While Viking Cruises has long been known for its river cruises in Europe, Russia, China, Southeast Asia and Egypt (surely you’ve seen the ads if you’re a Downton Abbey fan), the world’s largest river cruise line just recently ventured into ocean cruising, with the debut of the Viking Star last spring. To say the brand-new 930-passenger ocean ship made waves (pun!) in the industry is an understatement: the Viking Star was named “Best New Ocean Ship” in the 2015 Cruise Critic Editors’ Picks Awards and earned a 5-star rating from the highly regarded online publication.
But perhaps more importantly than industry recognition, the Viking Star is wowing the well-traveled cruisers who have embarked on some of its initial itineraries in Europe. On my recent week-long itinerary of the Mediterranean — from Barcelona to Rome — I repeatedly met fellow passengers (many of whom had traveled on Viking river cruises before) who raved about the food, service, spa, accommodations and surroundings aboard the modern Viking Star. Indeed, I found its size — much smaller than a couple of the mega cruise ships I’d been on — and it’s overall classy, Scandinavian design aesthetic sublime. I was especially taken by the gorgeous public spaces for rest and relaxation, the food offerings, and, no surprise, the absolutely incredible spa.
Here are a few details on just some of the delights I found aboard the Viking Star:
Public gathering spaces: Viking Cruises did not skimp when it came to designing public nooks and crannies that welcome mingling and gathering, rest and relaxation. Check out the photos above — don’t some of these spaces look as if they could belong in an upscale resort hotel or even a luxury residence? With names like “The Living Room,” it’s really no surprise the decor in these spots is so homey. I adored the furry throws on plush couches in the Explorer’s Lounge, as well as the bright red chaise lounges with warm blankets on the lanais near the main pool and the comfortable seating in the Wintergarden area, where taking tea (with pastries, mini sandwiches and scones) in the afternoon is a must-do!
The food: Now, cruise ships worldwide are renowned for their plentiful cuisine. But on board the Viking Star, the food is not only plentiful, but it is really, really good. Even better: A la carte dining options — The Chef’s Table (where the menu is fixed and each course is paired with wine) and Manfredi’s (delectable Italian cuisine) — are included in the price of your cruise, so you won’t pay extra for these fine-dining options. I found the buffet dining incredibly varied, with excellent hot entrees, pasta, pizza, salads, sushi and much more offered nightly. Room service is always an option, and my roommate and I enjoyed this leisurely offering for breakfast in our stateroom most mornings before we headed out on our excursions in port. The Pool Grill was a great place to grab a burger and salad at lunchtime. And Mamsen’s is an especially neat offering: Scandinavian delicacies, including brown cheese, salmon gravlax, and waffles with sour cream, was a treat to try!
The spa: This is where the Viking Star truly shined. Use of the facilities — warm pool, hot tub, steam room, sauna, cold plunge, cold bucket shower, heated tile loungers and Snow Grotto — in the LivNordic Spa are completely complimentary for all guests, no matter if they have booked a spa treatment or not. This is highly unusual for cruise ship spas, as most charge for day use of the relaxation or hydrotherapy areas when a passenger has not booked a service. I’ll need to write another blog post extolling all the wonders of this amazing spa (because I do have a lot to say about the fine facilities and services), but for now, know that my time in the LivNordic spa (I believe 5 out of the 6 full days we had on the ship) was a true highlight. Every passenger must try the Snow Grotto — where there is bona fide snow in a chilled, blue room — at least once. It’s such a nifty novelty, this freezing cold room, but one that is ingrained in the Nordic bathing culture. So, when in Rome! (Or, I suppose, when on a Scandinavian-style ship!)
Again, these above details are just a few of the highlights I particularly enjoyed aboard the Viking Star. Still more reasons to book:
- Every stateroom has a veranda; having those floor-to-ceiling sliding-glass doors and balcony for catching first glimpses of each new port was utterly delightful.
- Stateroom bathrooms are particularly spacious, with heated floors and generously sized bath/body products.
- Around every corner I’d spot another fabulous piece of art on the ship’s walls — from modern drawings to vintage photographs.
- Entertainment abounds: From casual cornhole games in the Atrium and cultural enrichment lectures to opera singing in the large Star Theater and more intimate performances in the Torhavn nightclub (which also provides late-night tunes and dancing)
- And how could I forget… FREE WI-FI! This is highly unusual for an ocean-cruise itinerary; it’s more typical on river cruises. I found the connection quite good whether in port or at sea.
- Equally important: One free shore excursion in every port is included in the price of the cruise. This, too, is reminiscent of the free walking tours offered on many river cruises. I thought the 2- or 3-hour morning orientation tours I took in Corsica and Toulon, France, as well as Monaco, were so helpful in giving me the lay of the land, allowing me to better explore on my own in the afternoon.
- Finally, beer and wine are also included with lunch and dinner. Not much more than I can say about that! My roommate and I took full advantage of this generous offering, and we enjoyed trying the different house wines, which seemed to change nightly in the buffet.
And here’s another reason why I encourage readers to book a Viking ocean cruise right now: Through January 31, 2016, guests can enjoy 2-for-1 cruise pricing, airfare discounts, free airfare and other early booking discounts and deals. Check out the various promotions, and get ready for what I believe will be an incredible, memorable vacation experience with Viking Cruises.
I was a guest of Viking Cruises aboard the Viking Star in December, 2015.
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