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Groups on Cruises: Viking Cruises heads for open seas

Model of the Viking Star, by Bob Hoelscher

In an elegant industry gala May 16 at the Beverly Hilton in Los Angeles, Viking River Cruises’ chairman Torstein Hagen introduced the new Viking Cruises, set to debut with the maiden, 10-day Empires of the Mediterranean voyage of Viking Star from Istanbul to Venice, Italy, in April 2015.

Reportedly just the first of a planned fleet of oceangoing vessels, 48,000-gross-ton, 928-passenger Viking Star will feature accommodations ranging from standard 270-square-foot veranda staterooms with separable king-size beds and large bathrooms to a lavish 1,448-square-foot Owner’s Suite. According to Hagen, the ship will continue the line’s traditional focus on the destinations themselves, coupled with excellent value and modern, worldly comforts.

Viking Star will offer three primary itineraries in 2015, the aforementioned Istanbul/Venice and its reverse; a 13-day Mediterranean Odyssey program alternating between Venice, Italy, and Barcelona, Spain; and a 15-day Viking Homelands tour, alternating between Stockholm, Sweden, and Bergen, Norway. There will also be two 15-day Western Europe repositioning cruises from Barcelona to Bergen or the reverse.

The line’s intention appears to be to re-create, at least as much as possible, the experience that guests of its extensive fleet of river cruise vessels now enjoy, albeit with the greatly expanded onboard facilities and dining options made possible aboard an exceptionally spacious oceangoing liner.

Among amenities included at no additional charge will be shipboard overnights in embarkation and destination cities; shore excursions in each port of call; cultural enrichment programs; a variety of dining options; wine, beer and soft drinks with meals; Wi-Fi; self-service laundry; 24-hour room service; and all port charges and taxes. Happily, there will be no formal nights and no shipboard casino.

If I were designing a cruise program myself from scratch, what I would likely end up with would be similar to what has apparently been planned for Viking Star, although I wish that onboard gratuities had also been included and hope that subject will be revisited. Regardless, Viking Cruises is sure to be a most welcome and popular addition to the cruise industry of the 21st century, and I eagerly await the opportunity to experience the product myself.