The Viking Crossing Begins
“I demolish my bridges behind me. Then, there is no choice but to move forward.”
I woke up at 5:00 am this morning. I couldn’t sleep – not because I was having a bad sleep, but because I was too excited for the journey ahead. Today is the day, after all, that Viking Cruises’ Viking Star sets sail on her maiden Transatlantic Crossing for the “New World.”
I arrived in Bergen, Norway yesterday, touching down at Flesland Airport just after 1:00 pm. My own journey took me through Toronto-Pearson Airport and Copenhagen Airport, the latter of which boasts some incredibly easy connections.
Upon landing at Flesland, Viking representatives were stationed at baggage claim, which always seems to take forever in Bergen despite the fact that Flesland is a small airport. More representatives were stationed just outside the arrivals area, and more still were on standby at the doors as guests exited the airport. All of them directed us to the waiting Viking coaches, and in no time we were motoring along on the highways outside of the city, destined for Viking Star at her Skoltegrunnskaien berth near Bergen’s historic Bryggen district.
Embarkation in Bergen is a snap. All tagged luggage is handled by the porters for Viking guests. Unlike embarkation in Miami or other ports of call, there is no need to bribe…er, tip…the porters simply to do their jobs. Here, luggage was taken off the coach and whisked away before we even knew it. Guests then filed into the terminal, went through a customary security screening and passport control, and receive keycards and established onboard accounts in the terminal. The entire process, start to finish: under five minutes.
Aboard Viking Star, every stateroom features its own private balcony. There are no interior staterooms, and no oceanview staterooms. Categories are differentiated mainly by size, and by amenities and features.
One such feature afforded to each stateroom is a set time when staterooms will be ready. Suites are ready the earliest, with some available for guests as early as 11:00 am on embarkation day. My own Deluxe V stateroom on Deck 4 was ready at 2:00 pm, which meant that by the time I reached the ship just after two, I could head straight up and start unpacking.
Viking also adds other features to each stateroom category. My mini-bar, for example, is complimentary and replenished daily. There’s a small selection of items, like soft drinks, spirits, and a few beers. Let’s say I drink both cans of Coke and would like a third. The first two are free, but the third one would cost $2. It’s a very fair system that should please most guests, especially those used to big-ship cruising where nothing (and I mean nothing) is ever complimentary in the mini-bar.
The stateroom itself is wonderful. Slightly smaller than the Penthouse Veranda suites I’ve had in the past, it nonetheless includes one king-sized bed that can be split into two; a seating area for two; a full-sized desk and vanity area, with a fold-out makeup mirror; a massive flat-panel TV mounted to the wall; a full-sized closet; in-room podded coffee machine; and a bathroom with a glass-enclosed shower, heated floors, anti-fog mirror, and Freyja toiletries. There’s also ample North American and European-style power outlets placed throughout the room, along with no less than four USB outlets that are great for charging your iPhone.
The balcony, meanwhile, is big enough that it has two chairs and a full-sized table. There’s also still plenty of room to maneuver around the furniture, which is an important point – I feel many newer ships tend to put too much emphasis on the furniture at the expense of personal space.
If there is a drawback to the stateroom, it is that there’s not quite enough storage space. I’m having a tough time trying to figure out where to put my carryon bag. I normally don’t put it under the bed, as it has lots of electronic doo-dads that I use frequently. But it can’t fit under the coffee table due to its low clearance, and there’s no way to put it near the desk as it starts to encroach on the available space. It’s a very minor complaint in what is really a superbly-designed stateroom.
This morning, I set out on an included walking tour of Bergen. Viking includes at least one complimentary shore excursion in most ports of call – usually a walking tour focused on local history. I couldn’t be happier with this: most of the time, all I really want is a tour that will show me around, on foot, and give me an overview of the port and its history. Viking’s enigmatic founder and Chairman Torstein Hagen calls this “the thinking man’s cruise”, and offering these free, culturally-immersive tours is a wonderful way to emphasize that.
Viking also offers a selection of additional fee tours that are great for guests who may have been to a particular port of call before. These tend to be more in-depth, and in many cases explore outlying areas outside of the port or city itself. Today, no less than eight optional excursions are on offer, from the “Fish Farming & Maritime History” tour; to the “Fantoft Stave Church & Grieg’s House” or the agricultural and culinary offerings found on the “Taste of Norwegian Farm Life” excursion.
What’s great about most of these excursions – including my own walking tour of Bergen – is that Viking utilises the QuietVox audio devices on its ocean shore excursions. Common on most river cruises, they are a rare feature among ocean going cruises. Their importance became apparent in historic Bryggen, where a land-based tour guide was shouting loudly in German to his flock of retiree travellers.