Cruise International Editor Liz Jarvis reviews the first ship from Viking Ocean Cruises, Viking Star, and finds it big on style and guest experience
Can you can fall in love with a ship at first sight? If so, then Viking Star has me at hello. From the gleaming white hull to the atrium, with its cool Nordic vibe, grand piano, and magnificent giant screen showcasing exquisite photographs of natural Norwegian wonders, to the spectacular infinity pool, this ship is utterly beautiful.
Everything has been carefully crafted and the detailing throughout is superb. Intriguing works of art, photographs, books to complement itineraries and carefully-selected Scandinavian accents including cushions, lamps, chairs, cashmere throws and trolls (there are even some in one of the lifts if you look closely) combine to create a boutique hotel ambience; a welcoming, contemporary, luxurious space where you feel instantly at home.
My penthouse veranda stateroom boasts a supremely comfortable bed with a supersoft cashmere blanket, plenty of space, sofa and coffee machine; the bathroom, which is easily large enough for two people to be in at the same time, has underfloor heating and a fantastically powerful and spacious wetroom shower; and the TV has a great choice of complimentary programming. Later I check out a standard veranda stateroom and while it’s smaller, it has the same bathroom and comfy bed; there’s really nothing standard about it at all. Laundry and dry-cleaning is reasonably priced but there are also easy-to-use laundry rooms available – completely free of charge.
Public areas are wonderfully light and spacious; the wraparound promenade deck offers wonderful views, and there is never a shortage of sun loungers or chairs or sofas, all furnished in neutral tones. The main swimming pool (saltwater) is heated, and the adjacent jacuzzi is the ideal spot for relaxing after a day’s sightseeing. The Explorers’ Lounge, with its panoramic views, quickly became one of our favourite haunts for pre-dinner cocktails; venture outside and up the stairs on a warm day and you’ll find plenty of space to chill with an aperitif, plus, if you’re feeling active, a mini golf course and workout equipment. There’s also a gym next to the spa.
The dining options on Viking Star are varied and of a high standard. Manfredi’s, the Italian restaurant, offers a range of excellent Tuscan and Roman dishes, but the steaks – rib-eye and New York strip — are exceptional. We ate there twice. The World Café has everything you could possibly want for breakfast, lunch or dinner, from traditional American-style fare to Scandinavian delicacies and an impressive seafood and sushi selection, although you may prefer to dine al fresco on the Aquavit Terrace; and the Chef’s Table is also excellent, offering cuisine based around a different theme, such as the Venice Carnival. An added bonus is that all the restaurants are complimentary.
Unfortunately (or fortunately for my waistline) every day I was far too full from breakfast and lunch to sample the afternoon tea in the Wintergarden, but from what I could see it was stylishly presented and very popular. Wine, beer and soft drinks are included; opt for the Silver Spirits package, and cocktails are included as well; there are lots of bars on Viking Star but the nightclub, Torshavn, is a particularly inviting venue made for relaxing into the small hours with an espresso Martini or two.
One of my favourite eateries is the small but perfectly formed Mamsen’s, inspired by the recipes of Viking Cruises’ Chairman Torstein Hagen’s mother Ragnhild, otherwise known as ‘Mamsen’. Here you’ll find Norwegian deli-style open-faced sandwiches, cakes and waffles (great served with fresh berries and cream – my advice is to ask them to hold the brown cheese, as it’s something of an acquired taste). Mamsen’s is also a brilliant spot for a light breakfast, when you can try different varieties of traditional herring (the one marinated in Madeira is delicious).
Entertainment ranges from pianists and singers to themed performances including an Abba tribute band and fado dancing. There are also lectures on offer, notably astronomy, with a telescope provided in the Explorers’ Lounge. There is more detailing on the cushions in the Star Theatre: images of Swedish film stars, including Greta Garbo and Ingrid Bergman.
It’s also worth spending some time at the fabulous LivNordic spa, one of the best at sea. Not only does it have a sauna, snow grotto and cold pool for an authentic Nordic spa experience, but the spa menu offers treatments such as Swedish massage and various Scandinavian facials. Refreshingly, there is no hard sell of products after treatments. I also recommend the hair salon, where you can be coiffed to perfection while you admire the ocean views.
Of course itineraries are a big USP of both Viking’s river and ocean cruises. The beauty of Viking Star’s size is that it gets you right into the heart of the action; in Lisbon, we arrived within easy walking distance of the Panteón Nacional; in Cartegena, it was a 10-minute stroll to the nearest tapas bars; and in Cádiz, we were a stone’s throw from the main sights. While there are always included excursions on offer, we opted for the half-day tour of Seville. Our guide was funny and engaging, and after an informative tour of the stunning Cathedral we had plenty of free time to explore on our own and discover the delights of this enchanting Spanish city by ourselves.
In terms of ambience and amenities, a cruise on Viking Star is really a bit like sailing on a private yacht (and there’s even the Owner’s Suite, complete with its own sauna and wine cabinet, should you feel like indulging in the ultimate ship-within-a-ship experience); one where your every need has been anticipated and catered to. It is luxury small ship cruising with Scandinavian style. Add in completely complimentary (and fairly reliable) wifi and exceptional service – the staff and crew are all super friendly and efficient – and you have an absolute winner.
It’s difficult not to wax lyrical about Viking Star, and of course, not everything about our experience was perfect, but it’s very early days. A few more staff in the reception area would be helpful; I’m also not a fan of auto-gratuities in spas. But these are really small points, because my lasting impression of Viking Star, and Viking Ocean Cruises, is one of all-round excellence. I can’t wait to experience it again.
GETTING THERE: A 10-day Empires of the Mediterranean cruise on Viking Star departs 8 November 2015 from £2,749pp, from Venice with calls at Athens, Ephesus and Istanbul and more* (vikingcruises.co.uk/oceans/0800 319 66 60.
Whether you’re looking for a cultural holiday or relaxing break, find your perfect cruise here.