Viking River Cruises Launches Ocean Vessels — Do They Measure Up?

When Viking River Cruises announced that they were launching a line of ocean-going vessels, cruisers wondered how the brand’s river experience would translate to life at sea. The answer: remarkably well. A fresh take on everything from how to build a ship to how to serve American passengers and even what makes for a tasty afternoon snack is refreshing. Fortunately, Viking has taken the best elements of its river product and brought them to the high seas.

It may not be all-inclusive, but it comes close

Take a tip in the ship’s hot tub. (Photo: Viking Cruises)

All hail this line’s new anti-nickel-and-diming policies. You can expect complimentary shore excursions, Wi-Fi, beer and wine with lunch and dinner, specialty restaurants, access to the spa’s (truly spectacular) thermal suite, laundry (including the laundry detergent), 24-hour room service, and gym classes such as Zumba and Pilates.

The line’s theory was that its river devotees would have sticker shock if they suddenly saw a rash of new surcharges, but we expect the travelers who will be most impressed by these policies are defectors from other ocean lines.

Europe is still the primary focus

Cruising through Istanbul. (Photo: Viking Cruises)

Viking has 52 rivergoing vessels in Europe and only 3 in Russia, 2 in Egypt, and 4 in Asia. Europe has always been the line’s bread and butter, and that remains the same with the ocean line. This, the first ship in the fleet, will sail European cruises year-round, moving between the Mediterranean and Baltic seas.

Related: 10 Reasons Why Royal Caribbean’s Anthem of the Seas Is Awesome

The interior design is purely Scandinavian

The simple and elegant decor creates a relaxing atmosphere. (Photo: Viking Cruises)

Those who like the bright, clean look of the river ships will appreciate the onboard aesthetic. Expect modern Scandinavian furniture — with plenty of blond wood, beige fabric, and clean lines — but the design here goes well beyond the basics, with notable artwork by Scandinavian artists and references to the natural elements of Northern Europe, including a lichen garden and nods to birch trees throughout the ship. There’s even a tiny museum that celebrates the Viking explorers.

Tours are led by guides with headsets

Touring Venice will be much easier with your own personal headset. (Photo: Viking Cruises)

Arrive in your cabin on one of the river ships and the first thing you notice is a pair of Quietvox receivers on the desk. These devices are used to hear tour guides on the complimentary walking and bus tours of port attractions. They pick up radio signals transmitted on specific frequencies so only the people in the group hear the guide’s lecture, limiting noise and disruption and ensuring that even passengers who may have difficulty hearing don’t miss a word of the tour.

Activities are simple

Relax by the pool on a Viking cruise. (Photo: Viking Cruises)

This is not a ship with water slides and high-adrenaline activities like ropes courses and skydiving simulators. Like the river ships, many guests spend their downtime on the deck with a good book, and sponsored sea-day entertainment includes organized Monopoly games and knitting circles. Instead of flashy amenities, the best offerings are more sophisticated and low-key: There’s an impressive afternoon tea (with hot scones with clotted cream and jam, tiered trays of finger sandwiches and sweets, and a long list of teas to choose from), thought-provoking lectures, and one of the very best spas at sea. There, you’ll find an elegant take on the Swedish preference for alternating between hot and cold that includes a stunning fire feature and a room filled with snow.

Related: Reasons Why You Cruise

Music is staid

The ship’s entertainment is typically classical. (Photo: Viking Cruises)

The nighttime entertainment is as low-key as the daytime options, with guitar players, vocalists, classical trips, and late-night pianists. The line also invites other performers onboard, such as a comedian-singer on a recent sailing.

Many decisions are personal

Sample the tasty waffles and other personal touches aboard a Viking Cruise. (Photo: Viking Cruises)

Ask about any of the unique offerings onboard — including the stuffed puppy toys in the gift shop and the cardamom-spiced waffles and rich pea soup in the Explorers’ Lounge — and you get an answer that relates to Viking’s chairman, Torstein Hagen. The puppies are modeled after Hagen’s daughter’s dog, and the waffles are his mother’s recipe.

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