Viking Sun - August 2019
GoCruise – 21st August 2019
Viking Cruises launched their first ocean going ship in 2015 with Viking Sun being their 3rd.
There are a total of 7 almost identical ships either already sailing or in the pipe line, complementing their 72 river cruise ships. All the ocean going ships are the same build, as the goal was to create a fleet of near identical ships that felt more like intimate boutique hotels, thereby allowing guests to focus more on the destinations than getting to grips with different on board experiences. There has been the odd tweak here and there (for instance an enhanced fitness area and a planetarium in the Explorers Lounge on the 3 newest ships) and the occasional unique feature: On Viking Sun this includes a barrel of Aquavit (in the Living Room). As Viking Sun sails World Cruises for Viking, to comply with the traditional 500 year old recipe to make Linje Aquavit, barrels that hold the liquor have to cross the equator twice. The rocking motion from the sea and the temperature changes in different parts of the world are said to extract stronger flavours from the white oak barrels that the liquor is stored in, having first been aged in sherry casks, before being loaded onto the ship. Six 500 litre barrels were taken on the 2018 World Cruise on Viking Sun and upon returning to Bergen were further processed and bottled at the Atlungstad Distillery. Guests on subsequent voyages have been able to sample Linje Aquavit, served neat as a warming spirit, paired with smoked Norwegian salmon or mixed into handcrafted cocktails, like the Viking Royal, which is blended with sparkling wine and lime juice. Indeed Viking Sun was christened with a bottle of Gammel Opland Aquavit (reputedly a favourite of Chairman Torstein Hagen’s Mother) rather than the more usual champagne.
Viking Sun and her sisters weigh in at 47,800 tonnes and carry 930 (adult only) passengers in all verandah/balcony cabins and suites over 9 passenger decks. This keeps the choice of accommodation simple with the more luxurious options offering earlier and more slots in the alternate restaurants (known as speciality restaurants on other cruise lines, but like all premium lines and above, being complimentary to diners on Viking Sun). There are five stateroom categories: Verandahs (V) and Deluxe Verandahs (DV) are 250 sq ft each, Penthouse Verandahs (PV) are 338 sq ft and Penthouse Junior Suites (PS) 405 sq ft, Explorer Suites (ES) measure more than 757 sq ft, depending on their location and the Owners Suites (OS) are 1448 sq ft. All staterooms have a king size bed, a good size bathroom with under floor heating and anti fog mirrors. As you go up the categories complimentary extras include in suite binoculars, a daily replenished mini bar, coffee machine and laundry & shoe shine services, right up to a private library, an ocean view dry sauna, a shore excursion in a port of call of your choice (up to the value of $800), daily canapes and dinner & a guided tour with the ships officers, for guests in the Owners Suites. Because all accommodation has a balcony, there are no inside cabin doors opposite and the only other public areas amongst the cabins and suites are the self service launderettes found on the even numbered (port) side of each deck.
The ethos of Viking ocean cruising has been largely lifted straight from their river cruise model: cruises are destination focused with minimal sea days and typically 11 hours in port. There are overnight stays in embarkation and disembarkation ports so they become proper ports of call, rather than just places to get on and off a ship at, as well as pre and post cruise land stay options. One excursion per port is included in the cost of the cruise, although some of my clients have commented that the optional (additional cost) excursions are more on a par with their on board cruise experience than the included ones and feature more active and cultural experiences. Gratuities are included in the price as well as wine, beer and soft drinks with lunch and dinner on board. A Silver Spirits drinks package for all day alcohol consumption is available at $19.95 pp/day. Wifi and entry to the spa (excluding treatments) are also complimentary. Viking also extend free wifi to the crew – so follow them to access wifi hotspots round the ship!!
Viking Sun is elegant and refined but not in a stuffy way and the neutral colour scheme including cobalt blue, taupe, creams, chocolate brown, beige and burnt orange, teamed with plenty of blond and bleached Scandinavian wood offers a more than passing nod to its Nordic heritage. The ship is light and airy with lots of glass, cosy nooks and crannies, seafaring touches like large globes, wall mounted maps and a telescope, taking pride of place in the Explorers Lounge, a large eclectic art collection (sadly the scenes of the Bayeux Tapestry in the stairwells are only wall paper) and pelt effect throws mimicking Nordic hunting trophies.
There is no casino, no Western style review shows, no private facilities for top paying guests and no ship photographers. Instead the stand out on board offerings, aimed at destination immersion and Nordic wellness, include: the LivNordic Spa open to all guests with pride of place going to the Snow Grotto and falling snowflakes, but only after you have visited the sauna. This is part of the signature spa experience – The Nordic Bathing Ritual, which detoxifies and relaxes with alternating sauna and Ice Grotto visits, along with body brushing with birch twigs, a cold drench, face scrub and mask and a final massage. Probably a slightly surreal experience if sailing in the Caribbean and remember some footwear for the Grotto!
The Star Theatre seats 250 people but cleverly has 2 smaller venues either side (seating 100 people each) which double as lecture theatres or cinemas (complete with double seats and blankets) and can be opened up to make an even larger venue seating 450 people. There are lectures on destinations or themes like photography and art.
The central swimming pool/lido area on deck 7, has a sliding retractable roof or magradome, permitting all season lap swimming as well as a hot tub and movie screen, where complimentary headphones (and blankets) for those who want to watch the proverbial ‘Movies Under the Stars’, means you are not disturbed by a noisy pool deck. There is a lanai (sunbathing area) around the pool, with lounge style furniture and small tables for drinks, snacks and the odd book, as well as shaded seating areas made up of grouped couches, coffee tables and chairs. Next to the main pool is the Wintergarden, where afternoon tea is served under a canopy of Scandinavian trellised wood representing Yggdrasil, the Tree of Life. Similar to the Winter Garden lounge on Cunard ships, this conservatory style area is light and airy with metal sculptured back drops and offers musical interludes. It has folding doors that can open up onto the main pool deck, providing quite an expansive recreational area. There is an Infinity pool and additional hot tub aft on this deck.
The Restaurant is the main restaurant on board and encompasses the back third of the ship on deck 2. It serves buffet breakfast, lunch and a 5 course evening meal on an open seating basis with panoramic views, plenty of tables for two or even large private parties and a good selection of regional dishes, peculiar to the itinerary sailed, as well as healthy options. At dinner there is typically a choice of 5 or 6 starters, 5 main courses, and 2 or 3 desserts along with classic foods that are always available at dinner including Caesar salad, grilled chicken, steak, poached salmon, cheesecake and creme brulee. In good weather the panoramic windows fold back, offering meals al fresco style.
The World Café is the buffet style restaurant on Viking Ocean ships and has a wide range of live cooking stations (including seafood and sushi), the celebrated gelato area (8 different flavours of ice cream and sorbet when I stopped by including salted caramel, cherry brandy and a sugar free coconut sorbet) and an al fresco area (the Aquavit Terrace) near the infinity pool at the back of the ship. There is also a Pool Grill & Bar offering gourmet burgers and similar snacks, servicing the lido area.
As previously stated, there are no specialty restaurants on Viking ships – just alternate eating venues. These are Manfredi's Italian Restaurant (130 covers), specialising in Tuscan and Roman dishes and named after Manfredi Lefebvre d'Ovidio, Chairman of Silversea Cruises and a friend of Torstein Hagen. The menu is extensive and includes 12 first choices, 9 selections of risotto and pasta and the celebrated ‘fish of the day’. The Chef’s Table serves 5 courses of gourmet dining with wine pairing. Menus here are based on one of 12 themes, but change every 3 nights on a cruise. It was an Asian Panorama menu when we were on board including King Crab, lobster and chicken Shanghai style and Peking Duck. Both these restaurants boast private dining areas for 10 people each. Again, these can be booked at no additional cost and are ideal for family or small group celebrations. The room at Manfredi’s is particularly stunning as the table itself is a spectacularly large curved piece of polished oak.
Finally there is Mamsen’s (meaning Mother) and dedicated to Torstein Hagen’s Mother (a black and white photo of her adorns the back wall of the deli). It is a Norwegian style deli café, spread over 2 decks with large panoramic windows in the Explorers Lounge and is open for a couple of hours each time around conventional meal times. It serves dishes created from Torstein’s Mother’s own recipe book, including waffles with Norwegian brown cheese and berries and open Scandinavian style sandwiches. At the entrance to both Mamsen’s and the spa there appears to be a fire – do not be fooled, it is actually back lit water vapour creating the effect, as naked flames are naturally not allowed on board.
The only additional charged eatery is The Kitchen Table, which is Vikings on board cookery school and restaurant. Once or twice each cruise up to 8 people can book for a ‘shopping with the chef’ type experience on land, followed by an interactive cookery demonstration in the test kitchen and then the opportunity to dine on the labours of the day. Even at a cost of $199 pp this experience sells out fast!
Public areas on Viking Sun are restful and welcoming with different combinations of seats and seating arranged to provide more intimate areas and tasteful pieces of art complementing the scene. There are books and games everywhere – from Scrabble boards to Monopoly sets and packs of cards to jigsaws, as well as musical entertainment throughout the day: The Viking Living Room & Library is on the lower two floors of the 3 deck high Atrium area, along with the Viking Bar (built from clinker and inspired by ancient longships), a grand piano and large LED screen on one of the landings which shows scenes of local interest, that change every 15 minutes or so.
The Explorers Lounge is a 2 deck high expansive and very light observation area forward on decks 7 & 8. It is an area somewhat reminiscent of the Observation Lounges on Hurtigruten ships - a cross between a library and a large hotel lobby lounge and again contains a lot of wood, marine artifacts, best selling novels and comfortable seating. At night the glass walls light up with maps of the constellations and there are live musical performances here by resident musicians. There is even a small open air terrace. The Explorers Lounge is also the home of Mamsen’s, thereby ensuring it is busy all day long and Pap’s Bar (named after Hagen’s Father) and the place on board to get a craft beer – again, all day long!
Finally, Viking’s Piano Bar - Torshavn’s, is a cabaret style evening venue with a bar, dance floor and area for live music ranging from a pianist through music revues and live band music to dance parties and DJ sets. In the evening it is said to take over from the Explorers Lounge as the beating heart of the ship.
For guests more interested in activity and outside space on board – in addition to the pool deck there is a Sports deck, forward on deck 9. It has a table tennis table, boules pitch, shuffleboard court and small putting area, as well as intimate grouped seating areas. This is also where guests can partake of complimentary yoga and pilates classes, jog round the track or just chillax in the wicker arm chairs and couches on the small sun deck. Deck 2 is the wrap round promenade deck where diners in The Restaurant can count walker’s laps whilst eating – 4 times round the deck is 1 mile. Joggers need to use the track on the Sports deck.
Viking Sun and her sister ships are not full of bars, lounges, entertainment or swimming pools as with long hours each day in port, guests are not encouraged to stay on board too much. The facilities that are available are well thought out, tastefully offered and from what I witnessed on board can more than adequately cater for all passengers. The dress code is relaxed casual: no swimming costumes or shorts in restaurants, but no tuxedos required either and for gentlemen the definition of a shirt is one with a collar – including a polo shirt.
I loved my time on the ship – the refined but relaxed feel was just right, the staff were very polite and accommodating and with the extensive range of itineraries on offer, Viking Ocean cruise ships probably have something to offer most cruise aficionados, whichever cruise line they have sailed with previously or typically favour.