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Onboard Viking Cruises’ first seagoing ship, the 930-passenger Viking Star, the culture is much closer to river cruising than the typical seagoing cruise.
According to senior vice president of marketing Richard Marnell, Viking’s river cruisers had the first chance at booking, and they make up just under 70 percent of Star’s passengers. The result is a very friendly, sociable atmosphere with curious, proactive passengers.
Viking’s river cruise guests had a great deal of input on the seagoing ships, which generated a high level of confidence in the product. The company was a little surprised, however, to find 125 guests signed up to cruise 50 consecutive days during the inaugural season of a ship nobody had seen. This move promises well for the future world cruising, once additional ships have taken off some of the demand pressure.
Viking executives also couldn’t have anticipated that these guests, once onboard, would set up what they dubbed the 50/50 Club, a club for those sailing 50 days onboard and who were married for 50 years or more.
Since there are nearly five times as many guests onboard Star as on Viking’s Longships, the dialogue found on river vessels could easily have been lost, but the line actively encourages friendly interchanges through the ship’s concept, design and programming.
A coffee chat in the morning enables guests to plan their day together if they so wish, and there’s a designated social gathering so that travelers can get together before dinner, which often turns into sharing a meal or evening cocktails. The easy social atmosphere extends from the fitness rooms to the lounges and hallways, and guests take possession of the ship from the first day of the cruise.
Very homelike touches from the owner’s family certainly help contribute to the guests’ feeling of ownership. The Living Room concept extends through three levels and is truly used as an actual living room by guests. There, they play games, chat, read their email, enjoy books and generally treat the space as if it were home.
The recipes for the comforting dishes in Mamsen’s Cafe come from chairman and CEO Torstein Hagen’s mother, and the tableware is a reproduction of what guests would find in her home. Unique art, books and artifacts are scattered throughout the ship, and passengers constantly commented on the ship’s personality.
Viking has gone to considerable lengths to put its river cruise guests on familiar ground, from linens in the staterooms to china in The Restaurant — soon to be renamed The Dining Room to reflect its place in this home at sea. Passengers head for their shore excursions with the same individual QuietVox group guiding systems that make guided tours a pleasure on the rivers.
The all-inclusive policy with no nickel-and-diming onboard adds much to the homelike quality, as guests can take transfers, dine with wine and beer, use the Internet, do their laundry and take excursions — all without reaching for their wallets. As a result, both past Viking guests and those who have booked Star as their first Viking experience felt like guests of a grand house party.
The Star’s emphasis on enrichment is also closer to river cruising than traditional seagoing ships, and passengers flock to the available lectures, performances, movies and shows.
Viking passengers tend to be exceptionally well-educated, and Marnell said the company is working to keep lectures and excursions stimulating and fresh in order “to keep up with their curiosity.”
Travelers on our cruise were very frank about not wanting to give up their “apartments.” In true river-cruise fashion — in which guests must book well ahead — these individuals were already making their reservations for 2017. As a result of such great interest, 72 percent of the inventory is already sold through September of next year.
It is a safe bet that staunch river cruisers will continue to reverse tradition every once in a while and go from rivers to the sea on Viking, taking their friendly, engaged style to an additional set of ports.