The fastest growing small ship fleet on the oceans arrived in Australia this week – and conquered hearts everywhere.
Viking is already king of the rivers – 64 longships plying waterways in Europe, Asia and China, and a vessel on the Nile in Egypt.
But the line’s move into ocean cruising five years ago caused shock waves. And now we’ve been aboard a Viking ocean ship, we can understand why.
While we were only on the Viking Sun for a lunch and an inspection, there is no doubting she is a beautiful ship wth big ambitions.
Viking is determined to conquer the oceans with a fleet of ten 930-passenger vessels, deliberately identical and proudly Nordic.Chairman Torstein Hagen, the 74-year-old who runs the line, says his fleet is designed for discerning travellers with interests in science, history, culture and cuisine.
He describes Viking as “the thinking person’s cruise” – an alternative to mainstream lines. His main message in Australia is courageous: No kids and no casinos.
Indeed, the “nos” keep coming. No umbrella drinks or formal nights. No art auctions, charges for beer and wine at lunch or dinner, Wi-Fi charges, spa entrance fees, inside rooms, butlers with white gloves.
There is also no “nickel and diming’ – American for cutting back on what cruisers want so they have to pay extra. All-inclusive is a Viking hallmark.
Australians have yet to be fully exposed to the Viking ethos. They are currently around 7% of the line’s passengers. That is about to change…
The Viking Orion will be in Sydney for three months in December, and back in late 2019 for an even longer stay. According to Richard Marnell, Senior Vice President, Marketing, Australia has been a hot seller in America – his countrymen have been booking out cabins as if there was no tomorrow.
If Australians want to experience Viking in 2018/19, they’ll need to get their skates on.
The Orion will be one of the newest ships to call Sydney home. She launches in August, leaving Athens for Mumbai, Bangkok, Hong Kong, and Beijing.Her stay in Australia takes her between Sydney and New Zealand.
In late February next year, the ship leaves Auckland via Sydney, Bangkok and Hong Kong for Vancouver, to continue her world cruise.
According to Michelle Black, Viking Managing Director, Australia and New Zealand, Australians are starting to get the brand. One particular hot seller for Australia has been the North Pacific Passage cruise – a 22-night journey from Japan to Canada. The trip next year will be 50 per cent Aussie – a company record.
So what’s the attraction?
That Viking is a sophisticated line is not in doubt. It believes in enrichment, immersion and experiential travel. It’s a cruise ship for grown ups.
Their idea of entertaiment is a Ted lecture, a historian or a visit to a local market with the ship’s chef. There is a theatre, but no on-board company. The line invites local entertainers to come aboard at port stops.
It all sounds rather earnest – and very Scandinavian. But from our brief visit, the ship seemed anything but.
The Viking Sun – remember, they are all identical because “the destination not the ship is the star” – is a gorgeous, five-month-old with lightwoods, artworks, books, and natural plant life (even lichen). She has a real Nordic feel. She’s proud of it. And no wonder.
There’s an ice room and a steam room in the spa. Apparently, you alternative between the two. It’s very invigorating!
Lunch was a seafood plate with salmon, crab claws. Mains were lamb (an acknowledgement of the region) or salmon, and Italian deserts. It was delicious and healthy, and we left the table feeling virtuous.
The influence of the line’s owner is everywhere. He named his Italian restaurant after his good friend Manfredi Lefebvre d’Ovidio, the chairman of Silversea. His mother’s recipies form the menu in one restaurant. The gift shop is Nordic and sell his favourite jumpers.
Cruising is about experiencing different cultures. And our feeling was that the Viking Sun will certainly give you that. Even sitting in White Bay, Sydney, we felt we’d been to Europe.
Michelle Black is excited by the prospect of introducing Australia to Viking. And the company seems to feel the flag-bearing ocean ships may wean Australia off local brands like Scenic and APT.
“Previously, guests had to fly to Europe to experience Viking,” she says. “We’re thrilled that Australians will be able to experience the Viking difference right from their doorstep, exploring the natural wonders and dynamic cities in our own backyard.”
With the arrival of Viking Jupiter in 2019, the company will be the largest small ship ocean cruise line in the world.
Their state-of-the-art, all-veranda Ocean ships are engineered at a scale that allows central docking in most ports. Guests can relax in the stunning, glass-backed infinity pool cantilevered off the ship’s stern.
From a standing start, Viking is doing well in ocean cruising.
For the second year in a row, the line was named a #1 Ocean by Travel + Leisure readers in the World’s Best Awards 2017. Classified as “small ships” by Cruise Critic, all three of the company’s 930-guest sister ships have been rated and awarded a top rating of five stars by the publication.
Viking Star and Viking Sea were the highest rated ships in their category in the 2017 version of the “cruising bible,” Berlitz’s Cruising and Cruise Ships guidebook.
Not bad for an ocean newbie. And there’s plenty more to come.