The Viking Star is a ship that really celebrates Norwegian heritage.
If you’re really into all things Norse, you can get a Swedish massage at the Liv Nordic spa and plunge into an ice-cold pool before heading to lunch, where you can have a plate of herring and smoked salmon to wash down with a complimentary draft beer.
Or, you can choose to dine from the cuisine of the world and just enjoy the ship’s elegant Scandinavian décor. Either way, the all-inclusive new ship from the new Viking Ocean Cruises is out to break the stereotypes of cruising. It’s casual, comfortable and priced to be affordable to people who have never considered sailing on a premium ship and attractive to those who like luxury lines.
On a five-day segment of the ship’s inaugural cruise in May, my wife and I were hard pressed to experience all the restaurants and lounges on the 930-guest ship, but here’s a taste of what to expect:
You won’t find a café like this anywhere else at sea. Mamsen is the Norwegian pet name for Mom and the café celebrates the kind of treats Viking Ocean’s chairman Torstein Hagen’s mother used to make when he was growing up in Norway.
The stars are open-faced sandwiches topped with copious amounts of smoked salmon, cheeses and meats. And then there are fresh-made Norwegian waffles, which are different from the Belgian style you may be more used to. They’re thinner and a bit crispy; made to be topped by jams and sour cream and fruits. Of course you can get creative and they’re great with a drizzle of hot chocolate sauce.
Mamsen’s is not a separate dining room but rather a pop-up window in the Deck 7 Explorers’ Lounge in the front of the ship that’s open for breakfast and lunch and tea time.
2) The Restaurant
The open-seating restaurant accommodates hundreds but seems intimate because it’s cleverly wrapped around Deck 2 as a series of small rooms. Every table has a view of the sea and the windows are doors that can be opened up in the right weather (it wasn’t warm enough on this cruise) to make the dining area feel like an al fresco terrace.
The generic name doesn’t do justice to the restaurant’s level of food and presentation you’ll find here. On a typical night the entrée selections on the menu that changes daily might include Italian, classic French and modern Californian fare.
I was particularly impressed by their mastery of fish, which are notoriously tricky to get right when prepared for large groups. Whether it was salmon, snapper or tuna, the entrees all came perfectly moist and tender.
3) The Chef’s Table
This is a specialty restaurant whose dishes on a five-course menu degustation are all prepared to a theme. The evening I dined there the theme was “witty pairings of sweet and salty.” It started with a tomato and watermelon gazpacho, something that was more successful than it sounds. I had a veal tenderloin with red onion and marmalade and found the veal tender indeed.
Less successful to my mind were the scallops with a sweet beet sauce. But they made up for it with a dynamite dessert.
Each course came with its own complimentary wine pairing This is the type of specialty restaurant that would charge a hefty cover charge but on Viking Star, it’s complimentary one evening on each segment of a cruise. I recommend booking an table here on- line in advance of boarding.
4) Manfredi’s Italian Restaurant
Since 2015, proclaims the sign for the Italian restaurant, whose entrance features a video screen showing the gluttony scene from the movie Tom Jones. All the walls are covered with photos of famous Italian celebrities tucking in to large bowls of pasta. The restaurant promises to “recall Italy’s beloved trattorias” and it took some doing to get a reservation for a table here, because the restaurant has already developed a following.
Even though guests are supposed to be limited to one evening in the restaurant on each segment of the cruise, it was clear that some guests were repeaters. I could see why, because the restaurant is very cheery and the staff is welcoming and it turns out worthy Italian fare.
My wife was impressed that there were three types of risotto on offer, although she opted for the ossobuco and found it prepared perfectly. I had a filet of sea bass served with potatoes and tomatoes. The ship prides itself on making all its pasta fresh in the kitchen daily.
I did notice that while the trattoria was supposedly booked solid, a number of tables remained empty through the evening, which I put up to an effort to keep up the standard of food and service considering the large number of guests who would all like to dine here at the same time.
5) World Café
The restaurant on the upper deck serves breakfast and lunch buffets and casual evening meals. The grill area is open-concept, so you can see the chefs busily preparing dishes in their stainless steel world. There’s an impressive selection daily of items like crab legs and jumbo shrimp that might only show up once a cruise on other lines.
One notable omission, is a salad bar, which tends to be a mainstay on other cruise ships. When I wanted greens at lunch, I needed to ask one of the chefs to put one together for me.
6) Pool Grill
There are garnishes that could be made into a salad at the poolside grill. For lunch and afternoon nibbles this is a cheery location with lots of upholstered seating.Even though this is a busy venue, I found the service invariably quick.
The menu’s limited to various burgers and hot dogs and sandwiches. I found what Norwegians consider a Reuben is different from the deli style in North America. Here, corned beef is sliced thick and it’s served on hefty slabs of rye bread. It’s hearty fare for seafaring.
The name comes from a town in Norway but it also means harbor for Tor, a reference to Viking Ocean’s Chairman Torstein Hagen. This handsome, dimly-lit space is designed as the ship’s late night club and it only opens after dinner. It has a super-friendly bar staff and a combo playing on stage, but on this cruise it was difficult to get a handle on how popular it’s going to be.
There were only a handful of guests in the place the couple of times I checked in. One of the guests I struck up a conversation with suggested the music needs to be more up-tempo. Maybe it needs a DJ rather than a dance band. I’d rate this a work in progress.
8) Aquavit Terrace
Those of you who know Viking’s river cruises will recognize the name of this glass enclosed lounge on the stern of the ship. Like all the restaurants on the ship, the walls open up in warm weather and the action moves outdoors. It’s bright and airy even when the doors are closed.
It’s a good location for a pre- or post-dinner drink with a panorama of the view from the rear of the ship. At the other end, the Explorers Lounge offers the best vista of the view ahead.
One nice modern feature is that throughout the ship, all meal and bar orders are taken electronically so there’s no need to sign receipts.
What’s Included—and Not
Wine and beer are complimentary at lunch and dinner and at other times and in lounges beer costs $4 and wine and mixed drinks $6. The prices on Viking Star are in U.S. dollars rather than the Euros which are standard on Viking’s river ships.
However, the choices in complimentary wines are limited. I happen to enjoy my wine and found that the house pours weren’t particularly appealing. On the first night out, the white was a Portuguese vinho verde that left my mouth feeling dry. The generic sparkling wine was a pale imitation of a French small batch Champagne that was available at the bars for $9.50 a glass.
That’s why I opted for the Silver Spirits package which includes an upgraded wine list by the glass and free drinks throughout the day.
You have to decide whether the upgrade package is worth it to you, though, because the price is about $30 a person a day. You and anyone sharing your cabin have to buy a package for the number of days you’re on the ship. For a five-day cruise, that comes to $150 a person.
For me and my wife it was a splurge worth making, because it meant premium cocktails before dinner, finer French and Chilean wines with meals and specialty drinks for nightcaps.
Even the drinks upgrade has limits, though. The silver upgrade selections are limited to a list of wines that are available by the glass. It doesn’t cover wines by the bottle from a premium list that includes a wide range of impressive vintages. The prices for those bottles is equivalent to what you’d pay on other ships or in a good steak house shore-side.
Off to See the World
Exploration is the theme of displays of Norse lore and collections of books located throughout the ship. An old Norse proverb features on the luggage pad laid out on the bed when you arrive in your cabin: “Berre den som vandrar finn nye vegar.” It means: “Only he who wanders finds new paths.”
It will be interesting to see the paths Viking Star and two upcoming sister ships will pursue in the years ahead. There will certainly be many tasty adventures.
For more on life on board Viking Star click here.