The latest Scandi-cool ship to join the Viking fleet offers voyages of discovery with some surprises along the way.
“Welcome to my family home,” smiles Edward Stanley as we gather in the hall, and he starts to tell us about the building. Nothing particularly unusual in that pleasant greeting you might think, except our convivial host is the 19th Earl of Derby and his house is Knowsley Hall set in 2,500 acres of parkland outside Liverpool.
Ancestral home to generations of his forebears since 1385, the personal welcome by Lord Derby is the first of many unexpected surprises and treats that set the scene for the week ahead. One of the grandest stately homes in the region, Knowsley is only open to the public for a week each year, but we are on one of Viking Cruises’ ‘Privileged Access’ excursions that provide exclusive entry for passengers.
We’re shown around by Stephen Lloyd, Curator of the Derby Collection, who has an encyclopaedic knowledge of the hundreds of paintings and artefacts lining the magnificent rooms. As a horse lover, my ears prick up at the sight of a wealth of equestrian artwork and we learn that the 12th Earl had a passion for racing and flipped a coin with the Jockey Club chairman of the time to decide the name of a new mile-long race for three-year-olds. If it hadn’t landed in his favour, one of the most famous classic English horse races, first run in 1780, could have ended up being called The Bunbury.
Afterwards, against the backdrop of sweeping Capability Brown-designed parkland, we’re served Champagne and canapes on the terrace before returning to Viking Venus. The ship is the sixth in Viking’s expanding ocean fleet, and I am aboard one of the first UK coastal sailings that heralded the line’s return to cruising in May, before the vessel relocated to the Mediterranean.
That evening, it is lovely to stand on my balcony as the ship slips out of port along the Mersey. As I watch the landmark sight of the Three Graces – the imposing Royal Liver Building, Cunard Building and Port of Liverpool Building – on Liverpool waterfront fade quietly into the distance I know I’m not the only one enjoying the same view as every cabin is sea-facing with a walk-out veranda.
On Viking Venus, and all its siblings, there are no noisy sail away parties, so you can choose your own favourite spot to enjoy the moment. Indeed, there are lots of other things you won’t find on the 930-passenger adult-only ship, such as a casino, formal nights, waterpark, omnipresent ship’s photographers and razzle dazzle entertainment, to name but a few. However, what is does offer are the very reasons Viking has already attracted a loyal following of ocean cruisers, many of whom first cut their teeth on its river ships. On my sailing, there are many people taking advantage of the ship being in the UK and dipping their toe in a cruise holiday for the first time.
Reflecting the Norwegian heritage of the line’s owner, Tor Hagen, the ship has an elegant and understated decor punctuated by pops of colour, such as the jewel bright lichen garden beneath the atrium staircase and ever-changing photo montage on the large video wall above. There are lots of incredible design details; some inspired by knitting patterns and others by history and mythology, along with lovely personal touches, including sepia photos of Tor and his family.
After so long away from cruising, I could spend all my time on board. There’s a huge choice of public areas, with tucked away nooks and crannies that provide the ideal place to curl up and with one of the volumes from the vast book collection dotted around the vessel. Viking Venus also doubles up as a floating art gallery and there’s a self-guided app tour of paintings by artists as diverse as Brighton’s Kate Jenkins who knits pictures of food, Jakob Widermann who was a pioneer of Norwegian abstract painting and even Queen Sonja of Norway. Each day, there are also Munch Moments, when the ship’s classical musicians play to a backdrop of works by the expressionist painter best-known for The Scream.
Sailing post-pandemic has bought a new set of protocols (download PDF), and Viking has dealt with them admirably. It is the only line with on board PCR labs to test every passenger and crew member daily. This involves a non-invasive saliva test, which you do in your cabin. Additionally, everyone carries a track and trace gadget which also triggers a machine that takes temperatures, also carried out daily. In order to keep its health programme completely watertight on our cruise all shore excursions were in ‘bubbles’, and we could only leave the ship to go on an organised tour. However, the situation is constantly under review and may change.
The measures also include social distancing and wearing masks while walking around. I didn’t find them overly intrusive, and many passengers I spoke to say it is reassuring to be made to feel so safe; more so than on holidays on dry land.
In addition to the paid for excursions, Viking offers a complimentary shore tour at each port; in our case Liverpool, the Isles of Scilly, Portland and Falmouth. At the moment these mainly take the form of scenic drives with photo stops. They also feature Viking’s trademark extra touches and passengers on the Portland tour were given a little piece of the namesake stone and in Falmouth there was a set of postcards to take away.
Back on board there are six very different places to eat, including two speciality restaurants – Italian Manfredi’s and the Chef’s Table which serves tasting menus – that are included in the fare and just have to be booked in advance. I like the casual atmosphere at the Pool Grill, with burgers, tuna and other dishes cooked to order. The vegetarian and vegan selections throughout the ship are outstanding, too.
One evening, I return to my cabin to find the steward has popped a new bookmark in my bedtime book to replace my scrap of paper. On the back is a quote from Tor Hagen: “Time is the only truly scarce commodity. Spend it wisely.” How true. And I was certainly glad to spend some of mine on this stylish new ship.
Viking Venus will spend its maiden season sailing on a variety of itineraries in the Mediterranean and Scandinavia, including the Norwegian fjords. Six night cruises start from £1,390 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.
Silver Travel Advisor recommends Viking Cruises.