Getting the measure of a great small ship
It was 30 degrees outside in the Greenwich sunshine but on board the Viking Sky, I had a handful of fresh snow cupped between my palms and a big smile on my face. This luxury ship’s extra little touches are something else – and the snow grotto in the world-class spa was only the start.
I was visiting Viking Sky to better understand what this multi-award-winning Viking cruise company has done to make it such a success, so quickly – first in river cruising, then, since 2015, in ocean cruising too.
With no historic baggage, Viking has leapfrogged the cruising market in many ways, doing things differently and taking a fresh look at what today’s cruise passenger actually wants – and equally, doesn’t want.
Walking around this immaculate ship with its serene and easy atmosphere, this is what stood out for me.
Viking’s five ocean-going sister-ships are all 47,800 tons and carry 930 adults. And only adults – these are not cruises for children. This relatively modest size means Viking’s ships are small enough to get into ports denied to the megaliners (such as Greenwich, within easy reach of central London) while they are also large enough to offer a great range of dining and relaxation venues (NB there are no casinos here – these are not that sort of ship).
Wine and beer are provided daily at lunch and dinner. So if you are sharing a table, there’ll be no awkward silences deciding who’s going to buy the bottle – it’s all included, making for a more sociable atmosphere.
There are lots of tables for two if you like to dine à deux, but you can decide to share with new people each night if you wish – making the ship a very friendly place to be and great for people travelling on their own.
All Viking passengers are created equal. Every one of the 464 staterooms has a balcony, and everyone has access all parts of the ship, including the alternative dining venues (for which there is no additional cost). The ship is not about elitism, it is about creating a relaxed mood for everyone.
Wi-Fi is included on all ocean cruises. The charges made for wi-fi access by other cruise companies are a real bugbear for many people. Viking have got rid of the whole problem once and for all. In today’s digital world, shouldn’t this be the norm?
There’s a free shore excursion offered at every port. Viking wants to help people explore ashore – it may simply be a guided walking tour, but if you’re not taking a more in-depth excursion that day, this is a great way to see something of a destination you might otherwise miss. And it stops that feeling of being nickel-and-dimed all the time.
Access to the superb spa is free, open to all and you don’t have to book. The thermal suite is as luxurious as they come, with heated mosaic loungers, thalassotherapy pool, sauna, steam room – that snow grotto (with a fresh snowfall each night) – and even an ice-bucket challenge shower, if you’re brave enough. Viking is Scandinavian-owned after all! Treatments and massages do cost extra of course.
The infinity pool at the stern is a masterstroke, with uninterrupted views spooling out over the wake to the horizon. It’s the place to float and reflect, or if you fancy more of a work-out, to flick a switch and swim against a current.
The second outdoor pool amidships on the main sun deck has a retractable magrodome, so it’s always a warm place to relax.
The whole ship’s design is Scandi-cool. The mood is modern, fresh and luxurious without being heavy. The main staircase has a massive digital backdrop where images of mossy mountain huts and fjord scenery create a quiet tribute to the Norwegian heritage. The Wintergarden lounge near the top of the ship almost feels like a you are under a canopy of beautifully-wrought plywood tree-forms. A great place for airy afternoon tea.
Superb dining, with menus reflecting the flavours of where you are cruising, lies at the heart of Viking’s offering. The many mouth-watering options at the lunchtime buffet options in the World Cafe were displayed like jewels, with a dozen ice-cream flavours (I recommend the apple-pie!) vying for attention among the dessert choices. My Caesar salad, prepared as I watched and topped with tiger prawns fresh from the deck BBQ grill, certainly hit the spot.
For me, eating al fresco is what holidays should be all about, given that the British weather usually keeps us indoors a lot of the year. Viking of course have a great choice of restaurants inside the ship (the main dining room, the speciality Italian Grill, the top-notch Chef’s Table and more) but they also offer dining under the stars at the Aquavit Terrace on deck. It’s where I’d choose to eat most nights, given the chance!
Viking’s standard staterooms – with that all-important balcony – are high spec (lots of USB ports), spacious (big enough for a proper sofa) and have a pleasingly modern, cool design palette. The roomy en suites have glass shower doors – no dancing with a wet shower curtain here! Mini-bar drinks are refreshed daily, and if you want to take your own G&T to one of the bars, I’m told it’s not a problem.
A cruise company is only as good as its crew, something Viking seem to have taken to heart. Despite the very busy day on which we visited, every member of the crew we saw acknowledged us with a smile or a friendly exchange. No-one spoke in a foreign language in front of us or made us feel anything but welcome. And this is despite all gratuities being included in the fare – no tipping is sought or expected by the crew on board Viking Sky feels like a very happy, well-run ship – a real credit to the team behind the scenes as well as on the front-line.
With its personal and thoughtful approach, Viking Sky feels like a ship half its size. With so much included, this is a ship that understands what adults travelling without children find most important – great itineraries, great dining, great service, great design, friendly atmosphere. This doesn’t come cheap – but compared to other top-end, boutique cruises, you may be surprised at the value that Viking offers, as well as a fantastic, well-thought-out, premium cruise experience.
Silver Travel Advisor recommends Viking Ocean Cruises.