When river cruise giant Viking announced plans a few years ago to get into the ocean cruise business, many industry insiders scoffed.
They said Viking never would be able to secure the shipyard space or financing to build a significant fleet of ocean ships, and they said even if Viking did build a bunch of ships, the vessels wouldn't be much of a threat to existing lines. Plus, they added, what does Viking know about ocean cruising?
It turns out a lot.
Since debuting in 2015 with a single, 930-passenger vessel, Viking's ocean cruise division has won raves from vacationers and become a runaway hit. With bookings rolling in, the division already has rushed to add four more vessels — the latest just christened on Thursday. And it now has plans for 11 more ships by 2027.
What's driving the boom? For starters, Viking seems to have hit a home run with the size, style and focus of its ocean-going vessels. The ships are relatively small and upscale, and the experience revolves heavily around the destinations they visit. The line also has grabbed the love and loyalty of customers with its "no nickel-and-diming" philosophy. A lot is included in the fare. But it's more than just that.
Here, USA TODAY highlights 19 things that cruise fans and travel agents say are setting Viking ships apart:
► The design is impeccable. From the easy flow of interior spaces to the understated elegance of the Scandinavian-influenced decor, the look is unified, stylish and sophisticated in a way that is rare in the cruise industry.
► They're relatively small. In an era of ever-bigger mega-ships — some holding as many 6,000 people — Viking decided to keep the capacity of all of the ships in its fleet at just 930.
► They're quiet. There isn't music blasting out of speakers in every corner of the ships, and there are few announcements.
► There's a balcony with every cabin.
► The entertainment is classy — and educational, too. There aren't a lot of flashy dancing girl shows on Viking ships. If you like that sort of thing, this isn't your line. But you'll find plenty of enriching offerings, from classical music performances to lectures by NASA astronauts.
► There are no casinos.
► There are no art auctions.
► There are no ship-board photographers.
► There is no hard sell. You won't hear the cruise director on the loudspeaker touting great savings in the ship store, as is so common on many lines; spa staff are instructed not to try to pressure spa-goers into buying creams and potions.
► No children under 18 are allowed on board. This is a negative, of course, if you're looking for a family cruise.
► There is a shore excursion included in every port. For those of you who cruise, you know: This is a biggie.
► The little touches in cabins are legion, starting with the heated floors in bathrooms. Viking doesn't make much of this in its marketing material, hoping that it comes as a delightful discovery for first-time passengers.
► Two more little touches that set Viking cabins apart — both responses to pet peeves of Viking founder Torstein Hagen: The remote controls for televisions are blissfully simple to use — they have just a few buttons; and the toiletries in bathrooms are unusually easy-to-open and easy-to-identify (they have big, bold lettering and are color coded so it's easy to tell the shampoo apart from, say, the body wash).
► Viking also has banished the clutter of the cabin desk top by tucking away daily planners, room service menus and the many other papers that cover cabin desks on most ships to a single leather folder.
► Bathroom showers are bigger than what you'll find on most cruise ships — the result of eliminating bathtubs in most cabins. Viking executives like to note that bathtubs typically take up about 6 percent of the space in a ship cabin and are little used.
► There is no charge for beer and wine at lunch and dinner.
► There is no charge for using the self-serve launderettes located in cabin areas. Even the detergent is free.
► There is no charge for WiFi on board.
► There is no charge to enter the thermal suite at the ship's spa.
► There is no charge for the specialty restaurants on board — or room service.
Viking's new ocean ships are among USA TODAY's list of the 25 most beautiful cruise ships.
By Gene Sloan, USA Today
Re-posted on CruiseCrazies.com - Cruise News, Articles, Forums, Packing List, Ship Tracker, and more
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Edited by Jason