1. Viking is probably the safest way to cruise
Aboard each ocean-going Viking ship, every imaginable effort is being made to keep you safe. Once aboard, everyone is effectively in a bubble, meaning that currently, you go ashore on organised excursions rather than roaming independently, but still with opportunities to stretch your legs a bit during the tour if you choose. On board, you wear or carry a small tracking device (this has no personal info on it but monitors who you’ve been near to, just in case) and this disc also triggers your temperature being discreetly checked as you enter dining areas each day. There is a daily four-question health check to be completed on a paper form, or via the easy-to-use in-cabin TV or on the app. Everyone wears a facemask while moving around the inside areas of the ship, and packets of masks are thoughtfully provided in your cabin, along with antiseptic wipes and bottles of hand sanitiser. There are also plumbed-in washbasins at the entrance to the deck café where a steward invites you to wash your hands before entering – a reassuring way to ensure compliance. But the stand-out feature of Viking is having its own PCR testing lab on board. You simply supply a saliva sample in a mini test tube each day (I did this before going to bed at night, so I had my sample ready for collection by the cabin steward each morning). Overall, these relatively unobtrusive but sensible measures made Viking feel like the safest possible way to sail without really impacting on the quality of your cruise experience on board. I met a couple who had not been anywhere public since March 2020 because one of them is clinically vulnerable. Their children convinced them to take a cruise with Viking because of the testing regime, and they were absolutely loving being on board.
2. Viking represents great value for money
While Viking are not inexpensive, the quality of their cruises and the amount their prices include makes them very good value for money. Viking can perhaps best be described as the equivalent of the luxury experience offered by top-end boutique operators, but on a larger ship.
The following are included as standard with Viking:
Wine, beer or soft drinks at lunch and dinner – which nicely avoids the issue of who’s paying if you share a table with new people.
Coffee and tea – including speciality varieties – throughout the day.
Wi-Fi– with enough bandwidth to send emails and photos and to post on social media (just not enough to stream films).
Gratuities on board – which can amount to a significant sum on other cruise lines that don’t include them.
A shore excursion at every port – often a simple guided coach tour with stops for photos, but a good way to get orientated at each new place. More in-depth optional excursions are available at extra cost.
Spa entry, where the thermal suite includes a mixed steam room (plus separate saunas in the men’s and women’s changing areas), pool, hot tub, snow grotto (yes, really) and a cold-water bucket you can tip over yourself – which felt better than it sounds!
All meals on board at six dining venues, including at the two excellent speciality restaurants – Manfredis for top Italian cuisine and The Chef’s Table, where the menu changes three times a week with Asian, British and Chinese themes.
A full menu of room service options, available throughout the day at no extra charge. Breakfast on your private balcony is strongly recommended!
Still or sparkling drinking water is provided in glass carafes in your cabin each day, is poured by waiters at mealtimes and bottles are offered as you leave the ship on excursions.
Laundry – and even the washing powder – is free and available on each deck with ironing boards also provided, and a pressing service is offered at no extra charge through your room steward.
3. The Viking ships are a Scandi-chic delight
Viking Star, like her sister-ships, accommodates a maximum of just 930 passengers, making her a relative tiddler in this era of mega-liners. With just seven main decks, the ship is large enough to offer a variety of lounges and restaurants, plus well-spaced sun beds and various nooks and hideaways for book-reading and wave-watching. Yet the ship is also of a size to feel intimate and small enough to easily walk around – and for those seeking a spot more exercise, Deck 2 has a loop around the ship: 4 laps to the mile. The décor is tasteful Scandi-chic, with reindeer rugs over the sofa backs and modern chair designs that offer proper comfort as well as contemporary style. Colour pops from curated art pieces carefully placed on tables and displayed on room dividers, creating a feel of upscale homeliness. The whole ship seems designed to create the feeling of ‘hygge’ (Norwegian for cosiness and conviviality) of the highest order.
4. Cabin-design is a masterpiece of space and airiness
The sense of space and calm extends to your stateroom too, with the tranquil palette enlivened by Scandi design accents. With only six main room types, choosing the one best suited to you is easy, but every Viking cabin benefits from a generous walk-on balcony making fresh air just a step away plus the sort of clever design touches that make you wonder why every cruise line doesn’t offer them. Like glow lighting for finding your way to the bathroom without waking your partner at night. Toiletries provided in packaging that is not only easy to open but has a legible typeface, so you can tell the body wash from the body lotion, mid-shower. There’s a pod coffee machine – or a kettle for tea-drinkers on request, after which a jug of cold milk will be delivered daily to your room. The contents of the refrigerated mini-bar are provided free (refreshed daily and including a welcoming bottle of champagne in Private Verandah rooms and above). All cabins provide plentiful drawer, hanging and flat surface space with thoughtful lighting (including inside the wardrobe) and sockets in the right places, so you can plug in your phone at your bedside for example.
5. Grace-notes mark out the very best in cruising
The Viking team is exceptionally well-schooled in good manners and making people feel welcome. Every I passed a member of the crew – across all departments – I was greeted with a cheery ‘good morning’ or ‘hello’. No-one spoke in a foreign language in my earshot. Smiles seem to come naturally to the Filipino waiting staff which all contributed to this feeling of a happy ship, even in recent circumstances. But it is also the intelligence and thoughtfulness of the ship’s design and the little extra touches that make Viking special. Like having birdsong piped into the communal loos on each deck. Like my room steward adding a Viking bookmark to the novel where I had been keeping my place with turned down pages. Like having a backdrop to the main lift shaft showing silver birch trees with fairy folk peeking around the trunks. Like having a tray of scrambled egg on display at the deck café, but your own eggs being cooked from fresh. Like keeping us entertained as we waited to disembark by tender by having a film about Shackleton running in the background – interesting enough to watch, but not a problem to leave when the tenders were ready.
6. The thinking person’s cruise
Viking is unlike many cruise lines, most notably for what it leaves out as well as what it includes. There are no casinos, no dancing girls, no bling, no announcements other than by the Captain at noon each day, no formal nights (smart casual is always just fine), and no photographers jostling to take your picture. Evening entertainment tends to be guitar or piano recitals or vocalists covering favourite songs from musicals. This is a ship where the hum of happy conversation takes precedence over muzak, and books are distributed throughout the ship for dipping into as you choose rather than being corralled in a library. The front-most armchairs look out to the horizon in the delightful Explorers Lounge and sun loungers face the sea, not each other, around the pool. This is a ship for curious minds and casual conversations, removed from the noise of modern living.
7. Solo travel is easy on Viking
Travelling alone can be a great adventure, but it can also feel a little uncomfortable. Viking made it easy. Solo travellers are invited to meet on the first day at sea – five of us came along on my trip, and we soon got to know others on their own. But in the relaxed, easy atmosphere on board, meeting all sorts of people happens quite spontaneously. I started eating alone on the first night but was chatting away to my socially-distanced neighbours by the time the second course arrived.
More to the point, Viking is currently offering sailings in September 2021 with no single supplement. Making now the perfect time for solo travellers to enjoy the luxury of their own private space on sailings from Malta to the Greek Islands, sailing right around Iceland, sailing from Iceland to Iberia, and on river and ocean cruise combinations taking in the fjords.
Viking offers a relaxing, stimulating and lavish way to explore, be that near or far away. And it feels as safe on board as it can possibly be – so much so that returning home, you may find yourself missing that reassuring daily PCR test that meant you knew all was well as you looked forward to another day of sailing and relaxation, Viking-style.
Viking’s ‘Welcome Back’ cruises for this Autumn include sailings including Malta, Croatia, the Greek Islands, Iceland and the Western Mediterranean. Fares start from £2,690 per person, based on two sharing including all meals, wine beer and soft drinks with lunch and dinner, on board entertainment, entry to the spa, Wi-Fi, a complimentary tour in each port, flights and transfers.
Find out more
Silver Travel recommends Viking.