It’s not very often that a new cruise line starts up, and it’s even more rare to say that you were there when it all began. Still, that is exactly what we had the privilege of witnessing last Thursday night in Beverly Hills, California. On May 16, 2013, the unveiling of Viking Ocean Cruises happened in the International Ballroom of the Beverly Hilton hotel – the very same venue that hosts the Golden Globe Awards ceremony annually – and boy, was it exciting.
After enjoying a cocktail hour among fellow journalists, travel agents and Viking VIPs, we were invited into the main auditorium where we all took a seat in the ballroom’s lower terrace. The famous stage was set just three rows in front of us and large video screens, placed 270-degrees around, played homages to the destinations frequented by Viking River Cruises. Then Torstein Hagen (pictured in the header image above), Chairman and CEO of Viking Cruises, the new parent company moniker, confidently took to the stage. (Viking Cruises will encompass both Viking River Cruises and Viking Ocean Cruises, often abbreviated by the company as Viking Rivers and Viking Oceans.)
Torstein proceeded to first outline the extraordinary successes of Viking River Cruises including the recent boom in new longship construction for the line before segueing to the primary purpose of the evening’s festivities: the birth of a new ocean cruise line. He presented a number of impressive slides indicating that Viking’s existing guests also take ocean cruises on premium and upper premium cruise lines and that 70% of them claim Viking offers a better experience than on their preferred ocean cruise lines.
Most notably, Viking’s guests are disenchanted with ocean cruising’s little time spent at destinations, the expense of shore excursions, increasing vessel size, aging and costly small-ship livery, and overall diminished value. Consequently, 84% of Viking’s guests would like to go on a Viking Ocean cruise, and Viking will indeed accommodate them beginning in 2015 with Viking Ocean Cruises and the all-new Viking Star, one of at least two new cruise ships to come from the line.
What’s in store for patrons of Viking Ocean Cruises is no simple rehashing of past cruise lines either. Top on Viking’s list of guiding principles is a focus on destinations and value, and the result is effectively a fine balance of premium and luxury cruising. For instance, hitting a sweet spot between Azamara Club Cruises’ one included “AzAmazing Evening,” – a free port experience per sailing – and Regent Seven Seas Cruises’ unlimited free shore excursions is Viking Ocean Cruises’ one complimentary excursion per port.
Also on the list of impressive inclusions are unprecedented free Wi-Fi; beer, wine and soft drinks with lunch and dinner; specialty restaurants (except with entry-level accommodations); self-service laundry and 24-hour room service. Also, the ship will spend more time in port than other cruise lines with an average of 12.1 hours at each destination. The Viking Star herself is quite the innovator with a number of enticing features like all-veranda staterooms; an infinity pool, poolside fire-pit, a two-deck observation lounge and an al fresco restaurant that opens up to the surrounding promenade deck – as all outlined in our Viking Star introductory photo tour here.
The Viking Star will offer staterooms that are 17% larger and pricing that is 38% less than competitors with a presented per diem cost of $421.00 on 10- to 50-day itineraries in the Baltic, Mediterranean and Western Europe beginning in May 2015. Maiden voyage itineraries are described by the line as follows:
- Viking Homelands (15 days; Stockholm – St. Petersburg – Copenhagen – Bergen) – This itinerary features a blend of northern continental European cities, imperial Russia and the legendary homeland of the Vikings. The journey includes overnights in Bergen, Stockholm and St. Petersburg, plus calls in Helsinki, Tallinn, Gdansk, Berlin (Warnemünde), Copenhagen, Aalborg, Stavanger, and Flam. Introductory 2-for-1 pricing starts at $4,999 per person with discounted airfares from $895 per person.
- Passage Through Western Europe (15 days; Bergen – London – Paris – Barcelona) – The nimble proportions of Viking Star give guests access to the heart of the Continent as well as coastal cities on this cross-region itinerary that journeys from the Viking waters of Bergen to London on the Thames, down the Atlantic Coast of France and Portugal, and to the Mediterranean. Ports include Lisbon, Cadiz, Gibraltar, and Cartagena with overnights in Bergen, London, Paris (Rouen) and Barcelona. Introductory 2-for-1 pricing starts at $4,499 per person with discounted airfares from $795 per person.
- Empires of the Mediterranean (10 days; Venice – Athens – Ephesus – Istanbul) – From ancient ruins to medieval cities, this Mediterranean journey starts in Venice and journeys to Pula and Dubrovnik in Croatia; Kotor, Montenegro; Santorini, Athens (Piraeus), and Ephesus (Kusadasi), plus an overnight in Istanbul. Introductory 2-for-1 pricing starts at $2,999 per person with discounted airfares from $695 per person.
Combination cruises of the above are also available, ranging from 22 to 50 days, and starting at $6,799 per person for introductory pricing with air specials from $695 per person.
The Viking Star will begin construction at the Italian Fincantieri shipyard this June, and we will certainly follow her construction progress extensively. Also, there is already a second ship on order for delivery in 2016 and “conditional orders and options for four more additional ocean vessels,” according to Viking Cruises. For more information on the first, Viking Star, and her itineraries already on sale, visit Viking Ocean Cruises‘ website here.
Are you excited about this new cruise line and fleet roadmap? Please feel free to share your opinion with us in the comments section below…