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When Viking River Cruises announced the launch of its new sea-going brand, Viking Ocean Cruises, industry professionals watched and waited to see how the venture would unfold. As the debut of Viking Star nears — the 930-passenger vessel will set sail next May — it appears that the brand is riding high.
More than six months away from its launch, the majority of Viking Star staterooms for 2015 trips have been sold. And while that’s good news for Viking, high demand has left some travel agents out in the cold, unless clients are planning trips more than one year in advance.
“I am not selling as much Viking Ocean as I would like to,” said Tom Baker, co-owner of Houston-based CruiseCenter. “So many past Viking River Cruises’ guests booked Viking Star cruises that agents found everything for next year pretty much sold out.”
While 2016 itineraries are already selling well, the lack of availability for 2015 cruises poses a challenge, as some clients are used to booking ocean cruises closer to sailing dates.
The situation is reminiscent of the earlier days of Oceania Cruises, when the company was capacity-constrained before launching its O-class ship building program. But, Viking already has the solution in hand with its order of sister ships. Viking Sky and Viking Sea are scheduled to launch in 2016, and a fourth vessel will debut in 2017. Viking also has the option to order fifth and sixth ships from Italian shipbuilding company Fincantieri.
It’s no surprise that many of the cruisers planning to sail on Viking Star in its first year have previously traveled with Viking River Cruises — they were instrumental in many of Viking’s decisions regarding the ship. Surveyed river cruise passengers said that they wanted a better value proposition than they were getting with other ocean cruise lines (most sailed with premium and upper premium lines), as well as more time in ports. Of the participating guests, 84 percent indicated that they would be inclined to book Viking sea-going cruises if their recommendations were followed.
According to Baker, one look at Viking Star helps further explain client interest.
“The interior is stunning, and they have looked carefully at the most successful features of other cruise lines and included them all,” Baker said. “A lot of thought went into this. It will be a delicious product.”
In particular, Baker noted the ship’s all-balcony construction, the large, well-designed bathrooms and the inclusion of drinks at lunch and dinner. Other stand-out features include a spa influenced by Nordic wellness practices, an elegant observation lounge, an infinity pool and a second pool with a retractable glass roof. Likewise, the main dining room can be open-air or closed, depending on the weather. Other features carried over from river cruise operations to Viking Star include free Wi-Fi access and complimentary shore excursions. Premium excursions will be available for purchase.
Also like Viking’s river vessels, Viking Star has specialty restaurants offering a variety of cuisines, and they carry no charge. Viking’s itineraries provide an average of more than 12 hours in port. Sailing on the ship is also a good value — the cost of Viking Star’s lowest-priced stateroom, adjusted for inclusions such as air, was set at 38 percent less than the average for competitive ships sailing in the same geographical area, with per diems starting at $269.
Staterooms onboard the ship range in size, beginning at 270 square feet for the lowest category veranda stateroom. According to Viking, that is 17 percent larger than the average stateroom on competitors’ ships. Viking Star’s largest stateroom option is a suite measuring 1,448 square feet.
All three of the first Viking Ocean Cruises’ ships will offer eight- to 15-day Baltic and Western Mediterranean cruises. Of course, travel agents and clients will want to book as far in advance as possible — staterooms are sure to go fast.