T+L’s Take: Viking Cruises’ Brand New Ship, Viking Sea
Viking Sea is the second oceangoing vessel from Viking Cruises, a company better known for its river cruising product. Their first 930-passenger vessel, Viking Star, which is identical to Viking Sea, launched last year with much fanfare thanks to a slew of unique amenities like an infinity-edge pool cantilevered off the edge of the ship, a spa complete with a snow grotto, and yes, free WiFi, the holy grail for cruisers. But amenities aside, what really shines on board the Viking Sea are the thoughtful touches and details that signal a well-designed space. Things like a soft grey and white throw draped on the back of a chaise longue, perfect for when you get chilly in the late afternoon. Or the blue-and-yellow folkloric plates and mugs in Mamsen’s, the casual café; the pattern is the same one used by Viking chairman Torstein Hagen’s mother, Mamsen.
Rather, by forgoing big, bold furniture and lights in favor of sleek, midcentury Scandinavian décor, the ship has a mood and atmosphere that puts you at ease. In terms of the crowd, Viking caters to travelers 55 and older, and no children are allowed on board.
Travel + Leisure was recently invited as a guest by Viking Cruises to experience Viking Sea as it made one of its maiden voyages, sailing from Le Havre, France, to Bergen, Norway. Here are some of the standout features on the ship.
All 464 staterooms come with balconies—a huge perk for when you’re sailing in warmer climes. In terms of total size, the rooms range from a 270 square-foot veranda cabin on up to a 757+ square-foot Explorer’s Suite, which comes with a separate living room, wraparound balcony, and deep soaking tub. All of the cabins are bright, airy, and done in a crisp blue and white palette, with cheerful striped fabric headboards, navy leather-covered coffee tables, and chic wool blankets with a traditional Marius weave. Other touches include blonde wood desks and closets, and ceramic stone bathrooms with Freyja bath amenities.
On Viking, you won’t find waterslides or DJs thumping music. Rather, guests who go to the two pools—the Main Pool, at the center, the Infinity Pool, at the back—work on their tans, enjoy a glass of wine, or read a bestseller. The Main Pool has a retractable roof, and chaise longues that ring the deck and overlook the ocean from sweeping floor-to-ceiling windows. The Infinity Pool, which is cantilevered off the ship’s stern, is the true design stunner, as the ocean and pool appear to blend together.
One of the great things about the Viking Sea experience is that you don’t have to pay extra to dine at any of the restaurants. Rather, to dine at Manfredi’s, their stylish Italian restaurant, or at The Chef’s Table, which serves a five-course tasting menu, you just need a reservation. Manfredi’s serves dishes like bistecca Fiorentina, beef tartare topped with quail egg, spaghetti carbonara, or gnocchi, Roman-style (it’s more like a polenta). At the Chef’s Table, the tasting menu rotates every three days; we were able to experience “Erling’s Scandinavian Bistro” menu, which had some truly unique dishes: reindeer-meat stuff ravioli floating in consommé, beetroot granita, and lamb wrapped in cabbage—all paired with wines. The main dining room, called The Restaurant, offers classics like poached salmon, while the World Café, which spills out on to the deck, has a lovely buffet.
House wines are included at lunch and dinner, but glasses and cocktails poured outside of these hours in say, the after-hours Torshavn bar or the Explorer’s Lounge, are extra. That is, unless you get the Silver Spirits Beverage Package, which entitles you to house wines and premium wines by the glass, cocktails up to $9 each, and 15% gratuity. It costs an extra $209 per person based on a 7-night cruise.
Don’t miss this: afternoon tea is served every day in the Wintergarden, a space adjacent to the main pool. Guests can choose from 19 types of teas and are served traditional finger sandwiches and scones (the latter are passed around, warm, by attentive staffers) as a trio plays classical music.
One of the biggest reasons to sail on this ship: the less is more design approach. The spaces are light and elegant. Warm, blonde woods of juniper and ash set the tone, as does low-slung furniture, contemporary art and photography, and statement pieces by well-known designers, such as Frank Gehry. Also of note: the extensive book collection, everything from classics like Jane Eyre to non-fiction on the history of polar exploration.
Some cruise ship spas can feel cramped; you also might be expected to pay a surcharge to use the facilities. Not so here. The spacious, nine-treatment-room spa offers hydrafacials, detox massages, and cupping. But it stands out for its communal facilities, which are open to all guests, even if they aren’t booking a treatment. Playing off the lines’ Nordic heritage, the spa has a snow grotto, sauna, steam room, and pool. If you’re a beauty product junkie, they sell excellent products like blueberry lotions and cranberry scrubs from cult Swedish brand c/o Gerd, which is based in Lapland.
The Explorer's Lounge
Set at the front of the ship, this two-story space is marked by both its impressive wall of windows and its well-stocked library. Here, you’ll see sepia-tinted photos of legendary Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen and beautiful models of ships like the Maud, which traveled the Northwest Passage in 1906. Guests come here for cocktails pre and post dinner, and for snacks served at Mamsen’s. In the morning, don’t miss the waffles, which can be prepared the traditional Norwegian way with sour cream and slivers of goat cheese.
Viking has made WiFi free to all guests, which is an industry first. Just how is the service? In port, it works very well, but even on an at sea day, a Face Time call to the US went through with just two hiccups. One of our other favorite tech perks: spa lockers that lock with you room key. No more silly codes or wristbands with keys. The lockers open and shut with your room key, and its as simple as that.
One is included per port of call, and it is typically a more classic tour that covers major highlights and landmarks in a designation. Other, more exclusive experiences, like a tour to London’s most famous fish market, Billingsgate Fish Market, or an off-road 4x4 adventure in Seville, cost extra.
The 930-passenger Viking Sea makes one of her first voyages, docking in the storied city of Venice. The new ship will be sailing the Mediterranean, the Baltic, and the North Sea.