I usually avoid writing about an experience while I’m traveling, because I feel that I need some time away from it – some separation – in order to be truly impartial. But after a lot of thinking, I believe that I can write this post fairly, even though I’m doing so while sitting on a cruise ship as it sails towards Istanbul, Turkey. More than anything else, my week spent onboard the newest ocean cruise ship to hit the waters, the Viking Star, hasn’t just been a nice experience, but it’s made me reevaluate my feelings towards cruising itself.
I went on my first cruise about 12 years or so, and since then have found myself on a variety of different ships embarking on a variety of different types of voyages. Last year, after several years between cruises, I had the opportunity to sail with a new Princess cruise ship, an experience that left me feeling disappointed. More than disappointed, I thought I was done with most ocean cruises; that they had turned into floating circuses and while that’s fine, it’s just not my sort of trip at this point in my life. By then I had already sailed with the river cruise line Viking River Cruises and had really loved the experience, which led me to the conclusion that it wasn’t cruising I had an issue with, it was the style of cruise that mattered most to me.
Cruise experts will tell anyone that there’s a cruise for everyone out there, and they’re right. From the floating small towns of Royal Caribbean or Carnival, to smaller expedition style cruises that voyage to the Galapagos or Antarctica, there is an option for any type of traveler and nearly any budget. But just like any other type of experience, which one you prefer is an immensely personal experience and I had come to the conclusion that smaller ships were ideal for me for a wide variety of reasons.
So when Viking launched their first ocean going cruise ship earlier this year, I knew I had to give it a try. Not just because it’s a company I know and really love, but because of the size of the ship and the major focus in their onboard programming.
The first of 6 ships that will take to the waters by 2020, the Viking Star echoes the design and philosophy of the Viking River Cruise ships I have come to appreciate. Clean but elegant design on a ship where everything just makes sense. I’ll do a review post soon, so I don’t want to get into the specifics, but this is a ship where space isn’t wasted, while simultaneously offering a relaxing and premium experience to the passengers.
And that’s where Viking really won me over, the passengers. Even if fully booked, the Viking Star only has 930 passengers. That number is important. It means that the ship is much more manageable, service is more personalized and the entire experience is infinitely more pleasant than on the 4,000-person mega-ships. I think that in their race to add more cabins and make more money, many cruise lines have lost sight of two things that should be at the heart of any travel experience: the destinations themselves and the passengers embarking on these journeys. For Viking, those are the central areas of focus.
By the second day I knew that this was not your standard cruise and in fact, I believe that once again Viking has changed the way people look at cruising entirely. Before Viking launched their river cruises, it was a travel style that had fallen out of favor and was seen as being for only the extremely old or infirmed. Within a few years Viking had shifted perceptions and today river cruising is one of the fastest growing sectors of the travel market. In launching this new style of ocean cruise ship, Viking is once again shaking things up. They’re showing people that you can have a personalized luxury experience on a ship that accommodates nearly 1,000 guests and, more importantly, you can have an immersive experience that doesn’t feel like you’re on a cookie cutter cruise.
The CEO of Viking has long called his cruises a “thinking person’s cruise,” and I think he’s right. If all you want on a cruise is to party or try out a waterslide, this isn’t the cruise for you. (Although the evening activities are plentiful and fun.) No, what I enjoyed perhaps most onboard the Star is that so many folks could relate to each other, we could have casual conversations about history or art, while at the same time joking around in a much more lighthearted manner. Everyone I spoke to enjoyed an amazing trip and everyone walked away completely satisfied with the experience. That’s extraordinarily rare in the travel world, and I find myself echoing their thoughts and feelings. More than just satisfied though, I’m pretty sure I can safely say that Viking has saved the ocean cruise experience for me.
After the disastrous experience I had with Princess last year, I never thought I’d step on board a ship with more than 200-300 people again. I really disliked being treated like a number, like a walking ATM machine for the cruise line. I feel that the large cruise lines try to take advantage of their guests far too often, a phenomenon that simply doesn’t happen on Viking. They have managed to take the look, feel and philosophy of their river cruises and expand them on a larger scale to the ocean ships, a transition I honestly didn’t think possible.
I joined this sailing of the Viking Star mainly to see if the hype of the experience matched reality. I had very high expectations for them and in all honesty, they met and surpassed every single one. Once again, this wasn’t just a nice trip for me – it ranks highly amongst my most favorite and I know for a fact that I will again happily sail on a Viking ocean cruise liner as they expand their fleet to other areas of the world.
As I said, a full review is forth coming, but I did want to offer this initial editorial as a preface to say that what I write regarding this experience won’t just be about a nice cruise experience. No, it is much more important than that, it will reflect how I feel about a company that has convinced me to return happily to the world of ocean cruising, and I personally think that’s a big deal.