The largest river cruise line just revealed its impressive plans for its first sea-voyage cruise ships.
|Tor Hagen presents the new Viking Star at the Beverly Hilton - May 2013|
Last night at the Beverly Hilton Hotel, Tor Hagen, CEO and founder of Viking River Cruises, unveiled plans for the two new cruise ships set to sail into service in 2015. These ships will be unique in design, but also in concept, especially in terms of what they will offer included in the cruise.
The first of newly named "Viking Cruises" ships will be the Viking Star. Both ships will be 48,000 gross tons, 754 feet long by 94.5 feet wide and with 928- passenger berths. Tor Hagen, who started Viking River Cruises when he was already 55, and is now 70 years old, noted proudly last night that except for two ships (referring to Oceania Cruises' two newest and most beautiful ships, Marina and Riviera) no new ships have built in this "space" for almost 30 years.
Most impressive, however, is what he plans to offer in the cruise fare upon these ships; things no other cruise lines have ever offered. "These will be the first cruise ships to offer sea-going cruises in the style of river cruises," he said.
"We conducted many focus groups, Tor said, "and here is what people told us…º Ships have become too big
º Small ships are far too expensive, and most are too old and outdated.
º The value is not as good as you think when you purchase (due to onboard charges)º There is too little time in each destination
And so Viking Cruises plans to rectify this situation with new ships where shore excursions are the primary focus of the journey, and they will be included in the cruise fare and offered to all passengers onboard. These ships' itineraries will only include one day at sea on each cruise (average cruise length anywhere from 9 to 15 days) and will otherwise be in port. There will also be "premium shore tours" available at an added cost, but these will usually be offered at night so not to interfere with the included excursion.
Each cruise will offer at least three overnight stays, most importantly in the embarkation and disembarkation cities - where people often do not have time to see the best sights in the region. Tor estimates that his ships will spend slightly over 12 hours in port per day, than any other cruise line currently in service, a concept he proved with a chart showing the average time for several different cruise lines. Oceania currently tops the list at 10 hours per day.
So, Viking Cruises' ships will be somewhat on the small side, but it will not be a new luxury cruise line.
Tor was clear which cruise lines he plans to compete with - he is focusing on the lines that his customers say they cruise when they are not on river boats: Holland America, Princess, Celebrity and Oceania. This is known as the "premium" and "upper premium" space. He actually cited the old Renaissance Cruise Line (which folded in 2001) as his model for Viking Cruises; a destination-focused cruise line with small but comfortable ships featuring locally inspired gourmet food and alternative dining rooms at no additional costs. It is no coincidence that Oceania Cruises, the line that appears to be closest to what Tor plans to offer today, also was spawned by the same people who ran Renaissance Cruises.
Showing the average time in port for different cruise lines
Having few additional costs will definitely be the calling card of Viking Cruises. Meals will come with wine, beer, soda and specialty coffee included. As noted, there will be no charge for at least one extensive shore tour planned for each city (the only other cruise line currently offering this is the most pricey luxury cruise line Regent Seven Seas) and best yet, Viking will offer something no other sea-cruise line yet offers - free Wi-Fi access all the time. Right now only river cruise vessels offer this service.
The Viking Star
While we have known Viking River is planning to enter the ocean cruise business for quite some time, last night we had our first look at the new vessel. To differentiate its ships from the rest of the industry Viking chose to target its existing clientele. He cited the adage "the average ship is a drinking man's cruise, while a river cruise is a thinking man's cruise."
The Viking Star
The focus will be on comfort and good food as the ship takes its guests to long visits in a variety of ports of call. There will be plenty of shipboard "enrichment," meaning lectures, themed buffets featuring of local food and wine and experts onboard to answer questions about the local region.
The ship-wide dress code will be informal all the time -no formal nights or neckties ever required.
"An open and airy design" describes the look of the 928-passenger vessel. All staterooms will have a veranda - no exceptions- and will average 270 square feet - about 20% larger than the other cruise lines. There will be a few suites on board but no private areas for "suite guests only." Nor will there be extra beds for third and fourth persons since the idea is NOT to fill up the ship as much as possible like most cruise lines. Staterooms will have King-sized beds and a 12-square-foot shower.
Typical Balcony Stateroom
The Dining Room will be on the Promenade Deck with windows that will actually open to the fresh sea air for true al fresco dining, something no other ship has done with a main dining room before. The front of the ship will feature a two-deck "Explorer's Lounge" with a 270-degree view.
The Spa area will have a large "thermal suite" - an inexpensive self-service access area with a large hot tub, a hot dry sauna and what Tor called a "snow room," for the "true Scandinavians." There is a lovely "Wintergarden" with plenty of glass wall and ceiling panels to allow natural flora to thrive. The top deck swimming pool will have a magrodome, making it either an indoor or outdoor pool, depending upon weather conditions.
Indoor pool with Magrodome
As far as entertainment goes, the focus of the ship is good food and destinations, not nightlife, so no casino, however, there will a showroom and a piano bar, now tentatively named, "Tor's" - although that is "subject to change," he noted.
What is normally called a "Lido Buffet" on most ships will be called the "World Café" and will feature a variety of cuisine offered at separate serving stations. There will also be two specialty restaurants on board with no surcharges for any special dining onboard.
One of those is the "Aquavit Terrace" which surrounds the middle pool for al fresco dining. That aft pool will feature something never seen on a cruise ship before - a glass wall so people can look out over the aft end of the ship from below the water.
Here is a list of what every cruise will include:
º Private veranda stateroom
º A guided excursion in each port of call
- Viking's Culture Curriculum: deep immersion in the destination through classes or performances of music, art, cooking, dance, history and cinema all onboard meals
º Wine, beer and soft drinks with lunch and dinner on board
º Coffee, tea and soft drinks any time on board
º 24-hour room serviceº Free wi-fi
º All restaurant reservation fees
º All port charges and government taxes
Here are the first scheduled Itineraries: Average price per cruise is $421/day.
15 Days, Stockholm to Bergen
This itinerary features an outstanding 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.
Passage Through Western Europe
15 Days, Bergen to Barcelona
The nimble proportions of Viking Star give passengers access to the heart of the Continent as well as coastal cities on this journey from the Viking waters of Bergen to London, 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 and Barcelona.
13 Days, Barcelona to Venice
Spain, France, Italy, Croatia and Greece-this cruise has it all. Visit Toulon, France; Monte Carlo; Tuscany (Livorno), Rome and Naples in Italy; Corfu (Kerkira) Greece; Dubrovnik and Split in Croatia; plus overnights in both Barcelona and Venice.
Summary of Viking Star Features
All Veranda Staterooms: Guests can choose from five stateroom categories, starting from a 270 sq. ft. veranda stateroom, all with private verandas, king-size beds, large showers, and LCD TVs.
Explorer Suites: Viking Star 's 14 Explorer Suites are two-room suites ranging from 757 to 1,448 sq. ft. and offer sweeping views from wrap-around private verandas as well as the most amenities and privileges of any category onboard.
Two Pool Choices: In addition to the Main Pool with a retractable dome permitting any-season swimming, Viking Star features one of the only infinity pools at sea, allowing passengers to swim surrounded by their destination in a glass-backed pool cantilevered off the stern.
The Spa: In keeping with Viking's Nordic heritage, The Spa onboard Viking Star is designed with the holistic wellness philosophy of Scandinavia in mind-from the centuries-old tradition of the sauna to a "snow grotto" where snowflakes gently descend from the ceiling through chilled air.
Explorers' Lounge and Wintergarden: Spaces designed to facilitate mingling and storytelling, the two-deck Explorers' Lounge at the bow of the ship is the perfect spot for taking in scenery through double-height windows over a glass of aquavit or pint of local craft beer; and the Wintergarden is a serene environment in which to relax and enjoy afternoon tea service complete with a curated tea selection.
Dining Choices: Viking Star offers multiple restaurant locations and food choices-from The Restaurant and the World Café, serving a variety of global cuisines and regional specialties-to intimate dining experiences at The Chef's Table, Italian Grill and The Kitchen Table, all serving meals prepared with fresh, local ingredients. Furthermore, with multiple choices for outdoor seating during meals, Viking Star offers more al fresco dining than any other ship.
Enriching Entertainment: Connecting passengers to their destinations through authentic experiences is central to Viking Cruises, and Viking Star's onboard venues include a dramatic three-deck atrium where passengers can enjoy musicians playing regional and classical music; the Star Theater, home of enrichment lectures from scholars and experts; an onboard cooking school where guests can learn local specialties; and the Viking Piano Lounge, where guests can relax, mingle, and exchange stories after a day of exploring.
Sustainable Features: Designed with the environment in mind, Viking Star features energy-efficient hybrid engines, a hydro-dynamically optimized streamlined hull and bow for maximum fuel efficiency, onboard solar panels, and equipment that minimizes exhaust pollution and meets the strictest environmental regulations.