We were boarding the “World’s Best New Cruise Ship,” according to CNN, also hailed by Cruise Critic as the “Best New Ocean Ship.”
Naturally we were curious.
What’s so special about the Viking Star cruise ship to merit such high praise in all the reviews of Viking Ocean Cruises?
The all-veranda staterooms? The TED talks? The spa’s snow grotto?
As we discovered during our Viking Star Baltic cruise – and our subsequent Caribbean cruise on the Viking Sea – it’s not just one thing, but a whole lot of things that make Viking’s ocean-going ships some of the world’s best cruise ships and a true delight to sail on.
Writing this Viking Ocean Cruises review was therefore very easy.
Viking Ocean Cruises review
We focus here on the Viking Star and our Viking Homelands cruise.
But all Viking Ocean Cruises’ ships are similar. So what we cover in our Viking Star review pretty well also applies to all of Viking’s ocean-going vessels.
Unveiled in 2015, it was the first ship for Viking Ocean Cruises.
Hagen introduced this ocean-based brand to complement Viking River Cruises, which is the world’s largest river cruise line. (Viking has almost 80 river ships in its river-based fleet.)
Fleet of Viking Cruises ships
Since the Viking Star debuted, several more Viking ships (all more or less identical) have set sail.
Viking Sea was launched in April, 2016.
Viking Sky followed in early 2017, joined later in the year by Viking Sun.
Viking Orion debuted in June, 2018, and Viking Jupiter set sail in 2019. Both Orion and Jupiter boast a high-tech, 26-seat planetarium (called the Explorer’s Dome).
Then came Viking Venus in 2021.
In 2022, Viking Mars welcomed its first guests. And Viking Neptune launched in December, 2022, with a world cruise.
The ocean cruise brand now has eight ships in this class, with another (Viking Saturn) debuting in 2023. Each mid-size ship is virtually identical.
These ships are purpose-built for destination-focused itineraries.
Viking Expedition ships
Viking also introduced a couple of expedition ships, Viking Octantis and Viking Polaris, in 2022.
They’re a marked departure from the other Viking ocean ships.
They hold just 378 passengers and are designed to travel to off-the-beaten-path places in the world, including Antarctica and the Arctic. They even have kayaks and submarines for exploring!
Viking Ocean Cruises freebies
The freebies are one of the first differences you notice between Viking Ocean Cruises and other similarly-priced ocean cruises.
Hagen promised there would be no “nickel-and-diming” onboard Viking’s ocean ships.
The Viking Star and its sister vessels offer a long list of free inclusions that usually aren’t offered by other cruise lines.
Complimentary shore excursions? Yes.
Unlimited free WiFi? Sweet.
Complimentary wine and beer with lunch and dinner? Pour us another!
Free 24-hour room service (also with complimentary wine and beer during lunch and dinner meal times)? Very handy.
(If you’d like to know more about Viking’s complimentary drinks as well as their for-purchase drinks packages, see our guide on Viking Cruises’ bar menu.)
Lots of light-filled space
You also notice how much space there is on these Viking cruise ships.
They have a very high passenger space ratio. (It’s technically 51.5 and anything over 51 is considered “very spacious.)
Naturally, Hagen’s Norwegian heritage is evident throughout the ships.
Take the Scandinavian design of the Viking Star and its sister ships.
The inside is so bathed in natural light, you almost need to put Ray-Bans on!
Huge windows bring in the sunshine, which bounces off white walls and pale timber floors.
In the beautiful two-story Explorer’s Lounge at the bow of the ship, reindeer pelts are draped over comfy couches. Leather footstools invite you to put your feet up.
Cupboard and drawer handles in the staterooms and stair railings are stylishly covered in leather.
And in the Winter Garden, where afternoon tea is served, sculpted blond wood “trees” reach up to a glass ceiling.
Everything is serene and uncluttered.
There’s even a display of museum-quality helmets and other Viking exhibits to add to the sense of place.
Viking Star cabins (cabins on sister ships too)
Viking Ocean Cruise staterooms
Hailing from a cold country, Hagen is probably the man to thank for the heated bathroom floors in all Viking Cruises staterooms (and suites).
It was a treat to have warm toes after stepping out of our glass shower – especially on our colder, Northern Europe cruise on the Viking Star.
All staterooms also have private balconies with glass railings – no more balcony envy!
Everyone can relish the pleasure of sipping early morning coffee (from their in-room Nespresso machine) on their own balcony as the ship sails into port.
The real king-size beds are also a nice surprise in Viking Ocean Cruises’ cabins.
The pop-up make-up mirror is quite nifty too. The desk lid opens up to reveal a backlit mirror and a leather-lined drawer with boxes for jewelry and other small items.
Other Viking ocean ship and Viking Star cabin reviews also give high marks for the design of the cabin space.
Veranda and Deluxe Veranda staterooms are the “standard” cabins. The interiors are 224 square feet in size, with an additional balcony (46 square feet).
Deluxe Veranda staterooms have a free soft drinks minibar. And our only suggestion (if anyone was to ask) would be to swap this out for an extra chest of drawers.
You can never have too much storage space on a ship, right?
For the value, the best cabins on Viking Ocean Cruises are probably the Penthouse Veranda staterooms.
Measuring 280 square feet, they’re bigger than the Veranda and Deluxe Veranda staterooms. So they have a larger seating area, more drawers and a more spacious bathroom, with a slightly larger shower.
The balcony is also bigger (48 square feet).
The Penthouse Verandas also come with perks like priority restaurant and shore excursion reservations.
There also 47 suites on every Viking ocean ship.
Viking Cruises food (the Scandinavian food is a hit!)
On both the Viking Star and Viking Sea, we never felt the urge to try local restaurants ashore – the ship’s food was that good.
There are several dining options onboard, and the dress code is elegant casual at night (no formal nights).
The main dining room on Viking’s ocean ships is called simply “The Restaurant.”
It features regional cuisine using locally sourced ingredients.
The Restaurant is open for set hours during breakfast and dinner – typically 7:30 to 9:00 pm for dinner – and you can sit anywhere you want.
For dinner, we’d usually head in between 7:45 and 8:00 pm.
For breakfast and lunch, we’d pick and choose from the casual World Café buffet restaurant.
Local dishes were often featured.
For example, one day on the Viking Star cruise ship, there was a memorable Scandinavian seafood lunch, followed by made-to-order waffles, berries and cream for dessert.
The World Café opens up onto the Aquavit Terrace at the stern of the ship, where you can sit and eat outside on the open deck.
At night, the terrace is turned into an attractive alfresco dining space.
Manfredi’s Italian Restaurant
For dinner, we especially loved Manfredi’s, one of two specialty restaurants onboard.
With a black-and-white tile floor and vintage photos on the walls, it has a real Italian atmosphere.
And everything – from the hand-cut beef tartare to the veal scaloppini to the angel hair pasta with scampi – was excellent. We learned the kitchen makes all its pasta noodles fresh each day.
Reservations are essential, and you should book early, as this restaurant is very popular.
Added bonus: Your cruise fare includes the specialty dining. There’s no extra cover charge (not often the case with specialty restaurants at sea).
The second specialty restaurant is the Chef’s Table. And of all the Viking Ocean Cruises’ menus, the one at the Chef’s Table was the most interesting.
This five-course set menu revolves around a different theme each night.
It might not appeal to everyone.
But we enjoyed being introduced to new tastes and flavors – like the Scandinavian-themed menu of reindeer consommé, lingonberry-infused salmon tartare and a delicious lamb-and-cabbage casserole.
Make like a Norwegian in the Nordic spa
Other Nordic influences, like the tradition of alternating hot and cold water therapies, can be found in the thermal spa (co-ed).
We’re used to ships where you have to pay to use the spa pools and sauna. (The Aqua Therapy Centre on the Queen Mary 2 costs $35 for two hours.)
So on our first cruise, it took us a while to figure out that the Viking Star spa is free (except for massages and spa treatments, of course).
“Where are your rubber slippers?” asked a fellow guest when we gingerly padded barefoot into the spa the first time.
Oh, the spa robes, slippers and lockers are also free?
By this time, we were starting to appreciate the “no nickel-and-diming” philosophy onboard.
So we tried out the warm, swim-against-the-current pool (with underwater massage roller beds), heated stone loungers, sauna, steam room and hot whirlpools.
And we shivered under the cold-dunk shower and in the “snow grotto” (an ice-cold, blue-lit glass room with real snow).
Hitting the Nordic Spa then became our much-anticipated ritual before dinner!
But, alas, we never did see the real snowflakes falling in the snow grotto that we’d read about.
Two beautiful pools
The inviting pool areas also lured us in on both ships.
Around the main pool, cushioned seating areas and teak loungers with soft blankets that face the windows are popular spots to curl up with a good book or nap.
With a retractable roof, the large mid-ship pool deck was built for comfort whether sailing in cooler climes or hotter destinations.
We lucked out with unexpectedly warm weather on our September cruise on the Viking Star, and the pool roof was open much of the time.
We even got to splash around in the second glass infinity pool, suspended at the stern’s edge – it felt like we could swim right off into the sea.
There’s a hot tub by the aft pool as well.
Walking on the promenade deck
Like many guests, one of our favorite ways to keep reasonably fit on a cruise is to walk around the deck when at sea.
Not all cruise ships have a full circle walking deck.
But Viking’s Ocean ships are designed with an outdoor Promenade Deck. You can walk all the way around the ship; four laps equals a mile.
A “thinking man’s cruise”
Another thing we’d read in Viking cruise reviews is that Hagen wanted to make the Viking experience a “thinking man’s cruise.”
And sure enough, we discovered oodles of interesting travel-related books scattered about in lounges throughout both ships we sailed on.
Two to three enrichment lectures and port talks are also given in the theater each day.
In fact, on our Viking Star cruise, we had five guest lecturers.
They included a polar oceanographer, a Fulbright scholar/law professor and a BBC television journalist. Their talks on NATO and Russia in the Baltic, as well as the EU’s refugee migration policy, were thought-provoking, to say the least.
Recorded TED talks also cover a variety of stimulating topics.
So what does the Viking Star not have?
There’s no casino.
Hagen once said Viking passengers would “rather have a free laundry.” And, indeed, there’s a self-service laundry on every deck.
There’s also no hard (or soft) selling of spa products or even liquor.
On our first Viking cruise, paying for “premium wines” seemed extravagant as our waiters kept pouring complimentary Italian, French and German selections, which were all very good!
There’s also a minimum age limit. No children under 18 may sail.
Viking Ocean Cruises itineraries
No matter how attractive a ship is, though, it’s the destinations that matter most to us.
These Viking ships score high marks in this department.
You’ll find voyages to most parts of the world.
Viking’s ocean vessels cruise to the Hawaiian Islands, through the Panama Canal, off the Central American coast and around the British Isles. There are also Iceland, Mediterranean, Asia, Australia and other cruises.
Viking Homelands cruise itinerary
On the signature Viking Homelands cruises, the Viking Star sails for 14 nights from Stockholm to Bergen, then does the reverse trip from Bergen to Stockholm, calling in at six countries.
Several sister ships also do Viking Homelands cruises.
The following are the ports of call on this itinerary:
- Stockholm (Sweden)
- Mariehamn, Aland Islands (Finland)
- Gdansk (Poland)
- Bornholm (Denmark)
- Warnemunde for Berlin (Germany)
- Copenhagen (Denmark)
- Alborg (Denmark)
- Oslo (Norway)
- Stavanger (Norway)
- Eidfjord (Norway)
- Bergen (Norway)
Our days in port were often long ones (sometimes until 10:00 pm) and included overnights too.
If you wanted to shop after your shore excursion or eat dinner ashore, you had time.
Viking Ocean Cruises shore excursion reviews
We were in port every day, except one, on our two-week Viking Star cruise.
In each port, passengers (who were divided into smaller groups) were treated to a complimentary shore excursion.
In Stockholm, for example, we walked the cobbled streets of Gamla Stan (the 13th-century Old Town).
In Warnemunde, the free shore excursion was a chartered train ride to Berlin for a day.
Once in the city, we were treated to a panoramic bus tour of the Brandenburg Gate, Reichstag, Checkpoint Charlie and other main Berlin sights.
This was followed by several hours of on-your-own exploration before the train ride (with free German wines) back to the ship.
As well as the included tours, there are optional tours on each cruise, for which there’s an extra charge.
These optional tours, which focus on more in-depth experiences, include such activities as small boat tours, museum visits, hikes, wine tastings and concerts, depending on the cruise.
Staying in Bergen before or after your Homelands cruise?
We booked the Hotel Havnekontoret and were very happy with our choice.
You can read our full review of the Hotel Havnekontoret – it’s a lovely place to stay on Bergen’s historic waterfront.
Staying in Stockholm before or after your cruise?
We picked the Diplomat Hotel. Read our review here.
That wraps up our review of Viking Ocean Cruises (and the Viking Star)!
Cruises on the Viking Star and its other ships sell quickly.
Lots of Viking Ocean Cruises reviews have gotten the word out now since the Viking Star first debuted.
People who are cruising with Viking for the first time are as curious as we were to see what all the hype is about!
Viking Ocean Cruises also has a significant repeat cruise passenger base.
You’ll probably want to check out other Viking star reviews to see if a cruise on this ship (or with Viking Ocean Cruises) is right for you.
But with the brand’s almost all-inclusive pricing, spacious Scandinavian design, all-balcony accommodations, excellent food and destination-focused itineraries, we can’t imagine that a Viking Ocean cruise wouldn’t suit you!
See the Viking Cruises website.
Other Viking Cruises reviews?
Here’s a review of Viking River Cruises and what the river ship experience is like.
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Photo credits: 2, 9, 12, 14, 15, 17 to 19, 21, 24, 26, 29 © Janice and George Mucalov, SandInMySuitcase | Remaining photos Viking Ocean Cruises.
While we cruised on the ship as media guests, this Viking Star review and Viking Homelands cruise review are completely our own, and the cruise line had no influence over them. (We are always free to express our own thoughts, warts and all.)