Walking in the snow like a Viking
A cruise line that will remain nameless used to advertise its ships as opportunities to cruise like a Norwegian. Most people are not sure exactly what that meant. But on the new Viking Star, registered in Norway, passengers may cruise like a Viking -- by walking in snow.
In its impressive Nordic spa, Viking Star has a snow grotto.
Flakes fall and the floor provides a bit of shock to your tootsies when you walk in, especially if you have just left the sauna or steam room. That is the concept. The cold, after a major body heating, is supposed to be good for your blood circulation.
Passengers on Viking Star have free access to the spa (most cruise ships charge an entrance fee). Of course, the ship charges fees for spa services -- massages and the like -- but entrance to the spa rooms with steam and snow, pools of hot and cold, are included in the basic cruise price.
I just had to try it all.
Well steamed, I moved my body to the snow grotto, where my toes tingled, but I hung around until my body temperature began to fall. After a warm shower, a hot pool and a cold rinse, I was feeling Viking-ish.
Square backs, square cans, private sauna, pointy bow
Torstein Hagen, chairman of Viking Ocean Cruises, has a long list of special features that he demanded for his first ocean vessel, a cruise ship of eccentricities.
For instance, all dining room chairs have a rectangular back so that a gentleman would have a place to hang his jacket while he eats.
Trash cans on the ship are square, not round, which makes them easier to reach for men, who tend to toss away their trash like a basketball.
Shampoo and rinse bottles in the bathrooms have large print so passengers with aging eyesight need not carry their glasses into the shower.
The large owner’s suite -- 1,448 square feet -- includes a room seldom seen in a cruise ship stateroom, but is missing another, typical item.
Design of the lavish owner’s suite was overseen by Hagen, with the usual sitting areas, bedroom, dining room and even a separate conference room.
Unusual is the private sauna with a big glass sea view (probably not to be used naked when in port). Missing is an accommodation for anyone else, such as a child, to sleep in the suite, as Viking ships are for adults, without accompanying children.
On a recent cruise, Hagen revealed another eccentricity on Viking Star: The bow of the ship is about 20 feet longer than necessary, because Hagen wanted this ship to have a pointy bow, similar to those on well-known, old cruise ships from Norway, the Royal Viking Star (1972) and the Stella Polaris (1927).
Itinerary planning for a mid-sized ship
As the first ship of Viking Ocean Cruises, Viking Star is staying in Europe, at least for the next year and a half.
Itineraries, said Hagen, follow in the wakes of exploring Vikings through the centuries, tracing their original trade routes through the Baltic Sea, up the coast of Norway, through the North Sea, around the British Isles, along the coast of France and into the Mediterranean.
I asked Hagen if his river cruise experiences would influence where this ocean ship would travel.
"Yes," he said. “We will do rivers when possible.”
Viking Star’s moderate size -- 47,800 gross tons -- allows the ship to sail into some of the major rivers on Europe’s coasts.
In France, Viking Star cruises up the Gironde estuary to Bordeaux, and up the river Seine in Normandy to Rouen. In May, Viking Star became the largest cruise ship ever to pass the flood barrier on the river Thames. The ship sailed as far as the London docks at Greenwich.
“Our goal is to connect our guests to a destination,” said Hagen. “That’s why each voyage has an overnight in the port at embarkation and disembarkation, so passengers can explore the port.”
Next: Cruising with the Bayeux tapestry
David Molyneaux writes regularly about cruising news, tips and trends at TravelMavenBlog.com. His cruise trends column is published regularly in U.S. newspapers and on other Internet sites, including AllThingsCruise. He is editor of TheTravelMavens.com