VIKING SEA ON SCHEDULE FOR APRIL 2016 DEBUT

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The home waters of Norway beckon for the brand new Viking Sea in 2016

The second of Viking Ocean Cruises’ sextet of cruise ships will make her formal commercial debut on April 3rd, 2016.

Currently nearing completion at the Fincantieri shipyard in Italy. the 47,000 ton Viking Sea will sail on an inaugural, nine night voyage from Athens through to Venice, with stops in Istanbul, Kusadasi, Kotor, Pula, and Dubrovnik en route.

During her first season, Viking Sea will sail spring and summer Baltic itineraries, before returning to the warmer waters of the Mediterranean at the end of July. From here, she will sail year round to the highlights of Greece, Egypt and Turkey while her sister ship- the already in service Viking Star- redeploys to the Caribbean for a maiden season of cruises based out of San Juan, Puerto Rico.

Those eleven night Caribbean sailings are actually quite port intensive, with a first night spent on board the ship in San Juan, and subsequent calls to Tortola, Antigua, St. Lucia, Barbados, Guadeloupe, St. Kitts, St. Maarten and St. Thomas, before returning to San Juan. Prices, including flights, transfers and all guided tours, free Wi-Fi and beer and wine with lunch and dinner, as well as free use of all sauna and on board spa facilities, begin at £2,490 per person.

Meanwhile, Viking Sea will sail a mixture of nine. twelve and fourteen night itineraries in Europe on a year round basis. Many of these can be combined to create a truly inclusive, three week adventure.

Of especial note is an advertised, thirty five night Nordic Explorer adventure, taking the ship from Athens all the way through the Mediterranean to Bergen, via the western Mediterranean and coast of Europe, sailing on April 3rd from Athens.

For those interested in her maiden UK arrival, Viking Sea is scheduled to be in Southampton on Thursday, May 5th. First arrival in her home port of Bergen, Norway, will take the form of a two day stay on May 8/9th.

It will be interesting to see how the company markets this second of class ship after the grand splash (pun intentional) created by Viking Star last year. This whole ‘back to the future’ style of cruising that the line strives to offer seems to emphasise a very inclusive kind of understated luxe as opposed to a sensational, fairground ride kind of adrenaline rush.

It remains a fact that, while the first ship of a company is a statement of intent, then the second ship has to cement that reputation and ensure a smooth, onward product progression. In many ways, more is actually riding on Viking Sea than many people have perhaps considered.

That said, there is every reason for optimism. As ever, stay tuned for updates.

SWINGS AND ROUNDABOUTS- SOME MARITIME MUSINGS FROM THE PAST FEW WEEKS

Happy days; the dainty little Deutschland is off to Poenix Seereisen

Happy days; the dainty little Deutschland is off to Poenix Seereisen

While I was enjoying myself swanning around the Caribbean the other week, several quiet but subtle developments were going on behind the scenes in the cruise and ocean liner industry. Here’s my take on some of them.

First up, a big, heartfelt ‘well done’ to all at the SS. United States Conservancy for managing to secure another lifeline for this valiant, fabled ship. The story of their struggle would make for a wonderful movie script, even if we know that the final chapter has yet to be written. Hopefully, it will prove to still have a happy ending.

On the Dubai front, I’ll have something to say about the latest QE2 developments in a separate, upcoming blog. Stay tuned for that one.

Truly wonderful is the news that Phoenix Seereisen will take on the troubled, unsettled Deutschland. Not only does this put this gorgeous little jewel box back under German ownership, but it will also see her welcome return to the German cruising market. And, as an added bonus, this lovely little ship will finally be refitted with the ‘Juliet’ balconies that were bruited for her back in the last days of Peter Deilmann ownership. These should help to give this lovely little ship some kind of competitive edge, and ensure she remains a viable cruise option for a good few more years.

Sadly, almost inevitably, the end has come for the former Kungsholm of 1966. I suspect that politics played a part in the ship not being able to find a permanent future berth in either Stockholm or Gothenburg, and now the venerable, 28,000 ton paragon has left on a final, one way voyage to the scrapyard.

In any event, she was a ship with a hugely storied career. Many in the UK in particular will remember her as the Sea Princess, a long standing and popular member of the UK cruising market. Even with the unsightly truncation of her original forward funnel, she was a fine, stately, beautifully crafted paragon of an ocean liner that made a successful transformation into a long serving, hugely popular cruise ship.

But, on a final optimistic note, it was heartening, indeed, to hear that Viking Ocean Cruises has ordered another pair of vessels in its hugely anticipated ocean going fleet. Lead ship. Viking Star, has thus far cut an enviable swathe through the cruise industry, and continues to garner huge praise. And, as the saying goes, if it ain’t broke- don’t fix it.

As ever, stay tuned.

VIKING OCEAN CRUISES- ROYAL VIKING LINE MARK TWO?

There is little doubt that the ongoing emergence of Viking Ocean Cruises has absolutely galvanised interest in cruise travel on a scale unseen for many decades. The whole concept has distinctly nostalgic overtones, wrapped in a state of the art modern package, and deliberately marketed to evoke memories of a more exclusive, intimate cruise experience. Simply and unashamedly, the company draws inspiration from an illustrious, very storied predecessor.

in the annals of vanished cruising legends, the Royal Viking Line evokes a level of whimsical nostalgia perhaps equalled only by the equally salubrious French Line. The company was established by Warren Titus in the early 1970’s with one simple aim; to create the most elegant and exclusive cruise experience available to passengers anywhere.

He envisaged, and then delivered, a trio of stunningly elegant sisters, suffused in Scandinavian chic from bow to stern, that would offer spacious accommodation and gracious service at the pinnacle of luxury cruising. Those three sister ships were, of course, the Royal Viking Sea, Royal Viking Star, and Royal Viking Sky.

This tremendous, triumphant trio succeeded beyond anyone’s wildest dreams. The three sister ships became the collective benchmark for elegant travel, and the first choice of the savvy, sophisticated cruising elite that demanded nothing but the very best. Just as likely to turn up at Tromso as Tahiti, the three sister ships carved out a niche in modern maritime history that every subsequent luxury cruise line- from Crystal to Silversea- has aspired to ever since. They truly were game changers.

The sheer, enduring excellence and elegance of their design is borne out by the fact that all three vessels are still in service for other lines, more than forty years after their original genesis. And, despite no longer being the sybaritic showstoppers that they once were, each of these three wonderful ships is still instantly distinctive as ex-RVL royalty.

Titus emphasised space, splendour, and matchless cuisine and service as the bench marks for his three sisters. And now, like a modern day echo heeding that timeless old call, a new class of vessel is gradually taking shape, echoing those age old standards in a series of new, yet startlingly familiar sister ships.

Viking Ocean Cruises is the long anticipated offshoot of the hugely successful river cruise line. It combines the polished, Scandinavian flair of the original RVL with the best features and attributes of the river cruise experience that Viking has come to dominate to such a large extent.

Again, the company decided on a trio of congenial, compatible sister ships. The first of these- the 48,000 ton Viking Star- entered service last year, to reams of critical acclaim from passengers and travel trade alike.

Just the appearance of the ship drew awed gasps from the not easily impressed. There it was once again- that graceful, sharply raked prow that had been the trademark of the Titus trio, and the single proud funnel, placed just aft of midships. The hull- as brilliantly white as an Arctic glacier- hinted at the cool, pristine perfection of those classically styled Scandinavian interiors. In almost every respect, Viking Star is a graceful, beautifully executed nod to her three predecessors.

Next year will see a pair of sister ships- Viking Sea and Viking Star- that will round out the initial fleet (though there is an option for a fourth vessel in the class). Between them, this trio of vessels will take passengers ‘back to the future’ with a kind of intimate, endearing twist of the old days. In so many ways, this is Royal Viking 2.0.

And yet….

This new trio of ships offers a natural, luxurious progression from those 1970’s built ships that makes them as salubrious and state of the art as can be. Every single cabin- and even the smallest measures in at a capacious 270 square feet- comes with its own private balcony. In the old RVL days, balconies on cruise ships were almost non existent.

The symmetry between Royal Viking of old and Viking Ocean of new is hardly a happy accident. Viking CEO, Torstein Hagen, was actually the CEO of Royal Viking Line between 1980 and 1984.

In a mirror image of their river going siblings, the Viking Ocean trio will also offer a full, complimentary range of shore excursions, and many overnight stays in ‘greatest hits’ ports such as Bergen and Barcelona. This is intended to make them fully competitive with the likes of Azamara Club Voyages and Oceania- lines that Viking Ocean will inevitably be compared to.

Viking Ocean will also offer complimentary beer and wine with both lunch and dinner- just like the river boats and another rival operator, Voyages to Antiquity. This is not quite the fully inclusive largesse of, say, Regent or Seadream and, if the line is to really raise it’s game, then fully all inclusive is a must do. For now, this is not the case.

Viking chairmen, Torstein Hagen, has been smart enough to conceive a trio of classically cool, state of the art vessels that are already garnering a tidal wave of attention in the travel industry. Like their RVL predecessors, they emphasise superb food and personal service in casually spectacular surroundings.

But these ‘new’ Vikings offer a whole range of indoor and alfresco dining options that the old RVL trio never did. This is not so much revolution, more the evolution of a classically elegant kind of style and service.

All things in, Viking Ocean is a very alluring prospect; a kind of ‘less is more’ sense of enhanced elegance, shorn of casinos, rock climbing walls and roller rinks, and instead suffused in a cocoon of expansive style and space, in ships that are large enough to be eminently seaworthy, and yet still remaining intimate enough to make fast in the smaller, more exclusive ports that their larger competitors will be obliged to sail past.

Something old, something new, on an ocean that remains eternally blue. A subtle revival and the ageless thrills of a stylish arrival. Hagen is clearly onto something here.

The question is; will anybody else follow in his wake?

From Greenland to Genoa, Viking Ocean Cruises is ushering in a new kind of ocean going exploration.

From Greenland to Genoa, Viking Ocean Cruises is ushering in a new kind of ocean going exploration.

MAIDEN VOYAGE! VIKING STAR SETS SAIL

in what must rank as the single most auspicious cruising debut of 2015, Viking Ocean Cruises’ first ocean going ship, the 47,800 ton Viking Star, has finally set sail on her ground breaking maiden voyage from Istanbul to Venice.

The 930 guest ship is not so much a clear departure from the contemporary mega ship cruising style so much as an about turn. The elegant, upscale ship draws an unmistakable bead on the former glories of the legendary, long redundant Royal Viking Line and it’s rival, Norwegian America Line.

Scaling down the size of the ship has instantly enhanced the level of intimacy and interaction between guests and staff, resulting in a far more personalised, highly styled environment. Viking Star deliberately eschews a slew of glitzy diversions to offer travellers a more full on, immersive cruise experience overall. The ship will place great emphasis on longer, often overnight stays in port, with a free, comprehensive series of excursions on offer to people in each call.

Just as on board the same company’s slew of award winning river cruisers, wine, beer and soft drinks are free with lunch and dinner aboard the Viking Star, just as they will be on the two sister ships which are heading towards completion at the present time. An option for a fourth ship in the same class remains on the books.

With an elegant on board spa, sumptuous winter garden and a truly spectacular, aft facing infinity pool, the Viking Star has put the emphasis firmly on cool, highly styled Scandinavian luxe in the public areas. And Viking Star also joins a very exclusive club; one of only four in the entire industry to offer every stateroom on board with a private veranda.

This splendid new ship- beautifully crafted in every respect- is due to be formally christened in Oslo on May 17th- Constitution day in Norway.

As ever, stay tuned.

VIKING STAR HANDED OVER AT FINCANTIERI

In a low key but none the less auspicious ceremony, the brand new 47,800 ton. 930 passenger Viking Star was handed over to her owners, Viking Ocean Cruises, by the Fincantieri shipyard in Italy on Saturday, March 28th.

The yard- itself said to be on the verge of taking over the rival STX yard at Saint Nazaire- delivered the first of three confirmed orders for the premium grade company that has come to dominate European river cruising. Two sister ships of the same size and class- Viking Sky and Viking Sea- are due to debut in 2016, and the company also has an option for a fourth ship in the same class.

The ship- very much aimed at a classic style of cruising that emphasises in depth destination visits and on board hospitality rather than gimmicks and glitz- will make a series of shakedown cruises before being finally named in Oslo, Norway, on May 17th- Norwegian Constitution Day.

The advent of Viking Star is hugely symbolic, and redolent with memories of the old Royal Viking Line of the 1970’s and 80’s. Firmly ensconced in the intimate, small ship category, Viking Star will offer free beer and wine with dinner, making the product wholly compatible in terms of value with the river cruise fleet.

I’ll be looking in depth at this new, very special ship as more details become available. As always, stay tuned.

MARITIME SNIPPETS; TIDE, TYNE, AND OUT OF TIME…..

There’s no shortage of news to digest on the maritime front. And, like anything that you are obliged to chew over- whethether actually or mentally- some leave a better taste in the mouth than others. In this industry, that is the inevitable default setting.

I was immensely saddened, but not surprised, to see the sale of the lovely little Lisboa to a scrapyard, some two years after her partially completed refit had to be aborted owing to unexpected extra costs. I had the pleasure of sailing on this staunch, dignified little dream of a ship and, to those who love her, her loss is tragic indeed, if inevitable.

On the plus front, the forthcoming arrival in the UK of Anthem Of The Seas will add a welcome splash of colour and diversity to the big ship market. Sleek, state of the art, and jam packed with a conga line of beguiling new gimmicks and estalished, old fashioned favourites, I expect this ship to be an absolute smash during her first ever European season.

For my own, native North East, this coming August will see the very welcome visits of not one, but two, six star ships within two weeks of each other. First is a very welcome debut for Regent’s sybaritic Seven Seas Voyager, still currently one of only three all suite, all balcony cruise ships in the world. She is followed a fortnight later by the excellent, perenially elegant Crystal Symphony, recently extensively refurbished and definite

Old, new, borrowed and blue. It's all going on right now in the cruise industry...

Old, new, borrowed and blue. It’s all going on right now in the cruise industry…

ly looking as regal as ever.

The arrival of such high end vessels in the region is a wonderful opportunity to show just how much this area has to offer to cruise ship passengers. I hope all concerned do everything possible to provide these incoming visitors with a wonderfully inclusive experience for the day.

For my part, I am also very much looking forward to seeing CMV’s Magellan when she arrives for her inaugural visit to the Tyne on Saturday, 28th March. The 46,052 ton ship- formerly the Holiday of Carnival Cruise Lines- has been extensively refurbished, and looks stunning in her new livery. Expect a full review of this ship shortly.

And, of course, it is not too long now until the poised, beautifully styled Viking Star makes her debut. The first of Viking Ocean’s quartet of cruise ships is very much a throwback to the traditional style of inclusive excellence once typified by the legendary Royal Viking Line, and this new ship is clearly aimed at a market that prefers a more inclusive, tradtional kind of cruise experience. Clearly, the lady is going to be quite something.

Interesting times, for sure. As ever, stay tuned.

 

THE VIKINGS ARE COMING- NEW LIGHT ON VIKING STAR

Viking Star will expand the horizons of modern cruise travel

Viking Star will expand the horizons of modern cruise travel

As autumn approaches, attention begins to focus on the new ships scheduled to debut in 2015. And perhaps none of these are as anticipated as that of the new, ‘back to the future’ concept enshrined in the nascent Viking Star.

With her ocean going debut now less than a year away, a few more facts have begun to surface about the on board hardware and offerings. And it’s all looking rather special, in a very understated kind of way.

Viking Cruises is cross decking some of the more popular and inclusive features from its hugely successful river fleet to their first ocean going vessel, including free shore excursions in all ports of call, and inclusive lunch and wine served with dinner. This puts the line firmly on a competitive basis with rivals such as Voyages To Antiquity.

But Viking Star will also up the ante, by including free wi-fi right throughout the ship, plus complimentary- albeit self service- laundry facilities. There will also be no charge for room service.

Though the ship herself is understated and low key, there are elements of showmanship in her main dining room. Located on the promenade deck, this will feature floor to ceiling windows on both sides. Mounted on tracks, it will be possible to open these in fine weather. This should make for some side orders of stunning sunsets, especially when the ship is in summertime northern waters.

Every single cabin aboard the Viking Star will have a balcony. Even the smallest of these will measure a generous 270 square feet, while the fourteen penthouse suites will range from between 757 and 1,163 square feet. In line with the ships’ pared down, elegant simplicity, just five grades of accommodation will be offered on board.

While the ship- the first of a projected quartet- will be focused on destination intensive cruises with many overnight stays in port, the leisure side is certainly not being skimped on. A full service spa will feature it’s own sauna, complete with gently falling ‘snowflakes’, plus an infinity pool overlooking the stern and a second, more central pool that will come complete with its own sliding glass roof.

The company has clearly put its finger on a beating pulse with the conception and construction of Viking Star, and the on board ambiance and philosophy she intends to showcases. Due to launch early next spring, the entire first season of the 47,000 ton ship is completely sold out already.

2016 will see the arrival of a pair of similarly accented sister ships, named Viking Sea and Viking Sky. A fourth, as yet nameless sibling will round out this stunning quartet in early 2017.

As ever, stay tuned for further details.

IT WASN’T ALL BAD: MY MARITIME HIGHLIGHTS OF 2013

The classics are back, courtesy of Portuscale Cruises

The classics are back, courtesy of Portuscale Cruises

In my previous post, I wrote about the string of maritime casualties that have begun piling up like so many car wrecks over 2013, from the plain sad to the simply absurd. Thankfully, that has not been the whole picture for the cruise industry during the course of the year. There have indeed been a number of outstanding events, and some cracking new ships have arrived. Here’s some of my personal highlights.

Firstly, the Lazarus style resurrection of Portuscale Cruises from the wreckage of Classic International Cruises will have warmed the hearts of anyone that appreciates the simple pleasures of classical, well run ships. There has been no more resolute-or miraculous-statement of intent than the return to service of the flagship, the doughty, dignified little Funchal. And, with the rest of the fleet on course for a 2014 relaunch, the outlook is very promising.

Big ship of the year was unquestionably the stunning new Norwegian Breakaway, the Peter Max mentored floating tribute to New York style that debuted at the end of April. Brimming with life, and beautifully styled by Tillberg Design’s Fredrik Johansson throughout, Breakaway brings a whole host of outdoor eateries and bars to the balmy Bermuda run. With cutting edge entertainment and an easy, freewheeling vibe, this ship ups the ante for the contemporary mega ship experience by a long mile.

Stylish Regent has something new coming soon

Stylish Regent has something new coming soon

The announcement of a new ship for Regent Seven Seas is very exciting, and way overdue, too. Seven Seas Explorer will build on the obvious success and sumptuous style of her well established trio of upmarket siblings. And I had a delightful preview of the new ship, with some of her soon-to-be signature elements showcased aboard Seven Seas Voyager after a $25 million, bow to stern refurbishment. The whole look is more open and vibrant, with fresh carpeting and new artwork everywhere, while the new, cushioned comfy chairs on the balconies make them sublimely relaxing little enclaves.

The start up of new, traditionally styled Viking Ocean Cruises is a real, refreshing example of a new cruise line, actually listening to, and acting on, the ideas of potential passengers. With an identical quartet of traditionally styled , 47,000 ton siblings coming on line from 2015 onwards, there’s a firm emphasis on elegance rather than excess, and more than just an echo of those sybaritic Royal Viking Line stalwarts of the past. Certainly one that bears watching, for sure.

But, without doubt, the highlight of 2013 has been the debut of the sensational, stand alone Europa 2. With balconies for every single room- and even the smallest of those half as large again as on her nearest rival- this brilliant, uber-elegant new ship is designed to appeal to families of all ages, with many inter- connecting suites. Internally, the decor is sharp, linear and bright; a true ‘grand hotel’ on the ocean that offers no less than eight sumptuous, open seating restaurants for a maximum of 516 guests.

Pool area on the Europa 2

Pool area on the Europa 2

Owners Hapag Lloyd Cruise Lines have created what is, quite simply, the most diverse and dramatic luxury ship afloat. From her indoor/outdoor nightclub to her central pool with its sliding glass dome, the Europa 2 feels like as much of a clean break with traditional maritime luxe as did the Normandie back in the thirties. Time and tide might prove her to be every bit as epochal.

So, no, it’s not all doom and gloom out there. While there’s not yet as much diversity across the cruising spectrum as there once was, those ships that are emerging are more chock full of delightful innovations than anything that has preceded them before. At the same time, a slowly growing realisation is gathering pace that the industry per se is not a one size fits all shop. Lines are responding to demand, and that can only be good for all concerned.

As ever, stay tuned.