A rendering of Viking Star // © 2013
The books opened in May on a new ship and cruise line that had agents practically turning cartwheels. Viking Cruises announced its new seagoing line, Viking Ocean, and the launch of its first vessel, Viking Star, at a huge reveal in Los Angeles. The event put to rest once and for all the notion that CEO Torstein Hagen’s return to blue water was a personal journey based on nostalgia for his days with Royal Viking Line.
Hagen took agents, past guests and press through the meticulous research, feedback and decisions that resulted in the launch. In addition, his team clearly looked at every cruise line they feel is a major competitor and brought their best practices to the creation of Viking Ocean, along with central elements taken from the company’s river cruise operation that dominates the industry.
Viking’s research indicates that its guests also sail on seagoing cruise lines, with 50 percent choosing the premium and ultra-premium categories. When asked to compare Viking river cruises to ocean cruising, a whopping 70 percent of passengers said Viking was superior. When they were asked what is wrong with ocean cruising, the responses boiled down to three areas: the ships are too big, but smaller ships are too expensive and often outdated; the value proposition is not good enough; and there is not enough time in port.
Viking responded by offering an average of 12.11 hours in port on Viking Star, which debuts in May 2015. Agents cheered as the value quotient was set forward: the line’s inclusions sound much more like river cruising than seagoing cruises, with a free shore excursion in every port; free Wi-Fi access; complimentary beer, wine and soft drinks with lunch and dinner; complimentary specialty coffees; specialty restaurants without charge; port taxes and fees included; below market airfare; and free ground transfers.
With all this, the adjusted price for the lowest priced veranda stateroom, including air and the value of other included items for each line, was set at 38 percent less than the average for competitive ships sailing in the same geographical area; these included vessels from Oceania Cruises, Celebrity Cruises, Princess Cruises and Holland America Line. The stateroom size for Viking Star starts at 270 square feet for the lowest category veranda stateroom (1,448 for the largest suite) and, according to Viking’s figures, that is 17 percent larger than the average of its competitors. Per diems start at $420.
Frequent guests from the river cruise end who attended the Viking launch were very active in the Q and A period following the presentation. When polled, 84 percent of these guests affirmed their willingness to follow Viking on the high seas if their criteria were met, and they have clearly already taken possession of Viking Star. They insisted that the tables for two along the windows (that open in the main dining room) should be able to convert into tables for three, six and more so that they could dine with their friends — and this was already in the design.
Features carried over from the Viking river ships range from physical elements such as the Aqavit Terrace to the philosophy that the very best dining onboard should be in the main dining room; other venues are there for special taste, not better quality.
Also carried over is the policy of eliminating non-commissionables, which Viking established two years ago in its river cruises. Therefore, the line will pay commission on all elements of the cruise. Also, as on river cruises, besides the complimentary shore excursion in each port, there will also be premium access excursions for sale.
Viking Star debuts in Northern Europe and the Mediterranean in 2015, to be followed by a sistership in 2016; the line also has options and conditional orders for four additional vessels. Meanwhile, Hagen expects to have 100 river ships in service by 2020, which includes bringing the Longship design to the Mississippi.
One of Viking’s executives quipped, “My ongoing nightmare is that they will find rivers on Mars and Torstein Hagen will call a meeting the next morning."