Q – Our travel agent seems to be quite high on Viking Cruises and wants to book us on the Viking Star. The price seems good, very good, and they do include shore excursions. We know you don’t give Viking’s river cruises the highest ratings so we’re wondering if this cruise to northern Europe is a good idea? We’ve done the larger ships but this would be the first time we’re looking at something approaching a deluxe line, which our TA assures us it is. We do worry a bit that this is their first ship and we want to be sure that they know what they’re doing.
A – The Viking Cruises product is substantially better than the river cruise product based on initial reports. The ship is a stunner and we love the infinity pool that take sup much of the aft contour of this vessel. The Viking Star is still a newbie and we feel that insufficient data is available to professionally rate the experience at this time. But we should tell you that we are encouraged by what we are hearing.
This is going to be a major product in the 4-5 Star Category. Viking has taken delivery of their second ship, the Viking Sky and, as we respond to you, they have already floated out their third 930 Guest vessel the Viking Sea which is due out in 2017.
On top of this growth, Viking recently announced that they have ordered three similar new ships for completion in 2010. They will all be built at the Fincantieri yard which has a reputation for building ships of a modern design.
We think this is a bit of a gamble but one worth taking. The ship has lovely minimalist decor and some truly gorgeous public spaces. The food is quite good from early reports with the Chef’s Table and Mamsen’s (Scandinavian cuisine) particularly noteworthy. The staff is well-trained and the level of on-board services seems high for a new cruise line. Where Viking has continuing problems is in the delivery of quality, comprehensive shore excursions which many guests feel are inadequate for the money they are paying. Ports are frequently substituted for a variety of operational or safety reasons, and some communications issues aboard the ship have come up.
Viking Cruises may well appear in our Top Ten in the near future. As long as you go into this with your eyes open we think you have the potential to have an excellent experience. We would also understand if you prefer to wait a year or two before committing to this new product. With a fast-growing fleet accommodating almost 6,000 guests, Viking has to get it right and they have to do it quickly. Based on what we’ve seen so far, they likely will. One concern we do have about both the river boat company and the cruise line is that Viking is a privately held company and very little is actually known about the company’s current debt level. Viking River alone has 64 river boats and they are not exactly “Paid in Full”.