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.

A Tiny Cruise Line With A Big Impact

cruise lineLike them or hate them, travelers have heard of cruise lines that travel around the world on city-like ships, ply the rivers of Europe or sail from convenient home ports around North America. Some have ships designed to be destinations in and of themselves, while others have purpose-built vessels with a shore-side focus, stopping at world class destinations. Between the brands of Royal Caribbean International and Carnival Corporation alone, millions of travelers take to the sea each year. A comparative handful of cruise travelers choose small, boutique lines that sail just a few ships to many of the same places with their own signature travel experience.

Lüftner Cruises, a family-owned Austrian company, is one of those tiny cruise lines. Lüftner operates Amadeus Cruises, a luxury river cruise line with just six ships that sail along Europe’s Rhine, Main and Danube Rivers in opulent luxury on voyages lasting four to 15 days.

Just launched, 443-foot Amadeus Silver is their largest and most luxurious river ship ever. The 90-cabin vessel is adorned in first-class interior furnishings, luxurious accommodations, authentic Austrian programming and an environmentally-friendly design.

Featured on the Amadeus Silver is Café Vienna, a traditional Austrian coffee shop serving Sachertorte specialties. An open-air lounge named the River Terrace is located in the ship’s bow and has special glazed windows to protect passengers from a windy or rainy day. The ship also has a two-story fitness studio, two restaurants and a sundeck with a golf putting green.

Passenger cabins are a roomy 172 square feet and have innovative French balconies with drop-down windows affording panoramic views. Spacious suites are 258 square feet and have walk-out exterior balconies with seating areas.

On the ship, activities include folklore shows, lectures on the history of the Rhine-Main-Danube canal and Bavarian evenings with live music. Off the ship, city excursions showcase the region’s rich cultural diversity and feature concerts in Vienna, wine tastings in Wuerzburg and castle tours.

Lüftner Cruises also has an uber focus on the environment, earning certification by Green Globe, the global travel and tourism industries’ certification program for sustainable tourism as well as Atmosfair, a climate protection organization with a focus on travel.

“We are well aware that tourism always impacts on the environment despite increasing efforts to offer environmentally-friendly travel arrangements,” said Dr. Wolfgang Lueftner, Founder and Owner of Lueftner Cruises in an Eturbonews report.

On board Lueftner ships, cruise travelers have the opportunity to positively impact the environment. Passengers can, and do, choose to offset their own CO2 consumption with a donation and are given the option to pay a suggested climate protection levy of €2 per day per cabin.

[Photo Credit – Amadeus Cruises]

Trek Through Afghanistan Or Explore The Congo With Wild Frontiers

Wild Frontiers takes travelers to AfghanistanIf you still haven’t settled on an amazing adventure for 2013 then perhaps you’ll want to take a look at some of the trips that Wild Frontiers has to offer. The adventure travel company that operates out of the U.K. specializes in unique, one-of-a-kind tours to a number of great destinations on the planet and this year two of their itineraries are unlike anything you’ll find elsewhere.

The first of those trips will take adventurous travelers deep into the Pamir Mountains of Afghanistan as they spend a month trekking the Wakhan Corridor. This narrow piece of land once served as a neutral zone between the British and Russian Empires but now it is a seldom-visited region populated only by local herdsmen. Wild Frontiers is one of the few travel companies in the world that guides trekkers through this remote destination, which boasts breathtaking views and pristine valleys rarely seen by outsiders. This is a physically demanding and difficult trip but for those who truly want an off-the beaten-path adventure, it is tough to top a trek through the Wakhan Corridor. It is truly one of the most isolated places you could ever hope to visit. The price is £4495 or about $6820.

Wild Frontiers takes travelers to the CongoThe other unique itinerary on the Wild Frontiers schedule for this year is a 20-day journey by boat down the Congo River. Travelers on this excursion will follow in the footsteps of the famed explorer Henry Morton Stanley as they go deep into the wild and untamed African interior. They’ll visit villages inhabited by the last pygmy tribes, encounter a wide array of wildlife and observe life along the river as they slowly cruise past. For more of an idea of what to expect from this journey checkout the YouTube clip below. The price is £5995, which converts to $9095.

Some travel companies promise their customers an adventure but few actually deliver it in the truest sense of the word. But Wild Frontiers is a company that really does focus on putting the “adventure” in adventure travel. The two expeditions that I highlighted above are a good example of this, but they are also just the tip of the iceberg. Take a look at their full catalog by clicking here.

[Photo Credit: Wild Frontiers]


River cruises: they’re not for everybody

river cruisesCruise lines continue efforts to make themselves different from each other. Major lines are doing all they can to make their ships the ones you want to sail. Some big cruise lines have smaller ships that some passengers prefer for a more intimate experience. Still, those all sail in the ocean while a growing number of people in the United States are taking a cue from Europe and trying a river cruise.

In Europe, river cruising is popular with a number of lines growing quickly to keep up with demand. A big factor in favor of these is the “unpack once and see a lot of places” thing that major cruise lines have going for them. River ships operate in the U.S. too, offering a really different way of seeing the country up close and personal. American Cruise Lines operates everything from an authentic paddle-wheeler in the Pacific Northwest to a new fleet of ships that sail the inland waterways of the East Coast.

This is a different experience from a major cruise line and one that’s not for everybody.

You won’t find a rock-climbing wall, a theater that seats thousands or a huge variety of restaurants, some included in the price, some extra. What you will find is an intimate setting on a relaxed sailing through some of the country’s most beautiful landscapes, stopping along the way to see and experience ports of call up close and personally. There won’t be an AquaTheater, AquaDuck or AquaSpa but there probably won’t be Mexican drug lords waiting for you to get of the ship in ports either. Safety is a big draw for these ships that are American-flagged and subject to American laws.Staterooms average about 220 square feet, considerably larger than a typical large ship offers. If the last ship you sailed on before one of these was say, Allure of the Seas, you’ll notice that there are fewer guests on board the entire ship than fit in a lifeboat on Allure. Yes, this is different. Still, twice daily stateroom service is offered as well as many of the service amenities a big ship has.

More of an all-inclusive experience, guests are invited to mingle before dinner with complementary cocktails and the dress code is always casual. On a typical evening, guest speakers bring local history, nature and culture to the table with rich stories of American heritage. There is no big showroom, long list of activities or things to do. In fact, if the big ship experience for you is about going all the time, doing something every minute, this is probably not the way to go.

But if a lazy day on the river, reading a book, flying a kite from an observation deck or enjoying coffee on an outside sun deck sounds good, this could be just what you are looking for.

Sailings are typically seven or eight-nights and itineraries include such titles as Maine Coast and Harbors, Columbia and Snake Rivers, or Chesapeake Bay with prices starting about $3500 per person. Fall Foliage sailings are very popular with river cruises and longer itineraries are also offered like East Coast Inland Passage, a fifteen-day sailing with a grand coastal tour of America.

About as close as you’ll get to a theme park at sea on one of these ships is a small putting green. Cruise vacations are about doing something really different than your normal life. This is another viable option.

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