If it’s February in Australia, it must be cruise season. And if it’s cruise season, that means ship inspections.
In the course of my career as a travel writer I’ve toured many, many ships. I still remember one vessel where they showed us the entry level cabin – four fold down bunks, no windows and the size of a garden shed. It was more like a prison cell than a cabin.
Counterpoint that with Viking Sun, which is currently making her debut in Australian waters on a world cruise which began in Miami on December 15. Visiting 65 ports and 35 countries over 141 days, this is Viking’s first ever world cruise, but it’s just a mere taste of what Aussies can expect Down Under.
Viking will start home-porting from Australia in December with Viking Orion spending three months of the year cruising between Sydney and Auckland. And with the arrival of Viking Jupiter into the fleet in 2019, the company will be the largest ‘small ship’ ocean cruise line in the world.
“Viking is the embodiment of the future of cruising in Australia and New Zealand,” said Jill Abel, CEO of the Australian Cruise Association.
Bold words, but can the company back up such hyperbole? After an inspection of Viking Sun today, I can tell you quite categorically that they can.
Seasoned cruise writers were tripping over themselves to praise the design, ambiance, aesthetics and general ‘wow’ factor of the vessel. Viking don’t like to use the word ‘luxury’ to describe themselves, preferring ‘understated elegance’, but that’s exactly what they are. Small ship luxury without casinos, cocktails, butlers, waterslides and, perhaps crucially, children.
A colleague described it perfectly when we came onboard, saying the ship had a “lightness of being.” From the entry point living room through to the dining areas, bars, library and spa, there was a feeling of quietness, comfort and familiarity, as if you were cruising in your own living room (although probably with much more expensive furniture and fittings).
Every element of the ship has been personally overseen by Viking’s enigmatic and effervescent Chairman, Torstein Hagen, right down to the leather handrails, crockery, TV remote, Scandinavian artwork and even some of the dishes on the menu. For me, the highlight was the theatre, where they had the faces of famous Scandinavian actors embossed on the seat cushions.
“Everything on this ship is very intentional and purposeful and comes back to our Scandinavian roots,” said Sara Conley, Senior Director, Corporate Communications & Customer Engagement.
The success of Viking’s ocean offering is even more remarkable, given that they only launched into the market in 2015 with Viking Star, building on their award-winning reputation in river cruising. As Mr Hagen told Traveltalk in an exclusive interview in the February issue, the company intends to have a bright and lasting future here in Australia.
“We have always wanted to provide a great value to our guests, and as it has turned out, many have described our ships and service as luxury – and I will not argue with them,” he told me in the interview.
Having now toured Viking Sun, neither will I.