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There was an uncanny moment the day of Viking Ocean Cruises’ inauguration of its first ship, Viking Star. By coincidence, Viking Star’s namesake, Royal Viking Star (now Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines’ Black Watch cruise ship), had pulled in next to its berth in Bergen, Norway.
Viking Cruises’ chairman and CEO Torstein Hagen was tempted to visit the Black Watch, but decided against it.
“Too many memories,” said Hagen, who was formerly CEO of Royal Viking Line.
These memories date back to 1984, when Royal Viking Line’s owners decided to sell the company. Though Hagen scrambled to bring together investors to buy the line, it was sold elsewhere and eventually dispersed. He hadn’t returned to Bergen since — that is, until the Viking Star christening.
Viking Star also has ties to Hagen’s relationship with his former mentor, Warren Titus. Titus, who passed away in 2009, founded Royal Viking Line and Seabourn Cruise Line and set the standard for luxury cruising.
Above all, Titus stood for treating guests with respect for their intelligence and taste. He believed this would command higher prices in the marketplace and create strong brand distinction. Similarly, Viking had consulted with its river cruisers in feedback sessions. In addition to giving their input, they responded by booking Viking Star, sight unseen, in numbers that left little for agents to sell: 125 of the company’s returning customers reserved the first 50 days of Viking Star’s inaugural season.
Titus would also often stress that the destination is key to a positive vacation experience. Likewise, Viking Star itineraries are designed to provide long periods in port, along with extended evenings and overnight stays for access to local culture.
Understated elegance, something else Hagen learned to appreciate from Titus, is evident in the 930-passenger Viking Star. There are dozens of exceptional touches — even the Internet stations have Eames chairs. Books are scattered throughout public rooms, and it’s not unusual to see passengers inviting each other in to look at art on stateroom walls.
Accommodations are also generous in size, ranging from 270 to 1,300 square feet. All have balconies and features that will likely feel familiar to Viking’s river cruise customers, including heated bathroom floors.
Titus’ aversion to nickeling-and-diming guests is reflected in complimentary amenities, including Internet access; beer and wine during lunch and dinner; shore excursions; and the use of a washer and dryer. In addition, there is no charge for the spa’s hydrotherapy suite.
With the strong response to Viking Star, Viking Cruises is under pressure to meet demand with more ships. Viking Sky is due March 2016, while Viking Sea will debut in early 2017. Hagen has set goals for both Viking’s seagoing and river products, aiming for a 10-ship ocean fleet and a 100-ship river collection that currently includes 64 vessels.
“He’ll do it,” one longtime Viking passenger said to me, while onboard Viking Star. “Just look at this ship — we’re booking now for 2017.”
And a special accolade that will likely please Hagen: Warren Titus’ wife, Janice Farrar Titus, attended the inauguration and referred to the ship as “Royal Viking Star reborn.”