Nordic design is as popular and timeless as ever. Home furnishing stores across the globe are adopting the aesthetic made mainstream by brands like Marimekko, Finland’s legendary purveyor of graphic patterns; Denmark’s Hay, known for clean-lined housewares and fixtures; and Oslo-based Northern, which recently branched out from its specialty, lighting, to offer furniture crafted with pale woods native to Norway.
One place you may not have expected to find this minimalist style is on cruise ships, often celebrated for their over-the-top, opulent decor. But lovers of this spare, streamlined style will feel right at home on Viking Cruises’ fleet of ocean ships, models of Scandinavian chic with clean lines, light woods and nature-inspired elements.
One theory for the demand for Scandinavian design is that it transforms a home into a clean, deceptively simple oasis from the chaos of our modern, fast-paced lives. It’s perhaps the same reason why Marie Kondo has sold millions of books on finding joy through decluttering. And why designing a cruise ship that feels comfortable yet luxurious, memorable without competing with the destinations to which it sails, is a winning strategy for a cruise line focused on providing travelers with opportunities for meaningful exploration.
Indeed, each of Viking’s new ocean ships also stands out among all other cruise ships as a floating embodiment of its parent line -- reflecting the heart and soul of Viking's company heritage, beyond design. Architect Richard Riveire, hired to create the interior decor of this fleet of identical ships, achieved this by marrying quintessential Nordic style with a celebration of the Vikings’ seafaring tradition of expedition and discovery.
“A sense of exploration is important for Norwegians,” Riveire says. “So the design reflects that sense of looking for things, of exploring and finding. The passenger becomes the discoverer by finding things on Day 3 or 4 or 5.”
Riveire facilitates that in creative, clever — and often fun — ways. Indeed, the ships are a veritable "Where's Waldo" of sometimes hidden cultural details, from the pillows in the theater bearing the faces of famous Scandinavian personalities to the tile work around the outdoor pool inspired by Norwegian knitting patterns.
Cruisers can embark on their own journey of discovery in search of the many Nordic cultural touchstones hiding in plain sight throughout the ships. Here are our favorite spaces.
First Impressions Count
The Living Room, a three-deck high space where passengers typically enter and exit the ship, is so layered in detail that you’ll want to pass through often. Its modern Scandinavian style of the Living Room is rich in nautical nuances: rug patterns that bear stylized architectural drawings of ancient Viking ships; wood paneling inspired by those vessels; and heavy, braided cotton macramé window coverings that resemble the rigging on sails and hide views of the lifeboats. The symbolism of the ship theme in the décor? It really was the linchpin of the Viking world.
The macramé textural window coverings on the Living Room windows are a novel treatment. Sure, they are eye-catching but we love that they also let in light. And, naturally, there is a ship connection: The design resembles the ropes of longships.
Like any designer-focused living space, Viking Oceans’ Living Room offers pieces of sculpture and other decorative items. Wander around if you can, and check out the ancient styled Viking elements, such as these oversized coin replicas, as well as reproductions of metal helmets, swords and symbolic figurines.
Multi-hued textiles — from rugs and throw pillows to window treatments — are reminiscent of the patterns used by early Nordic artisans from Norway to Iceland. These throw pillows in the Living Room bearing Norwegian designs in muted colors show the careful attention to detail throughout the ships.
No opportunity for beautifying a space is left untouched. In The Living Room’s atrium, look under – yes, under – the gorgeous staircase to discover a multi-colored lichen garden. It’s inspired by the wild lichen and slate-gray boulders of Norway’s Finse mountain plateau. A gee-whiz feature that looks more like a tapestry than a garden, it’s laid out like Norwegian knitting pattern using lichen, moss, birch bark, stones and slate.
One more fabulous element here is a screen-as-artwork. Via a giant atrium LCD screen that hangs above the staircase, displays rotate in of classic Norwegian nature scenes by British photographer Alastair Miller.
How many museums have you discovered on cruise ships? Here, the small Viking Heritage Museum introduces guests to the life and culture of the legendary seafarers through realistic replicas of ancient Viking clothing, jewelry, coins, daily implements and weaponry — as well as a fascinating timeline of the Viking era.
Replicas of ancient Viking clothes are displayed in the Viking Heritage Museum.
Our Favorite Public Spaces
The lofty and airy Wintergarden tearoom, located on the pool deck, was designed entirely around a stylized yggdrasil, or Nordic Tree of Life, made of white pigmented ash. Central to Nordic mythology, the Tree of Life, or World Tree, is where the gods traveled to hold their daily court. Its branches extended far into the heavens. Legend has it that Odin, Father of the Gods, once hanged himself for nine nights from the World Tree to gain the knowledge of runes. Odin’s two ravens are visible in the far right corner.
Throughout the Wintergarden, open-work partitions depict the story of Odin’s ravens, Huginn and Muninn, who flew all over the world gathering information. They would return to him and whisper their findings in his ears. The Vikings venerated the raven and used the bird’s image on armor, helmets, wood carvings, jewelry and longships.
Even the pools onboard tie in a Nordic design element; we love the intricate tile work around the infinity pool and hot tub, off the aft, that resembles traditional Norwegian knitting patterns.
Climbing stairs will never be this interesting again. Each landing is dedicated to a reproduction of the 11th-century Bayeux Tapestry, an iconic work of medieval art. Details of the tapestry document William the Conqueror’s invasion of England from Normandy and the death of the Anglo-Saxon King Harold in the Battle of Hastings in 1066. A descendant the Viking chieftain Rollo, William changed history when he arrived with his fleet of ships, many of which were built in the traditional Viking clinker style common in Normandy, which had been settled by Norsemen, i.e., Vikings
Check this out: This detail of the Bayeux Tapestry depicts William of Ponthieu and King Harold in 1065. Other key scenes depict Harold’s coronation, William’s ships crossing the English Channel and the Battle of Hastings. You can go from floor to floor to follow the story.
Even an elevator ride is intriguing. Birch bark wallpaper playfully covers the elevator shafts, on the atrium-facing cars, visible as you ride up and down. Can you spot the hidden trolls peaking out from behind the trees? Trolls were mischievous creatures in Norse mythology, which became a key part of Scandinavian folklore. All the trolls show real people involved in designing the ship or who are part of the engineering team, even the dog Finse, which belongs to Torstein Hagen’s daughter and Viking’s senior vice president, Karine Hagen.
While you’re waiting for the show to start in the ships’ Star Theater, note that pillows feature faces of famous Scandinavian stars (with their signatures embroidered on the reverse). From left to right: Norwegian actress Liv Ullman, Swedish actress Greta Garbo and Norwegian figure skater and three-time Olympic champion, Sonja Henie. Other stars include Swedish actress Ingrid Bergman and Swedish actor Nils Asther.
The Explorers Lounge is a Particular Standout
The Explorers Lounge, a two-deck high space on levels seven and eight, is one of the ship’s entertainment hubs. But look more closely when you enter. An illuminated constellation adorns the entry portal to the Explorers Lounge, as a symbolic welcome into the dramatic light-filled space, which is devoted to early Norwegian and Viking seafaring traditions.
Ascend the glass staircase to the upper deck of the Explorers’ Lounge, where you’ll find a veritable treasure trove of navigational design elements and memorabilia dedicated to early Norwegian and Viking seafarers.
Display cases, such as this one, feature astrolabes, navigational tools, astronomical maps, photos and memorabilia related to early Norwegian explorers.
All throughout the Explorers Lounge you’ll find books on exploration artfully displayed with astronomical maps as well as seashells and replicas of Viking masks and weaponry — all inspired by the trade routes.
Among the framed photos in the Explorers Lounge of the Viking Sky is this one of the great Norwegian explorer and Nobel Peace Prize laureate, Fridtjof Nansen, smoking his pipe near his ship, Fram, in the Arctic Ocean in 1894. Namsen’s 1893-1896 expedition aboard the Nam attempted to reach the geographical North Pole. Though he failed, he did achieve a record Farthest North of 86°13.6′N. Each Viking ocean vessel celebrates a different Norwegian explorer and his ship. The Viking Sky is dedicated to Nansen.
A telescope set up in the Explorers Lounge serves both a useful and symbolic role.
Absolutely Do (Do) This at Home
On the ships, on which every stateroom has a private balcony, cabins and suites reflect the Nordic aesthetic, evident in the streamlined furnishings, light woods, and soft, neutral tones. The designs in the carpets and bedspreads take their cues and colors from early Norwegian patterns.
It’s the smaller touches though that inspire us to redecorate once we’re home. Felt slippers, gorgeous basketry, the warmest, softest cashmere blankets draped over furnishings, are a just a few of the items we wish we could take home with us.
Spa as Nordic Retreat
The LivNordic spa, unique to Viking Ocean Cruises, has received numerous nods, including from Cruise Critic, for its ambience. Its inspiration comes from the beauty of Scandinavian nature — in the Swedish limestone and black slate, fragrant juniper wood, volcanic glass and teak furnishings. Nordic peoples prized juniper, which lines the treatment rooms, as an early fumigator and healing agent. In Norway, spa-goers go from hot to cold temperatures and the spas feature saunas and snow rooms!
The Homey Touch that’s our Favorite of All
Nordic culture is infused in many of Viking’s restaurants but our favorite spot is Mamsen’s Deli, inspired by founder Torstein Hagen’s mother. Featured are recipes of Ragnhild Hagen, nicknamed Mamsen, for everything from waffles to pea soup and for the most decadent cream cakes, are used here and yet it’s from a design perspective that we love to spend time here. The china used in Mamsen’s as the china used by Torstein Hagen’s mother, Ragnhild Hagen. After her grandmother’s death, Karine Hagen discovered that her china pattern was stamped with the company name, Tor Viking. The coincidence was too hard to ignore, so she asked the company to replicate the pattern for the dishware.