We Love Viking Star

Viking River's first sea-going vessels will redefine the concept of cruising.

The Aft Infinity Pool on Viking Star

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You have probably noticed Viking River Cruises now sponsors "Downton Abbey" and other popular television shows. One of the favorite stories of the line's CEO, Tor Hagen, is that when they first approached Downton Abbey the producers asked them "Who are you, again?" Now, those producers are some of Viking River's biggest fans.

What is the secret to their success? First of all, the Viking River experience is vastly different from sea-going cruises with daily port stops, sometimes more than one and often with a stay overnight or longer. Shore tours for everyone are included, as well as wine, beer, soft drinks and special coffees with meals. Most unusual, free Internet access is available ship-wide, 24-hours a day.

There isn't a major sea-going cruise line in the world that offers so much. And that is what we love about this new concept.

Viking Star - the Most Inclusive Cruise Ship Yet

When Tor Hagen unveiled the Viking Star cruise ship plan at the Beverly Hilton last week he showed us what will qualify as the most "all-inclusive" cruise ship yet. Here is what will be included on the Viking Star cruise ship:

More Time in Port. Cruises itineraries of nine to 15 days have already been calculated to average more time in more ports per cruise than any current cruise line. There will be at least three overnight stays on each cruise and never more than one day at sea.

Free Shore Excursions. Every port of call will include a complimentary shore excursion for each guest - with people put into smaller groups with separate guides. Additional "premium" tours, such as visits to the Hermitage Museum at night, will also be available at a surcharge.

Complimentary Beverages. The ship will also offer complimentary wine, beer and soft drinks at no charge during the lunch and dinner hours and special coffees at any time.

Free Internet Access. Viking Star will be the first cruise ship to offer free, full-time Internet access to all passengers shipwide.

Simply put, Viking Star will bring the river cruise experience to the high seas; but for sea cruises that is a revolution. The only lines that comes close are the most expensive luxury cruise lines, but Tor says Viking Star will be priced more in line with the brands his customers say they sail the most; Oceania, Celebrity and Holland America.

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Fixing the Cruise Experience

When Tor polled his clientele about the current cruise industry he found problems with two basic concepts; very large cruise ships that are "resort destinations" unto themselves; and smaller but very expensive cruise lines that focus on gourmet dining and fine service, usually with gratuities and beverages included.

Here is what his respondents said:

· (Most) Cruise ships have become too big

· They spend too little time in the destination

· The value is not there when you add in the extra charges

· Small (upscale) ships have become too expensive

· Most of these upscale ships are small and outdated.

All of this is accurate. The larger "resorts at sea" mainstream ships would rather keep guests spending money on board than time in port. Shipboard costs can add up quickly, so today the term "nickel and diming" is a common cruise complaint.

But Viking Star will offer the most inclusive cruise experience yet, and he plans to keep it priced competitively with other "premium" cruise lines. The prices points average $421 per person per day, but that includes everything.

The Viking Star Milieu

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Viking Star will have 928- passenger berths in 48,000 gross tons. It will be 754 feet long by 94.5 feet wide, and will have only balcony cabins, a generous 270-square feet on average, with king-sized beds and extra-large showers. An identical sister ship, yet to be named, is slated to debut in 2016. Both will feature modern Scandinavian décor, and in many ways the floor plans resemble the Viking River Longboats - but on a much grander scale.

Starting with the two top decks (seven and eight), all the way forward is a two-story "Explorer's Lounge" with a 270-degree view to the front and sides of the ship. On its lower level is the "Viking Deli" to serve finger-style food when the other dining venues are closed. Behind the Explorer's Lounge is a two-story "Wintergarden," glass enclosed to allow natural sunlight to warm the room in any climate. Next is a "magrodome" enclosed swimming pool - with a retractable ceiling to allow fresh air in or to keep inclement weather out.

On the rear of deck seven is an "Infinity Pool" with its rear-facing wall below the pool water line made of glass and built into the aft end of the ship. Near this pool is the Aquavit Terrace with al fresco dining served from the World Café - for buffet-style food service.

Decks six through three have staterooms, each deck with a self-service laundry. Deck Three also includes the top story of the three deck atrium which is surrounded by public rooms on decks two and one.

Deck Two features the outdoor Promenade Deck that surrounds The Restaurant, the Viking Piano Bar and two separate Cinema Rooms with theater seating. Fully forward is the "Star Theater" for daytime enrichment lectures and nighttime entertainment.

The Spa on Deck One will have a large "thermal suite" - a self-service area with a large hot tub, a dry sauna and what Tor called a "snow room" where guests can dial up a light or moderate snowfall or "blizzard conditions" at the touch of a button.

The Background Story

True cruise aficionados find this bit of cruise ship lore fascinating. Tor's early career included working with a fellow Norwegian named Warren Titus who is credited with "inventing" luxury cruising with a cruise line coincidentally named Royal Viking Line. Many people who still work in the cruise industry, myself included, worked for Royal Viking Line.

The first time I walked aboard a Viking River Cruises boat was in 1997 and the Royal Viking Line influence was unmistakable. Royal Viking Line's first ship was "Royal Viking Star" and that the name of Viking River's first ship will be "Viking Star." Royal Viking Line redefined the cruise experience, and Viking Cruises is about to do the same.

In addition, based upon some of the comments by Tor Hagen during this announcement, I would not be surprised to see many more of these ships following. This is a company that by 2014 will have introduced 20 brand new river vessels in just three years. The first cruise ships will arrive in 2015 and 2016, and if successful I believe the line will build as many ships as it can. Tor mentioned the former Renaissance Cruises as a model for what a cruise line can do. Renaissance built eight identical ships in a period of three years - ships so practical in design that they are still in service for Oceania and Azamara Cruises today.

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