The world’s newest cruise line, Viking Ocean Cruises, is now the World’s Best Cruise Line, named #1 Ocean Cruise Line by Travel + Leisure readers in their 2016 World’s Best Awards. The Viking World’s Best win comes on the heels of first ship Viking Star running the table, winning a host of awards upon her 2015 debut. The idea of a thinking person’s cruise for curious and engaged travelers, a small ship experience at a big ship value and a more inclusive travel experience is resonating with the world of cruise vacations in great big beautiful strokes. Beyond the headlines though, tiny details add up to a huge win and will continue the upward momentum past Viking World’s Best award and well into the future, with no end in sight.
Viking World’s Best: Finally, Dining Room Lighting Done Right
These days, it seems that everyone wants to share a photo of what they have for dinner, and rightfully so. The culinary creations on a number of cruise lines are surely photo-worthy, memorable and deserve a place in our Instagram feed, a share on Facebook or just documentation of something we might want to try at home. On all other cruise lines there only one problem holding back that sharing. Light fixtures positioned directly above dining room tables shine light directly down on tabletops. That puts any kind of camera between the light and the nicely presented culinary creation, creating a shadow and forcing us to do one of two bad things: Use a flash which effectively sucks the life out of anything or shoot from an angle to avoid the shadow which may or may not bring a good global view of the subject.
Clever Vikings have positioned their overhead lighting fixtures to shine down upon tabletops at an angle, greatly eliminating the shadow issue to bring accurate photos much like we see with our own eyes. This is not listed as a reason for Viking #1 Best New Midsize Ship award from Berlitz who calls what Viking does “perhaps the best value in cruising today”, but to those who like to share food photos, this is huge. Think about it. We share our lives on a variety of social platforms, not only documenting what we experience as we travel but acting as brand ambassadors regardless of our intentions. Thoughtful Viking helps us share what they do, literally in the best possible light. It is thoughtful elements such as this that bring Viking World’s Best award.
Viking World’s Best: Hearty Viking Explorers See More
On a recent sailing of Viking Sea, we were scheduled to call at the port of Istanbul. We did that, after all other cruise lines had cancelled visiting the historically significant Turkish port. Subsequent sailings were indeed redirected to different places in an abundance of caution for our personal safety. Still, to Vikings, the level at which that ‘abundance of caution’ sets in is higher than other cruise lines. The move speaks to Vikings unwavering commitment to people both on board and at the destinations visited at ports around the world. You see, every stop at every port of call includes an orientation tour, complete with safety instruction, background information and a plan before Viking Travelers get off the ship. It’s a huge part of the deal with Viking and one they take super seriously.
Viking has reinvented ocean cruising, creating their own rendition of what that’s all about with getting deep into destinations a huge part of the experience. Operated by some other cruise line, that tour would be cancelled at the first sign of trouble. If for no other reason than to save the cost of taking all passengers off ship, that would have been an easy call for the other guys. Vikings are not in the same universe as the other guys though. The well-traveled Viking clientele ranks just as hearty, if not more so, than those we traveled with on top luxury travel company Abercrombie & Kent not long ago in Egypt. Don’t get me wrong, at no time will Viking put passengers in harm’s way but the threshold for what qualifies as dangerous is higher.
Interestingly, what we found on the ground in Istanbul was a pleasant weekend day where locals and visitors alike enjoyed gathering. Believe me, there is no way I would have walked off the ship, let alone allowed my more-precious-than-gold daughter Whitney (@WhitneyCruises) to come along too if it was not safe to be there. It was.
Viking World’s Best: Seamless Destination Engagement
Call it ‘Destination Immersion’, ‘making local connection’ or any number of current buzz phrases rolling around the world of travel today, the way Viking engages destinations is unique. Nearly four years ago, Viking asked their river cruise guests what they thought about ocean cruising. Responses varied from “Ocean ships have become too big” to “Not as good a value as you think when you purchase” and that they spend “Too little time in the destination”. A staggering 84% of the culturally curious Viking River Cruise guests said they would go on a Viking Ocean Cruise. Indeed, that is exactly the case , verified by other Viking Ocean Cruise passengers we talked to. Nearly all began their Viking adventure on the river, liked it and did not hesitate to book their first Viking Ocean cruise.
Still, getting them on the ship is one thing. What Viking delivers to those loyal fans once on board is nothing short of pure gold. The whole destination focus, Viking has down pat from the river operation. Continuing that success formula with alterations and additions due to the nature of the ocean product is a work in progress and one they are constantly looking at. Recently added, a destination-specific element on each evening’s menu, reflecting the places visited that day. Wine, beer and other beverages reflect that same local flavor and linger throughout the voyage as favorites are enjoyed again.
In May 2013, Viking Chairman Torstein Hagen declared the destination the key to the experience.
That’s set in stone and not just any stone, but stone purveyed from the locations visited as the bedrock; the foundation upon which the entire experience is built. We see that in the well-schooled guides that accompany us on tours, engaging us in the destinations as they go. Not satisfied with guides that are simply capable of intelligently answering questions from Viking Travelers, those guides as US questions taking the experience from a passive ride-along to an active engagement of what we see, feel, hear and taste. Like on Viking River Cruises, ample free time at the destination allows a customizable experience normally only found on land products, never on ‘cruises’ because this is unique.
Viking World’s Best Award
They Never Ever Stop Improving
One might expect a cruise line to evolve over time, and most seem to. Still, Viking looks at everything they do, all the time, to see what they can do better. We experienced a number of unique upgrades added less than one year’s time, sailing first Viking Star then Viking Sea. The source of these upgrades and enhancements so very early in the game? The Viking explorers who travel with them. Viking listens, takes quick action and elevates the onboard experience at every turn. The very best part of all this is surprisingly simple: Had none of what you see below been added, the Viking Ocean cruise experience would have still outpaced all other cruise lines, on all other ships of all sizes, levels of service and price points. Viking stops short of tagging what they do as ‘luxury’, but by the most pure definition of the word, this is the new bar all other cruise lines will aspire to.
Recent upgrades and additions to the Viking Ocean Cruise onboard experience
An occasional complaint I hear on other cruise lines is the automatic __% gratuity added to the price of beverages. Initially, Viking had that too but recently dropped it rather than distract from the more inclusive nature of what they do. You see, beer and wine along with soft drinks are an included part of what they do during meal times.
Still, Viking travelers can upgrade that to the line’s Silver Spirits Plan at a new reduced price. The $209 per person on a 7 night sailing for virtually anything including liquors, cocktails, well drinks, mixers/long drinks and sodas throughout the day is a no-brainer addition. We paid four times that much on a recent big ship sailing. Viking includes more. A lot more.
Also recently added, the onboard Viking Guide provides insightful commentary from your host, Viking Sea Godmother Karine Hagen, as well as a variety of curators and experts.
Viking’s Privileged Access combining stargazing with a classical opera performance by New York’s famed Metropolitan Opera. Viking guests listen to the triumphant sounds through individual Bose headsets and go beyond an ordinary visit to the opera, watching backstage interviews with the performers, costume and set changes and, in a typically Viking exploration way, the technical details behind the performance.
SEE Viking Evolves Onboard Experience With Arrival Of Viking Sea and Viking Upgrades Logo Shop, Feeds Fan Frenzy for detail on how the Viking World’s Best award came to be.
Beyond The Viking World’s Best Award
They Are Just Getting Started, Yet Never Forget Where They Came From
The interesting part about all of this is actually more than the sum of these individual new elements. That Viking continues to actively look for ways to constantly improve what they do is a solid good reason to sail with the cruise line. At a time when cruise travelers on some other lines are more likely to find a favorite feature missing or reduced, that’s wonderful news.
Aggressively thoughtful Vikings methodically took over the European river cruise industry with their uber-efficient fleet of 60+ Viking Longships, which they continue to update constantly as well. There’s no resting on their laurels going on here or cutting back on the guest experience to make $12.76 more per booking because corporate life would be sweet if they did.
But it is not just the clever design of their river and ocean ships that continue to fuel the fire. Not by a long shot.
Sticking to their elevated basic principles, Viking taps top hotel schools for the best crew, taking good care of them like no other cruise line on the planet ever has. Viking sources passengers that are well-traveled enough and have enough years on them to appreciate the high median level of service that well-trained crew provides. And the size of that fire increases. Ice that delicious cake with a generous and thoughtful layer of cultural enrichment and inclusiveness, to a demographic that all of the sudden has time to learn again, and word travels fast. The supersonic skyrocket of Viking River Cruises has broken and set world records, brought the most highly ranked cruise travel experience in history and, in turn, made a whole lot of people happy.
In Well Sure, Far Advance Booking Pays Off, On These Two Lines Anyway, we touched on this topic, also illuminating the current success and collectively intelligent growth being enjoyed by Holland America Line. They too ‘get it’ about cruise travelers and have energized their efforts with a similar passion for all things cruising, ala big ships. Holland America Line too is making people happy in an enduring way that is a joy to behold and was my original impetus for getting involved with this industry.
Why Viking World’s Best Award Matters
I started working full time when I was 12 years old at what was then the premiere florist and interior decorating store in an upscale suburb of Kansas City. No one in town had a better reputation than Ranchview Floral and Interiors. As the kid who swept the floors for $1.25 an hour around the top designers in town, I watched as they created amazing floral works of art. In turn, I learned a lot about what it takes to be and stay on top of that game. When the place was charged with doing a wedding, it was a major social event bringing out the best of the city. Long hours went into these things. As it worked out, at the end of those days after everyone else had gone home, it was me cleaning things up along with the owner who never seemed to tire of it. I remember one night, he was standing at one end of the store looking at a wall, just staring at it.
Puzzled, I asked what he was looking at. “The future”, the owner replied, explaining quite clearly, “it’s time to grow again.” Just then he picked up a sledgehammer and knocked a hole in the wall. Looking through that hole we could see a parking lot located behind the store. “Now?” I said, a bit startled. “Not tonight, no, but we have to keep moving forward, doing better than the best possible job we have ever done or someone else will.”
That ‘doing better than the best possible job we have ever done’ was a familiar thought around that place, one that everyone who worked there knew well. It was right about then that I began to learn the importance of quality. Not so much luxury. Not the most fancy or the most expensive. Quality. It always wins in the end. It begins with an idea, gets detailed right down to elements like thoughtful light fixtures that do not cast a shadow on photos taken from smartphones. Those smartphones and the internet that enables them would not be invented for decades from that moment but theory still holds true. Quality endures. Quality is what Viking is all about.
Congratulations Viking on being voted World’s Best Cruise Line. You earned it.