Big Ship Cruises Not For You? New Cruise Line Has You In Mind

Viking Oceans

Cruise travelers who are turned off by the big ship ocean cruising experience or just want to try something different, increasingly turn to a river cruise. On tiny ships, they ply the waters of European rivers, sailing directly to iconic destinations. Viking River Cruises is a major player in that arena and is quite successful at what they do. With other cruise lines, that success would be a win and they would continue to do what they do best. Vikings, however, look at that sort of thing a bit differently. As in ancient times, the Vikings of today are charged with exploring new worlds. Viking River Cruises intends to do just that, sailing new ships that will be custom built to redefine ocean cruising.

At a gala event at the Beverly Hilton Hotel, Viking River Cruises effectively became Viking Cruises and split off into a company with two distinct focuses. Viking Rivers will continue to sail their popular longships with a rapidly expanding fleet. Viking Oceans will build a fleet of ocean-going ships that will begin with a new 928-passenger ocean liner, Viking Star. The new ship will set sail in 2015 visiting ports of call around the perimeter of Europe that river cruise ships can’t get to.

“There is a hole in the market somebody should fill,” said Viking chairman Torstein Hagen at the same Beverly Hills venue used for the Golden Globe awards. “I feel we invented modern river cruising. Now I hope we can revive the destination part of ocean cruising.”

Viking Oceans

To do that, Viking Star will begin with a choice of three summer European itineraries. All sailings will begin and end with overnights in the first and last ports on the itinerary. That’s a significant difference to most other lines that board passengers at the first port then sail away a few hours later. On the backside, the last port on other cruise lines is most often never seen by passengers except on the way to the airport. Viking Star will sail to the last port, stay overnight then disembark passengers the next day. Ports between the beginning and end will have more flexibility too as Viking Star will stay there longer, often allowing passengers to experience nightlife, something other lines never allow to happen.If any of that sounds a bit familiar, there is good reason for it. In ‘Cruise Line Destination Focus Brings Off-Ship Adventures’, Gadling introduced readers to the term ‘destination immersion’, coined by luxury small-ship line, Azamara Cruises that recently added a complementary off-ship event called an Azamazing Evening to each sailing. Ultra Luxe Crystal Cruises has their version too called Overland Adventures that take Crystal guests to unique, immersive events ashore.

Still, the elements of the Viking Oceans experience takes what Viking does on rivers, applies it to the ocean then promises to set a new standard for ocean cruising that is new, fresh and significantly different.

Viking Oceans

Considering only the all-balcony stateroom feature of new Viking Star (starting at a generous 270 square feet) other ocean-going ships of similar size will be put on notice: The Vikings are coming.

But roomy places to sleep are just one feature of Viking Star, the first of two ships on order with a third possible. Viking Oceans will take the lessons learned on their popular river cruise “longships” and apply that same school of thought to ocean cruising, something they have little history with, creating an entirely different and unique choice for cruise travelers.

Unique to Viking’s ocean cruise experience are a number of included features that commonly cost

Viking Oceans

extra on other cruise lines-

  • Shore excursions, a hallmark of the Viking river experience are complementary
  • Free WiFi, all the time for all passengers, in all areas of the ship
  • All staterooms will have not queen, but king-sized beds
  • Bathrooms will feature a generous 12 sq ft shower
  • Beer, wine and soft drinks are included with meals
  • Specialty restaurant options (an Italian grill and Chef’s table), normally an extra charge on other lines, are free

Going head to head with other cruise lines, Viking’s ocean ships will compete favorably, offering options that often exceed what other lines are doing right now-

  • Optional stateroom categories include 338 sq ft Penthouse Verandas, 405 sq ft Penthouse Junior Suites, Explorer Suites that range between 757 and 1,163 sq ft and a 1,448 sq ft Owners Suite
  • Two small cinemas
  • A main pool with retractable roof
  • A sauna crafted with Nordic inspiration that features a ‘snow’ room
  • The main dining room’s floor to ceiling windows will have the ability to slide open, offering an al fresco dining experience

But a Viking Oceans cruise is not for everyone, and that is exactly the way they want it. “I want people like me,” said 70-something Hagen, describing their target passenger as 55+ years old, English-speaking, well educated, affluent, curious and active and interested in history, culture and music.

But take the ’55+’ out of that equation and the Viking Oceans experience could indeed be a good fit for a great many more travelers. What they do could be a totally viable option for travelers who have never cruised, turned off by the idea of a big ship, floating hotel travel experience. Viking Star will have no children’s programming, no cabins that will hold more than two guests, no amusement park-like rides, no casino, no giant fitness center and no bar on every street corner.

What Viking Oceans does have is a continuation of Hagen’s philosophy that what other lines do as a “drinking man’s cruise”, Viking does as a “thinking man’s cruise”, now on not just rivers, but the oceans of the world too.

Ultimate Dinner Parties At Sea, Just $1000 To Attend

dinner parties at sea

Have a conversation about cruise ships and the topic of dining options usually comes up. It’s just a popular topic that cruise lines invest a lot of time and resources in, striving to provide exactly what their passengers desire. Now, more than ever, cruise lines are doing just that, often tapping well-known culinary experts to bring their shore-side influence aboard the ships. Crystal Cruises is no exception and has their own unique twist on the food focus with what they call Ultimate Dinner Parties At Sea.

To begin the name-dropping we have Napa Valley vintners Bo and Heidi Barrett and multiple Michelin star-winning Master Chef Nobu Matsuhisa each hosting one of Crystal Cruises’ 2013 Ultimate Vintage Room Dinners, all for the first time ever.

“The Ultimate Vintage Room dinners allow us to push the culinary envelope over the top, with each event truly a once-in-a-lifetime affair created just for Crystal guests,” said Toni Neumeister, Crystal Cruises vice president, food and beverage operations in a World Traveler article.

The exclusive events can accommodate just 12 to 14 guests (per event) who will have the opportunity to attend one of the seven-course, ultra-rare, wine-pairing feasts, either while sailing a Mediterranean cruise aboard Crystal Serenity (starting May 18) or the Black Sea aboard Crystal Symphony (departing July 13), respectively.

Held in the ships’ private Vintage Rooms just once or twice a year, the “dinner tab” to attend is $1,000 per guest.

Will it be worth the price? First, check the pedigrees of the hosts:

dinner parties at seaChef Nobu Matsuhisa
A noted celebrity chef, restaurateur and the brains behind a culinary empire, Matsuhisa will be on board with his first-ever “ultimate” meal for Crystal, accompanied by rare wine and champagne pairings.

Nobu will also hold autograph sessions, cooking classes, and larger omakase dinners throughout the sailing.

Bo and Heidi Barrett
Between Bo’s Chateau Montelena winery, depicted in the film “Bottle Shock,” and Heidi’s award-winning “cult” offering 1992 Screaming Eagle (averaging $6700 per bottle), the Napa couple is aptly credited for putting California wines on the map.

Accordingly, they will be personally selecting each vintage served for the evening.

The cruise itself? Not shabby either, a choice of two, 12-day voyages boast equally interesting itineraries that chime in on the destination focus craze staying late in port if not overnight.

The May 18 sailing actually overnights three times, in Monte Carlo (during the Grand Prix) and in Istanbul and Barcelona with visits to Mykonos, Santorini/Thíra, Sorrento, Bonifacio/Corsica and Florence/Livorno.

The July 13 Black Sea voyage explores Rome/Civitavecchia, Sorrento, Sicily/Taormina, Contanþa, Yalta and Sochi, with overnights in Odessa and Istanbul.

Cruise lines have been charging extra for upscale dining for quite some time. This is nothing new. But ultra-lux Crystal Cruises touts a more-inclusive way of doing things and fabulous culinary experiences as part of what they do.

Standard fare on a Crystal cruise includes the line’s unique cheese and wine cellars, overseen by on-board, certified cheese and wine sommeliers. Passengers enjoy fresh, chef-like cocktails served by certified mixologists too. Featuring gourmet dining options at every meal, whether in the Crystal Dining Room, at afternoon tea, or in the privacy of a stateroom, Crystal seemed to have all the bases covered.

Still, even Crystal has to draw the line somewhere.

Why not a $1000 upcharge for a lifetime dining event with world-class culinary experts? It’s probably a bargain.

[Photo credit – Crystal Cruises]

Crystal Cruises Hobbit Experience Brings New Adventure To Sea

crystal cruises hobbit experience

Crystal Cruises are always looking for unique experiences to stand out from the crowd and an upcoming New Zealand sailing is no exception. Bringing adventure from the big screen to cruise passengers, Crystal Cruises has a new dinner experience this December, on the “Hobbiton” set used for the Lord of the Rings trilogy and new prequel film.

Just days after “The Hobbit

opens worldwide, Crystal Symphony calls in Tauranga in the Bay of Plenty region of the North Island of New Zealand, home of the “Hobbiton” set used for the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy and new prequel film. On the December 20 sailing, Crystal Symphony guests can have a private, guided tour from Frodo and Bilbo Baggins’ Hobbit holes to the Brandywine Bridge, featuring local wine and beer and a traditional Kiwi barbeque served by wait staff in Lord of the Rings costume.

“We are always looking for unique, boutique ways for our guests to immerse themselves in a world different from their own,” said Crystal’s Vice-President, Land & Port Operations, John Stoll in a Popular Cruising report.A second “Lord of the Rings“-themed adventure is also offered on both cruises, visiting Edoras’ home, Mt. Potts Station and Lodge, and New Zealand’s Southern Alps from Christchurch.

The 16-day Christmas/New Year’s sailing voyage overnights in Auckland before sailing through Tauranga, Napier, Christchurch, Dunedin, Sydney (double overnight), Melbourne (overnight), and Dusky, Doubtful, and Milford Sounds.

“With ‘The Hobbit’ opening mid-December, this is an extraordinarily timely opportunity for Crystal guests to be transported to a place that many fantasy-fiction genre fans, movie buffs, as well as wine and foodies, and off-the-beaten-path travelers, from around the globe can only dream of visiting,” said Stoll. The Hobbiton dinner and village exploration fee is $265 per person.

Hobbits Take Flight in Air New Zealand's New Safety Video

[Photo credit: Crystal Cruises]

Cruise Line Destination Focus Brings Off-Ship Adventures

Cruise Line

Cruise lines continue to bust into new territory, shaking off their booze cruise, buffet bonanza reputation with a keen focus on the destinations they visit. Off the ship, cruise travelers want more than a packaged shore excursion. They want more time in port with active experiences rather than passive viewing. Cruise lines are beginning to deliver too. Spending some of the clout they earn by bringing millions in tourism revenue to ports around the world, cruise lines are tapping local sources and setting up unique off-ship adventures.

Crystal Cruises has Overland Adventures that take Crystal guests to unique, immersive events ashore. Typical of the intensity level of their Overland Adventures is a three-night Laos Overland Discovery during a March 7, 2013, Southeast Asia cruise, offering an intimate look into the rich history, culture and scenery of the former French colony and UNESCO World Heritage site, Luang Prabang, considered the best-preserved city in Southeast lineThose participating will get off their cruise ship, Crystal Symphony, in the port of Laem Chabang, Thailand where they will spend the first night. From there, they fly to Laos for two nights, to see a Laotian Buddhist alms-giving ceremony, visit sacred temples and other attractions then sail across the Mekong River to the Buddha-filled Pak Ou Caves. Travelers then rejoin Crystal Symphony in Ho Chi Minh City.

While in the area, Crystal offers other off-ship adventures with titles like “The Wonders of Angkor Wat,” “Phong Nha Caves & Vietnam Heritage” and “A Portrait of Vietnam: Hue, Hoi An & Hanoi.”

The whole destination immersion focus has become so popular that Azamara Club Cruises is adding a complimentary immersive destination event ashore featured on every voyage.

Azamara guests sailing a Baltic cruise voyage, for example, might enjoy a private ballet performance in St. Petersburg, Russia, while walking the red carpet and sipping champagne. Travelers on a Mediterranean cruise may find themselves sampling Jerez, Spain’s famous sherry wine at Gonzalez Byass and later enjoying a private equestrian ballet at the Royal Andalusian School of Equestrian Art.

These are not your typical cruise line “load everybody up in a tour bus and drive around” excursions.

Mainstream cruise lines, still mostly limited to day trips, are testing the waters for immersive off-ship adventures. In Alaska, Princess Cruises continues to explore the land of the midnight sun with experiences like a Back Country Zodiac Expedition, a Bering Sea Crab Fishermen’s Tour or a Heli-Hike & Rail Adventure.

For now, we’re finding these experiential off-ship adventures on high-end luxury lines. But look for mainstream cruise lines to offer intense lifetime event experiences in the near future.

Top Adventure Travel Destinations

[Flickr photos by *christopher*]

Cruise Line Adds Focus On Learning And Self-Discovery

cruise linesCommon thoughts about a standard cruise line experience include bellying up to the buffet, ’70s Vegas-like entertainment and non-stop bingo with a few thousand strangers sailing through the Caribbean.

That experience can still be found, but these days, cruise lines are focusing on engaging passengers in a variety of new ways. From a focus on destination immersion to revamped onboard programming, today’s cruise experience can be a voyage of learning and self-discovery.

Luxury line Crystal Cruises has a 74-day world cruise coming up this winter. Like other lines offering world cruises, Crystal allows travelers to sign up for what they call “segments” of the world cruise, shorter journeys in specific areas of the world.

The February 2, 24-day segment from Lima to Buenos Aires is one of those experiences where passengers can choose from dozens of classes, hands-on lessons and interactive workshops in everything from golf to global affairs, Pilates to painting and memoir writing to magic.Via Crystal’s Creative Learning Institute curriculum, guests can learn how to make a movie of the Chilean fjords with an iPad through USC’s School of Cinematic Arts’ Digital Filmmaking classes. They can learn how to cook a traditional Peruvian meal at a Lima culinary school or learn to tread lightly in Antarctica, with a choice of two excursions to the remote continent.

This kind of cruise vacation does have its price though. All-inclusive fares for the 24-day segment start at $12,760 per person.

Overview of Buenos Aires

[Flickr photo by d[-_-]b Jonathan d[-_-]b]