an open-air cinema on three nights, and classical and solo performers around the ship’s bars at night.
The line’s promise not to “nickel and dime” its patrons means you can happily enjoy a fabulous holiday and leave your wallet in your cabin safe. And you’re never bothered by sales people trying to flog you a drinks package or spa products.
Mr Gademan is very clear about where Viking sits. “Viking is more of a deluxe ship and not luxury. We want to be Viking, and not be compared to Regent or Seabourn,” he told us.
“We allow our guests to do what they want to do. The ship is their home. Viking is a very destination-oriented ship.”
And that’s true. On this Asian cruise, the line offered one valuable included tour and a huge choice of experiences that cost a little extra, from dining with locals to market tours and cooking schools.
We talked to dozens of guests aboard Viking Orion – mostly well-heeled boomers looking for value – and their verdict was similar to Noreen’s: “This is the one”.
In a highly contested upper-premium to luxury segment, Viking’s value proposition is will be hard to beat and is likely to be very popular.
Viking is offering journeys of up to 17 days in Asia next month. She arrives in Sydney on November 11 after sailing from Bali, and Australian destinations include Darwin, Cairns, Townsville, Whitsundays, Brisbane, Newcastle and Sydney.
Places are limited. See vikingcruises.com