We were excited to hear that Viking was entering the small luxury ocean market. Based on our cruising experience, this is the market segment most attractive to us. This review is based upon our previous cruises with lines such as Regent, ... Read More
We were excited to hear that Viking was entering the small luxury ocean market. Based on our cruising experience, this is the market segment most attractive to us. This review is based upon our previous cruises with lines such as Regent, Oceania and Azamara.
We knew when we signed up for a part of the maiden voyage of the Viking Star that there would be rough spots. However, given our previous experience on Viking and their reputation, our expectations were higher than Viking's performance.
We purchase our air through Viking and transfers to/from the ship were included. We were met at the airport and loaded onto buses where representatives checked in each person on handheld terminals. Credit card information was processed on the bus. At the port we gave them our passports and boarded the ship. ID cards were on the bed in each cabin. Overall embarkation was fairly efficient.
The Viking Star is a new ship on its maiden cruise. It is a beautiful ship designed in a sleek, Scandinavian style. It has a three story atrium surrounded by sitting space, game tables, a bar and services areas. The services areas are an interesting design. Rather than counters, there are tables where you sit with Excursions or Guest Relations representatives. The problem is these service spaces are very inefficient. Because there was no counter, people were cutting in front of others, not realizing that there were lines until the lines got really long, which they did. The tables and chairs invite you to sit down and chat with the representative. So instead of a quick interchange, it results in longer and inefficient visits that create the long lines. While it seems like a good idea, it does not work.
There are many dining options on the ship. The Restaurant is the main eating facility. It is well designed with a number of eating spaces rather than one big dining room. Viking moved to a casual demand dining system during the cruise. This did result in longer lines during prime dining times. Overall the food was good. The menu is the usual 14 day cycle. There are the "always available" items in addition to a "regional specialty" every night. Service was initially spotty, as the crew was new, but it did improve during the cruise. There are two specialty dining rooms, Manfredi's and The Chef's Table. Manfredi's is an Italian restaurant and was the best dining venue on the ship. The menu is the same every night, but is extensive and the food is very good. Many passengers dined multiple times there. The Chef's table is a tasting menu concept. There is a theme such as Asian, Indian or Italian for the menu. It is a fixed menu that changes every 9 days (they may be moving to every 5 days). You have no choices, everyone eats the same thing. If you liked the menu it was fine. If many items were not to your liking you would leave hungry. I am not sure how well the concept was working. There seemed to be empty tables in The Chef's Table every night, while it was difficult to get into Manfredi's. There is no charge to eat in the specialty restaurants. The dining area at the pool was pretty good. Unfortunately the staff was rather new and inexperienced at handling the long lines. As time went on the lines shortened a little.
The spa facility is one of the highlights of the ship. There is a large hot tub with built in seating, a cold dunk pool and a hot whirlpool. Lounge seating surrounds the pool area and a snow room. As for the exercise facility it is equipped with a number of machines. There is also a well-equipped weight room and stretching area. There is no provision for spinning on the ship. While there were classes, they were few and very limited. I did not attend any so I cannot comment. The usual trainer seemed to be absent any time I was in the facility.
Our experience with free excursions is that you get what you pay for. We took a few and found them to be overcrowded with over 40 people on some. While they do put radios and earphones in everyone’s cabins, 40 people is too many to manipulate on a walking tour of a city. That said, the quality of the guides was pretty good.
We did have one experience with an excursion that is worth noting. I had signed up for the Lamborghini Factory tour in Venice. After an hour-and-a-half ride to the factory we found out that the tour operator failed to confirm the tour with Lamborghini and we could not get into the factory. What troubled me was Viking’s response to the problem. When we got back to the ship we were informed that Viking would refund HALF the cost of the excursion. Needless to say, the participants were not happy. After meeting with us, we received a letter from Viking informing us that based on passenger response they would refund the full amount. I cannot believe that Viking would not immediately apologize to all of us and tell us they would be happy to refund the full amount. We did get the expected result, but it seemed grudgingly on the part of Viking. Not the way to run a luxury cruise line. As a follow-up, it is now over a month and a half since we returned from the cruise and Viking did refund HALF the cost of the excursion. When I called “Customer Retention” to ask what happened they called me back to inform me that only one of us signed up for the excursion, so they had refunded the full amount. The Viking website clearly showed the full cost of the excursion as twice what they refunded me. Viking cannot even figure out how much they charge for an excursion. My confidence in Viking continues to wane.
We did take a couple other Viking paid excursions and they were good. In general we prefer to arrange private tours and find other people on the Cruise Critic Roll Call to share the cost. We did this in three ports and had wonderful private tours.
The cabins are visually very attractive. However there are a number of issues. There are only three small drawers for storage in the cabin and one is used to store the hair dryer. The shelf over the closet becomes the primary storage space. The closet is parallel to the bed, so if someone is on the bed it becomes more difficult to get in the closet. What appears to be a spacious desk drawer is the refrigerator/minibar that contains soda, water and the one mini Twix and Mars bars they "generously" give you each day. Instead of a center drawer the desk has a fold up mirror storage space (vanity) that is totally useless if you leave anything, like a computer, on the desk. While the square footage for the cabin sounds spacious, the room feels cramped.
This feeling is probably due to the large bathroom. The shower is large and comfortable. Unfortunately, showering was a challenge due to problems regulating the water temperature. We know of passengers who did not have hot water in their cabin for the first leg of the cruise and were told to shower in another cabin, but could not be moved. We experienced severely fluctuating water temperature in our shower. No matter how you set the faucet, the water cycled from scalding to cold every minute or so. Calls to Guest Relations did not solve the problem. The television system is another story. It did not work at all for the first few days of the cruise. While it appears sophisticated, it is slow to respond and awkward to use. It was obvious that Viking was not happy with the system and working hard to fix it. Overall I would rate the cabins average for this class of cruising, but with dysfunctional storage. I assume the shower temperature is a startup problem that will be corrected.
I could go on, but I think I have conveyed the basic idea that Viking is not ready to compete with other luxury class cruise lines. We will return to the other cruise lines we have used and give Viking Ocean a few years to learn the business. If you have enjoyed another luxury cruise line I suggest that you do the same. Read Less