Katie McGonagle tests out Viking’s first foray into ocean cruising onboard Viking Star
It definitely snowed last night, if the mounds of as-yet-untouched white powder are anything to go by, so I gleefully roll myself around in a fresh snowdrift – shivering in nothing but a swimsuit and a pair of flip-flops, I might add – for as long as I can stand the cold. It’s barely been five minutes, but already I can feel my fingers and toes starting to tingle in protest.
Luckily, this isn’t snowy Lapland or the northernmost reaches of Canada – in fact, I’m just off the Spanish Costa Calida and it’s a toasty 32C outside – so I stamp the snow off my feet and make a beeline for the steam room to warm up again, before repeating the process a handful of times.
This classic hot-and-cold therapy is the mark of a true Scandinavian spa – and with a room where it actually snows each night to make sure there’s plenty of the white stuff in the morning, there’s no doubting its authenticity – yet it’s just one of countless Nordic-inspired touches to grace Viking Cruises’ first ocean ship, Viking Star.
The elegant 930-passenger ship brings the ethos of the line’s river cruises – a focus on destination above all else – to the ocean, resulting in a ship that’s less about gimmicks and more about making sure passengers get the most out of their time at sea.
With its Scandinavian heritage and a design team fresh from working on the line’s iconic Longships, it’s no surprise Viking Star’s two-storey atrium is light and airy, full of blond wood and subtle echoes of its seafaring past. Yet I hadn’t expected it to be quite so homely.
The Living Room, for example, is full of little nooks with a sofa for reading or a table and chairs set up to play backgammon, offering a surprising sense of intimacy in a two-storey space.
That relaxed feel carries through the ship’s public spaces, from lounge areas around the main pool and the Wintergarden, a conservatory where elegant wood arches from floor to ceiling like the trunks and boughs of trees in a forest, to the fur pelt-draped sofas of the Explorers’ Lounge and the comforting vibe in Mamsen’s cafe.
Taken from the Norwegian for 'mum', this venue even bears a larger-than-life picture taken by company chairman Torstein Hagen of his daughter Karine playing in the snow with her grandmother, and uses cups and plates modelled on the designs Hagen had in his childhood home.
Room with a View
All of the ship’s 465 staterooms have their own veranda, adding to the sense of space in these already generous rooms. The light wood and clean lines of the decor help too, with a king-sized bed and large flat-screen TV on a par with any high-end hotel.
Meeting the media during the ship’s first sailing, Hagen explained that utilising space effectively – a principle instilled on the line’s river vessels – had been a top priority: for example, swapping bathtubs for large showers to free up 6% more cabin space.
He said: “We know how to design small ships. We have the benefit that we are a river cruise line, so we are cost-conscious and space-conscious – and we don’t waste space.”
The bathrooms also include plenty of attention to detail, with heated floors and mirrors, ceramic fixtures and high-quality toiletries.
The 270sq ft veranda room is the entry-level, with deluxe and penthouse verandas, penthouse junior suites and explorer suites at the upper tiers.
For some, the key selling point of Viking Star’s dining options will be that its speciality restaurants – Manfredi’s Italian and the creative cuisine of The Chef’s Table – don’t require a supplement (although those in higher room categories enjoy more guaranteed reservations).
For others, it will be that this ship offers plenty of al fresco dining, with main eatery The Restaurant boasting windows that open fully on to its 360-degree promenade deck. The more relaxed Aquavit Terrace serves food and drink with a view of the infinity pool, while the Pool Bar’s retractable roof blurs the line between indoor and outdoor.
But for me, the standout feature has to be chowing down on the most succulent steak I’ve ever eaten, in Manfredi’s. Doused in mushroom powder and kosher salt, I fear this perfectly cooked hunk of meat means I might never order steak again for fear of it not matching up. Thanks, Viking.
So quality clearly isn’t an issue, either in the speciality restaurants or in the World Cafe buffet (although the queue can move frustratingly slowly during busy times at the latter). But in between all that good food, it’s worth making time for a mid-morning waffle at Mamsen’s and afternoon tea in the Wintergarden.
Post-dinner drinks are an enjoyable affair both in the two-storey Explorers’ Lounge at the bow, where the antique globes and navigation-themed decor manage to be both classy and inspiring at the same time; and in piano bar Torshavn, where a long list of cocktails will tempt clients to run up that onboard spend.
The Nordic spa is suitably tranquil, full of Swedish limestone and black slate and with a bubbling Jacuzzi and spa pool rounding out the steam and snow rooms.
There are the usual beauty treatments and packages, including a relaxing massage, detox therapy and deep-tissue massage (priced from $150 for 50 minutes, plus a 15% service charge).
But like the best things in life, my feel-good moment came for free with an early-morning pilates session on the sun deck. As we cruised past the hilly fortresses and dense trees lining the Spanish coast, an unfailingly chirpy instructor led the group through a series of stretches, leaving us in the right frame of mind for the rest of the day.
This cruise isn’t just about the ship: with one included excursion in every port, passengers could feasibly get off at every stop without spending a penny.
These tend to be standard coach or walking tours – my whistlestop drive around Barcelona took in most of the obvious spots with a quick hop off the bus at Montjuïc Hill – and are suited to clients who want to tick off the main sights.
Those who want more specialist excursions will need to stump up some extra cash, but with the ship often remaining in port until late at night, the options available include evenings of flamenco dancing or in-depth tours of cultural or historic sights, as well as some quite active trips.
Back onboard, guests enjoy beer, wine and soft drinks with lunch and dinner, as well as other beverages; complimentary room service; all ground transfers, port taxes and fees; and a self-service laundry on every deck.
Perhaps one of the most popular inclusions, though, is the free (and reliable) Wi-Fi throughout the ship – perfect for posting Facebook photos of that Narnia-style snow room (just as soon as I get the feeling back in my fingers).
Book it: An eight-day Mediterranean Getaway cruise from Rome to Barcelona starts at £2,149, departing February 14. The price is based on two sharing a deluxe veranda stateroom and includes all meals; wine, beer and soft drinks with lunch and dinner; six excursions; transfers; charges and taxes; and flights.
Neil Barclay, head of sales, says:
“We’re delivering a river experience on the ocean. Because it’s such a new concept, our main focus is to get the trade behind this product. Target any previous river cruisers who are looking for something new, and new-to-cruise customers, because it’s the same concept [as our river product].
“It’s the same ethos, inclusions and demographic, so there should be no issue with river cruise agents converting to ocean and vice versa.
“There are agents who have a massive ocean market yet have never touched river, but I think we will get river sales from them as well, so that’s a key focus for us.
“We’re doing day trips for agents to Bergen, Barcelona and Venice, and we’re doing a lot more webinars on ocean.”
Viking Cruises has also added an ocean module to its online training course at vikingoceancruisestraining.com
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