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.

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 Asia.cruise 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.


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[Flickr photos by *christopher*]

Tanganyika Wildlife Park gets a helping hand

Tanganyika Wildlife Park gets a helping hand Tanganyika Wildlife Park in Wichita, Kansas is a non-profit specialty zoo charged with educating the public about endangered species. At the park, visitors are invited to get up close and personal with kangaroos, giraffes and other wildlife not exactly roaming the plains of the great Midwest on a normal day. Today, Royal Caribbean, Celebrity, and Azamara Cruises employees are on the scene as volunteers making a difference.

Over 150 volunteers will spend today cleaning, planting and handling other projects as part of Royal Caribbean’s 14th annual “G.I.V.E.” Day (Get Involved, Volunteer Everywhere) and this year will help prepare the wildlife park for its summer season, assisting the park’s small staff with such laborious tasks as erecting fences, laying sod, cleaning animal enclosures and tackling other landscaping projects in the wildlife park.

What is a cruise line doing in Kansas? Royal Caribbean maintains a remote call-in center in Wichita that travel agents and consumers might get connected to when inquiring about a cruise vacation.

“Our company is committed to supporting and helping the communities in which we live and work,” said RCL’s Director of Trade Support & Services Mike Semler. “We hope the personal satisfaction and fun of assisting our neighbors on G.I.V.E. Daywill help inspire our participants to pursue volunteer and public service opportunities throughout the year.”

Indeed, it was not all that long ago that Gadling reported ongoing efforts by Royal Caribbean in Haiti where the line is making a difference.

Flickr photo by Jobar6721

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Cruise lines cancel Egypt through June

Cruise lines cancel egyptRoyal Caribbean and Azamara Club Cruises announced late Wednesday that they will cancel Egypt ports of call through June. This latest blow to Egypt tourism is a good indicator of the situation at ground level but travelers seem undeterred.

To cruise lines, safety of passengers and crew is a top priority. Fired by the US Department of State travel warning for the area, cruise lines were quick to pull ships out of the area, a distinct advantage cruise vacations have over other options. If weather or political conditions make going ashore a bad idea, they can move the ships elsewhere. That itineraries are being modified through June speaks volumes on what the travel industry expects in the foreseeable future of Egyptian tourism.

Top cruise industry information source CruiseCritic.com follows the latest developments and keeps an up-to-date roster of which lines have changed itineraries. In a recent poll, CruiseCritic asked
members if they would consider a trip to Egypt at this point.

Of the 250 respondents, those who had already planned to visit mostly said that they’ll wait until the situation stabilizes. 55 percent said that the unrest hadn’t deterred their future travel plans, close to 19 percent said that as soon as the State Department drops the travel warning, they’ll be visiting the Pyramids, 14 percent said that Egypt remained on their travel wish list, but other destinations had now bumped Egypt down a few spots. 11 percent said a visit to the country was never on their list.

It’s not just Egyptian tourism suffering either.

Citing a “changing political environment” Disney Cruise Line as well as land tour operator Adventures by Disney dropped Tunisia from all land and sea tours last weekend. Yesterday, SeaDream Yacht Club added to the list of lines avoiding violence in Tunisia.

“We continually evaluate our itineraries, and the decision to modify this itinerary was made in part due to the changing political environment in Tunis and the recent Travel Alert issued by the U.S. Department of State for Tunisia,” Disney spokesperson Christi Erwin Donnan told USA TODAY.

Because these drops are a result of US State Department travel advisories, it’s possible that they will be extended past their scheduled changes as further developments occur in the troubled region.

Flickr photo by ayman_17