A TRUE VIKING

Open Jaw at Big Show in the Big Apple: Viking Launches Tenth Ocean Cruise Ship

Viking chairman Torstein Hagen speaks at the Viking Saturn naming ceremony in New York City. Photo courtesy Viking

Viking has quickly established itself as a leader in ocean cruising. And a gorgeous new ship is putting an added shine to the brand.

A naming ceremony for the Viking Saturn was held on the Hudson River in New York City on 06JUN, and Open Jaw was on hand for the occasion. New York Metropolitan Opera chair Ann Ziff, the ship’s godmother, christened the Saturn by using a steel sword from the Metropolitan Opera’s production of Verdi’s Il Trovatore. Slashing a red ribbon sent a bottle of Aquavit crashing against the white hull.

New York Metropolitan Opera chair Ann Ziff christens the Viking Saturn in New York City on 06JUN. Photo courtesy Viking.

It’s the tenth ocean ship for Viking, which made a name for itself in river cruising but is now firmly established as one of the top ocean and expedition cruising options.

Viking chairman, the inimitable Torstein Hagen, said there were plenty of skeptics when he announced Viking would move into the ocean cruise space, which they did with their first vessel in 2015.

“They said ‘You won’t be able to build them. You won’t be able to finance them. You won’t be able to operate them. You won’t be able to fill them.’”

The Explorers' Lounge on a Viking Ocean cruise ship. Photo courtesy Viking

Today, Viking has 10 ocean cruise ships, with six more under construction, giving them 27% of the upscale cruise market, Hagen said.

For advisors selling Viking ocean cruises, the learning curve is simple as the ships are identical. You don’t have to worry that Viking Saturn doesn’t have the Winter Garden that your clients loved on the Viking Star, or that clients won’t find the Explorer’s Lounge on Viking Saturn.

Hagen made a politically questionable but pointed comment that it’s not uncommon for cruise lines to go through decorators the way some men go through wives, but that’s not the Viking way. (We assume this is in reference to the decorators.)

He also pointed out there are key distinctions that set Viking apart from competitors. There are no casinos and no umbrella drinks. Wi-Fi is free and there are no inside staterooms. And there are no guests under 18 years old.

“You won’t find 5,000 people and a lot of screaming kids,” Hagen said.

All Viking ocean vessels carry a maximum of 930 guests and have a crew of 465.

The main pool on Viking ocean cruise ships can be covered, or left open. Photo courtesy Viking

Itineraries

The Viking website says sample itineraries include Barcelona to Rome (eight days, five tours, four countries from $2,599 USD) and a Viking Homelands trip from Stockholm to Bergen that runs for 15 days and includes 11 tours in six countries from $6,499. There’s also an Iconic Iceland, Greenland and Canada trip that sails for 15 days and includes nine tours and four countries, with prices starting at $6,999.

Staterooms

There are a variety of suites and room styles available on Viking ocean ships. The Owner’s Suite is a 1,448 square foot, multi-room palace that includes separate bedroom and dining areas that seat six. Perfect for a Hollywood star, or a newly signed member of the Toronto Blue Jays.

At the mid-level, the Penthouse Junior Suite is 405 square feet, including the private veranda. There also are two of these suites that are wheelchair accessible.

The most basic layout, the Veranda Stateroom, is a relatively roomy 270-square feet, including a spacious veranda.

I stayed the night and had a Penthouse Veranda room, an upgrade from the Veranda Stateroom, with 25% more space. The room has a lovely King-size bed, a sofa, a small chair, a good-sized desk, lots of plugs and charging outlets and tons of storage. The bathroom was far larger than those of many hotel rooms I’ve stayed in and featured a spacious shower with a small ledge for anyone who needs to perch their leg up.

In his speech to gathered media and friends prior to the naming ceremony, Hagen said Viking has deliberately chosen bath products that are easy to open, and with labels that clearly distinguish shampoo from conditioner, lest anyone surprise themselves in the shower. He also said the TV remote controls are easy to understand, “so you don’t need a teenager to help you.” Which is a good thing, considering kids aren’t allowed.

Al fresco dining on the Viking Saturn in New York City. Jim Byers Photo

The Ship

Hagen’s presentation took place in the Star Theatre, which has swivel chairs and tables like you might find in an old-time nightclub. The pillows feature likenesses of Nordic celebrities, including Ingrid Bergman and Greta Garbo.

Viking ocean vessels have three pools, including an outdoor infinity pool and a beautiful plunge pool in the Nordic spa.

All have similar Nordic design elements, with clean lines and polished, blonde wood. The ships also feature all veranda staterooms.

“The destination is the show,” said Viking design architect Richard Riviere. “It’s not entertainment architecture. There’s no swag drapery.”

Culinary

Food is a big part of any travel experience and Viking recognizes that with a series of culinary offerings, including al fresco and inside dining at the World Café, a Chef’s Table for interactive experiences, a Kitchen Table restaurant with a changing menu (and changing, digital art on the walls) as well as a sleek, stylish Italian dining spot called Manfredi’s (named after a cruise industry friend of Hagen.)

A restaurant worker aboard the Viking Saturn. Jim Byers Photo

Mamsen’s is a small buffet dining option. Riviere’s hint: Try the waffles with brown cheese. “It sounds odd, but it’s delicious.”

Open Jaw and a few other media outlets were given a chance to spend the night on the Saturn on 06JUN. If the food we were served was any indication of what passengers will get, your clients are in for a treat. The rack of lamb was sublime, and I had a beautiful Big Apple dessert with apple ganache, which came in the shape of a shiny red apple.

I had a perfect Manhattan in the Explorers’ Lounge after dinner with the New York skyline rising behind me. With a two-story glass window and glass spiral staircase, not to mention lovely furniture, a cool bar and books all around, Riviere said it might be his favourite room on the ship.

The next morning I grabbed breakfast at the World Café buffet and took it outside to admire Manhattan. I had creamy, perfect scrambled eggs, a flaky croissant, and both North American and English bacon. They had a couple of Chinese items on display, including Shao Mai and congee. The coffee was pretty good but the orange juice was a little watery.

Buffet dinner options in New York City included grilled, marinated flank steak, seared red snapper, creole rice, maple glazed carrots, spinach and ricotta cannelloni, and much more. You’ll also find a generous number of Nordic dishes on board Viking ocean cruise ships.

Accolades

The naming of the Viking Saturn came as the company continues to celebrate its 25th anniversary. Since 2020, Viking has welcomed 17 new ships to its fleet—including eight new Viking Longships on the rivers of Europe; new purpose-built vessels on the Mekong, Nile and Mississippi rivers; four new ocean ships; and two Polar Class expedition vessels.

Viking has been named both the #1 Small Ship Ocean Line and #1 River Line by both Travel + Leisure and Condé Nast Traveler, making it the first line ever to simultaneously earn #1 in its categories from both publications. In March 2023, the company dominated Cruise Critic’s Cruisers’ Choice Awards, receiving top honours in six categories including “Best Overall Line,” “Best River Line,” and “Best Dining” for its ocean and expedition voyages.

Fleet

Hagen said he was flat broke at one point in his career and had to take a painting from his wall to pay his last debts. He acquired four Russian river ships in 1997 (“we had two guys and two mobile phones”) and built the business into what it is today. He also said he got help a few years back from the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board.

Viking’s river fleet has gone from four ships in 1997 to 29 in 2012, and now boats 79. They have three river cruise ships in Egypt and there are three more on the way in the next two years. In Europe, Hagen said Viking commands 51% of the river cruise market.

They have ten ocean ships with ten more on the way between now and 2030. Unlike other ocean cruise lines, 60% of their ocean business is in Europe and only 4% in the Caribbean.

Financial picture

Hagen said Viking managed the pandemic very well and that 2022 revenues ($3 billion) were equal to 2019 figures. He also said the company made a profit of $375 million in 2022. That’s down from $769 million in 2019, but he pointed out in true Viking warrior fashion, some competitors lost a good deal more.

Looking forward, 89% of Viking’s capacity for 2023 cruises is already sold out and 49% of next year’s capacity is already on the books.

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