Live from Greenland aboard Viking Star
QAQORTOQ, Greenland – It’s rare to find a transatlantic crossing that sails from Bergen, Norway to Montreal, and rarer still to find one that determines its ports of call based on the historic routes of the early Viking explorers. But that’s exactly what my current voyage with Viking Cruises is all about.
A week ago, I set sail from Bergen aboard the 930 guest Viking Star, which makes her maiden journey to North America on this voyage. In the past, if you wanted to take a Viking cruise (either on the oceans or on one of the line’s river cruises), you had to fly to Europe. Simple as that. But when Viking Star arrives in Montreal on Sunday, October 2, 2016, she’ll officially bring the line’s award-winning ocean cruises to North America this winter.
Viking Star’s maiden transatlantic crossing is one for the books. Few itineraries are as unique and well-thought-out as this one, which included ports stops in Lerwick, Shetland Islands; Reykjavik, Iceland; Prince Christian Sound; Nanortalik; and Qaqortoq, Greenland, and in Canada, L’Anse Aux Meadows, Newfoundland; Saguenay, Quebec; and Quebec City.
A port call in Torshavn, on the Faroe Islands, was also part of the original itinerary, but an early fall storm on the North Atlantic saw those plans understandably scuttled as, like a true Viking, Viking Star battled heavy seas and gale-force winds as we raced towards Reykjavik.
Viking has designed my current voyage to appeal to true explorers, and to that end, it almost feels like an expedition cruise – one where guests are free to choose to do as much or as little as they wish. Tours range from simple walking tours or motorcoach excursions to authentic, “Home Hosted” visits that showcase the local way of life in a particular port of call.
Viking Chairman Torstein Hagen likes to say that this is the “Thinking Man’s Cruise”, and I’d have to agree. Books – hundreds of them – are placed in nearly every public room throughout the ship, covering famous Norwegian and worldwide explorers, Arctic and Antarctic expeditions, and biographies of those who have enhanced and encouraged travel around the globe. It’s basically the library in my fantasy house. Read one in the lounge, or take it to your stateroom – or out on deck.
The attention to detail here aboard Viking Star is so far elevated above most of the line’s competitors, it nearly puts them into luxury cruise territory (Viking, for now, considers itself to be a premium to upper premium cruise line). To that end, beer, wine and soft drinks are included with lunch and dinner, and additional charge cocktails are reasonably priced. A cocktail will run you just $7.50 – including gratuity – while the drink of the day is offered for a paltry $5.
Other inclusions here aboard Viking Star: free stem-to-stern WiFi; complimentary specialty restaurants; a complimentary mini-bar that’s stocked according to your stateroom grade; and a selection of complimentary excursions in each and every port of call. These are typically in-depth motorcoach or walking tours, guided by professional guides, while optional, additional-cost tours might include more elaborate adventures like flightseeing or whale-watching.
If you want to do your own thing, city maps, designed by Viking, are provided at every port – even today, in relatively small Qaqortoq, Greenland. These are real maps, not some heavily altered map that other cruise lines trot out to advertise their “preferred” shopping partners.
Viking is also noteworthy for what it doesn’t include: there are no whirring casinos, tacky “champagne” art auctions, and extra-revenue hard-sells at every turn. If you want a drink here onboard Viking Star, you simply ask for one – and no bartender or waiter will ever ask if you’d like to have it served in the “souvenir cup” for another $10. Viking Star also has complimentary laundrettes on every passenger accommodation deck, with no fees to use the machines, or for the laundry detergent.
Onboard cuisine is a blend of European and Scandinavian dishes, along with classic North American favorites. The Norwegian Poached Salmon – a favorite of Torstein Hagen’s – is available every evening in the dining room, and is one of my go-to dishes onboard. Mamsen’s, a Norwegian-themed deli up on Deck 7 near the Explorer’s Lounge, serves up traditional recipies culled from the Hagen family cookbook. Be sure you go for the heart-shaped waffles at breakfast, and return for the Norwegian split pea soup, the latter being only served at ten pm.
Viking Star sets sail from Montreal on October 2, bound for New York. Like my crossing, that sailing sold out long ago. But there are still some spots to be had on Viking’s inaugural season in the Caribbean, with 11-day “West Indies Explorer” voyages departing from San Juan from October of this year to February, 2017. Ports of call on these West Indies voyages include Tortola, BVI; St. John’s, Antigua; Castries, St. Lucia; Bridgetown, Barbados; Pointe-a-Pitre, Guadeloupe; Basseterre, St. Kitts; Philipsburg, St. Maarten; and Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas.
Viking’s ocean cruises are a masterclass in how good vacations should be. Restful, educational and luxurious, my 15-days aboard Viking Star reminded me of the best days of classic cruising, reimagined and updated for generations to come.