Sunday, May 19, 2013

Viking Cruises launches ocean cruise line

Viking Cruises, long a purveyor of cruises along inland rivers in Europe, Russia, Egypt and Asia, has announced its expansion into the arena of ocean cruises. The launch of Viking Ocean Cruises, announced May 17 marks the introduction of the travel industry’s first new cruise line in nearly a decade.

The new cruise line, which will launch in May 2015, will focus on substance over size.

“In the race to build bigger ships, many cruise lines have lost sight of the destinations to which they sail,” Torstein Hagen, chairman of Viking Cruises, said in a statement announcing the new venture. “With our new ocean cruises, we are applying the same principles behind our award-winning river cruises to our itinerary.”

Ship design, privileged-access excursions and onboard experiences will make destinations the true focus, he said.

Artist's rendering of Viking Star
Viking Ocean Cruises will inaugurate its service with its first vessel, the 928-passenger, all-verandah Viking Star. A “small ship” at slightly over 750 feet in length, the Viking Star is engineered at a scale that allows direct access into most ports, so passengers will have easy and efficient embarkation and debarkation.

Holland America’s ms Volendam, for example, is considered a “mid-sized” ship. At slightly over 781 feet in length, it carries nearly 1,500 passengers. Royal Caribbean’s Oasis of the Sea and Allure of the Sea, currently the world’s largest cruise ships, are nearly 1,200 feet (three football fields) long and carry 6,000 passengers. That’s more than an aircraft carrier. But I digress.

The Viking Star’s maiden voyages will be in Scandinavia and the Baltic, and the Western and Eastern Mediterranean.

Boasting what the company calls “understated elegance,” the ship has an all-verandah
design and offers passengers a choice of five stateroom categories from 270 square feet to 405 square feet. All staterooms have king-size beds, large showers, and LCD televisions in addition to private verandahs.

Deluxe Verandah Stateroom, Viking Star
The Viking Star also offers 14 Explorer Suites, which are two-room suites ranging from 757 square feet to 1,448 square feet. Located at the bow and the aft, Explorer Suites offer sweeping views from wrap-around private verandahs as well as additional amenities and privileges not available in other on-board categories.

Itineraries are curated for maximum time in port, often with late evenings or overnights, allowing guests the option of experiencing local nightlife or taking in evening performances. Ports are selected to appeal to those with an interest in history, art and culture.

Prices area all-inclusive, with every cruise fare including a veranda stateroom, shore excursions in each port of call, all onboard meals, and all port charges and government taxes. Passengers also enjoy many complimentary amenities as part of their fare, including beer and wine with lunch and dinner service, wi-fi, self-service laundry and 24-hour room service—a value of more than $2,400 per couple for an average cruise, according to the company.

Viking Star Atrium Lobby
The Viking Ocean Cruises approach to ocean cruising will no doubt serve to attract travelers who have been put off by the current state of the cruise industry, including my wife and me.

I have taken only one cruise to date: a repositioning cruise on which I had an outside cabin with a window but no outside space. Although it was only three days, I decided then and there that it was too claustrophobic and that I would not take another cruise unless I could secure at least a verandah suite. Viking Ocean Cruises’ approach overcomes that hurdle.

The second facet that has kept us from cruising is the price. Given my self-imposed limitation on our accommodations, we have not been able to find a cruise to a location and at a time we want to travel for less than $1,000 per day per couple. At least when one takes advantage of the early-booking two-for-one special, Viking Ocean Cruises overcomes that hurdle as well.

The shortest cruise – the 10-day “Empires of the Mediterranean” from Istanbul to Venice or vice versa – can currently be booked for a fare as low as US$2,999 per person, or about $6,000 for a 10-day cruise. Of course that doesn’t include tax or airfare, but it does include all the items previously mentioned, which can add a fair amount to the base fare quoted by other cruise lines.

The early-booking fares expire Jul 31. Go to www.VikingCruises.com/oceans for more details, and ask for EBD (early-booking discount) when booking.

Bon voyage!

Visit my main page at TheTravelPro.us for more news, reviews, and personal observations on the world of upmarket travel.



Photos courtesy Viking Ocean Cruises
Click on photos to view larger sizes images.

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