By Carolyn Spencer Brown, Editor-in-Chief
Viking Cruises, which operates the industry's largest fleet of riverboats, unveiled plans for a new ocean-going cruise arm. Called Viking Oceans, it debuts in May 2015 when it unveils the 48,000-ton, 928-passenger Viking Star, the first of two newbuilds ordered from Italy's Fincantieri.
Viking Star and its as-yet-unnamed sibling will offer a destination-oriented cruise experience, with few days at sea, long days in ports and more overnights in key places than offered by most other lines. Key features include value-oriented extras such as free shore excursions, complimentary Wi-Fi, and beer and wine served without charge at lunch and dinner. All cabins will have balconies and, at 270 square feet, will be 20 percent larger than average standard staterooms.
In designing the new ships, Viking has incorporated popular elements from its innovative river-oriented Longships design, such as the indoor/outdoor Aquavit Terrace dining venue and a design sensibility that reflects Scandinavia's penchant for a simple, airy and comfortable ambience.
While the ship will be equipped with a magradome pool whose glass roof can open in warm weather (and close during inclement seasons), what's really nifty about Viking Star is the main restaurant can be converted from an open-air venue to a cozy dining room with the push of a button that controls the windows.
Many new features reflect more of a boutique hotel feel, including a fire pit, a Nordic-influenced spa with snow room and sauna.
Ship traditionalists will appreciate Viking Star's walk-around promenade deck that fully encircles the vessel. Its Explorer's Lounge, an airy two-deck top-of-the-ship venue, offers an observation area -- a feature that many of today's newest cruise ships lack.
In its maiden season, Viking Star will spend spring, summer and fall trawling the waters of northern Europe's Baltic and fjords, and the Mediterranean. Winter itineraries haven't been announced.