With ocean line expansion, Viking will bring first ship stateside

Viking Ocean Cruises is a little more than two months away from accepting its second ship, the Viking Sea, an event that will multiply the fledgling line’s ability to offer varied itineraries.

Already Viking has said that its first ship, the Viking Star, will reposition to North America starting in September.

After a transition cruise that follows the route of the Viking explorers from Norway to the New World, the Viking Star will offer some fall cruises in Canada and a trip down the eastern seaboard before making its home for the winter of 2016-17 in Puerto Rico.

Richard Marnell, senior vice president of marketing for Viking River Cruises, said the company intends to hold the line on pricing.

“It is our intent to maintain the value at what it is today and essentially to fill the ships as quickly as we can build them,” he said.

Marnell said the company, which is new to the ocean side of cruising, had some kinks to work out in its first few months, but its debut received positive feedback from media and customers.

He said a rating of 5 from the editors of the Cruise Critic website and a “Loved It” endorsement from 86% of the site’s readers were especially exciting. Internally, the line’s surveys are “very, very good and encouraging,” Marnell said.

“What people are applauding is the understated elegance, the residential feel, the great bathrooms, king-size beds, the housekeeping,” he said. “Food is a surprise, and people are quite pleased with our food.”

One of the kinks had to do with an electrical transformer problem that led to the early termination of a cruise in Estonia. Another involved sudden breakage of glass shower partitions in the bathrooms.

Marnell said both problems have been fixed, and Viking might be making a design modification on future ships to ensure that the glass breakage doesn’t reoccur but added that “from a safety perspective and a utility perspective it’s fine.”

There was also an IT problem that torpedoed the television system on early cruises; that, too, has been resolved.

In addition, he said, Viking has learned from experience that some things aren’t working as expected. A singular reception area on the Star has been split into separate shore excursion and guest services desks. The gangways have been modified because the ship is too small for most air bridges, which are designed for bigger vessels, Marnell said.

By bringing the Viking Star to North America, Viking hopes to give more people a chance to see the ship. On its transition cruise from Canada to Puerto Rico, it will be making stops in Boston, New York and Florida.

Those stops, Marnell said, “will give the opportunity for those who weren’t able to attend other functions — and this is particularly important to agents — to be able to see the vessel and experience it.”

For the winter months, the Viking Star will do a series of nine 11-night roundtrips from San Juan, visiting Tortola, British Virgin Islands; Antigua; St. Lucia; Barbados; St. Kitts; Guadeloupe; St. Maarten; and St. Thomas.

Marnell said that homeporting in San Juan saves time that would otherwise be taken up sailing from South Florida for more port time in the Caribbean, a key brand promise.

Also, Viking’s overall value continues to get high marks in customer surveys, according to Marnell, and that remains a key point of differentiation.

“So we feel like we’re in a very good position, and it’s our intention to maintain that moving forward,” he said.