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Viking Ocean Cruises’ new 930-passenger Viking Sky is a true sister ship to the company’s first two vessels, but nearly two years of feedback from guests has made its mark on the ship and the fleet.
Because travel agents complained that nearly all of the capacity of Viking’s first ocean vessel was snapped up by the company’s river cruise customers, the line was anxious to accommodate requests and extend its reach to new itineraries. As such, Viking is building rapidly to satisfy demand. With three ships in service, and a fourth — Viking Sun, debuting later this year — the company is now looking to world cruising in 2018.
The physical design of Sky has one noticeable change from its sister ships: The fitness rooms have been expanded by about 540 square feet, drawing space from the beauty salon and the store. Part of the latter has now been incorporated into a fashion shop on another deck. According to Erling Frydenberg, head of hotel operations for Viking Ocean Cruises’ newbuild management team, passengers simply were not booking beauty services that much; they proved more likely to use the gym or to arrange massages. The line has also removed outdoor workout equipment that went unused and replaced it with comfortable loungers.
Viking’s very vocal passengers also informed the cruise team that they wanted more color in ship accommodations. While rooms offer rich texture and design, they mostly stick to a natural color palette. Pillows now have jewel-tone covers. Additionally, organizing trays have been added to accommodations to keep clutter to a minimum.
Sky’s wine list is being overhauled to feature fewer selections but more recognizable choices, and microbrewery selections are being added, as well. The cost of the beverage package has been reduced from $30 to $20 per day, with few restrictions. According to Anthony Mauboussin, director of culinary development for Viking Ocean Cruises, the dining team is creating an elaborate system of menus — including authentic, local dishes reflecting the destinations in which the line sails — and classic standards that will allow even world cruise passengers to dine without repeating meals.
Mamsen’s, the popular Norwegian deli onboard Viking Star and Viking Sea, reflects Viking chairman Tor Hagen’s mother, with dishes made from her recipes. Now, the Explorers’ Lounge bar will reflect his father’s favorite beverages with a new name: Pop’s.
Guests also indicated that they wanted more entertainment as part of their in-room systems, and a variety of music, television shows and movies has been added on Sky, including the “BBC Television Shakespeare” series and Charlie Chaplin films, both of which Hagen says are dear to his heart.
Onboard artwork and decor also differs on Sky, which features light wood and a mix of elegant paintings, spectacular photography and charming work by young children in Viking-sponsored schools.
The cruise line has made creative use of Sky’s giant public flat-screen televisions; the one in the atrium, for instance, shows images of destinations. And there can be no doubt about where to disembark, since the level and the route to the correct elevators is clearly traced on screens by the elevator banks, which also display floor plans. While waiting in the onboard theater to leave with shore excursion groups, guests can view the port talk from the previous day, which describes the destination they will soon visit. What’s more, when movies are shown on the pool deck, cruisers receive Bose headphones to be sure they can hear everything at their desired sound level.
Viking found that conversations among passengers kept touching on the line’s complimentary features: Wi-Fi access; self-service laundry, including detergent; and all restaurants except The Kitchen Table (where guests depart on a culinary shore excursion, then enjoy a special meal onboard where they cook with the chef). In addition, unlimited wine, beer and soft drinks are available at lunch and dinner, and the outstanding thermal suite — with its snow grotto, sauna, steam room, Jacuzzi, pools and open fireplaces — is also complimentary. Like Viking’s river cruises, its seagoing sailings have at least one free excursion in every port, and optional excursions generally run around $100 or less.
All in all, Viking has honed and polished an approach that combines thoughtful comfort with luxury, and it has kept its pricing down. And it’s clear on Sky, as on Viking’s other ships, that its customers’ brand loyalty reflects their appreciation.