The Viking Crossing Begins

Our "In the Wake of the Vikings" transatlantic crossing aboard Viking Star begins in the historic city of Bergen, Norway. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Our “In the Wake of the Vikings” transatlantic crossing aboard Viking Star begins in the historic city of Bergen, Norway. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

“I demolish my bridges behind me. Then, there is no choice but to move forward.”

Fridtjof Nansen

I woke up at 5:00 am this morning. I couldn’t sleep – not because I was having a bad sleep, but because I was too excited for the journey ahead. Today is the day, after all, that Viking Cruises’ Viking Star sets sail on her maiden Transatlantic Crossing for the “New World.”

I arrived in Bergen, Norway yesterday, touching down at Flesland Airport just after 1:00 pm. My own journey took me through Toronto-Pearson Airport and Copenhagen Airport, the latter of which boasts some incredibly easy connections.

What's that in the distance? Why, it's Viking Star at her berth near historic Bryggen! Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

What’s that in the distance? Why, it’s Viking Star at her berth near historic Bryggen! Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Upon landing at Flesland, Viking representatives were stationed at baggage claim, which always seems to take forever in Bergen despite the fact that Flesland is a small airport. More representatives were stationed just outside the arrivals area, and more still were on standby at the doors as guests exited the airport. All of them directed us to the waiting Viking coaches, and in no time we were motoring along on the highways outside of the city, destined for Viking Star at her Skoltegrunnskaien berth near Bergen’s historic Bryggen district.

As I embarked Viking Star in Bergen, crews were busy readying her for her first-ever transatlantic crossing. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

As I embarked Viking Star in Bergen, crews were busy readying her for her first-ever transatlantic crossing. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Embarkation in Bergen is a snap. All tagged luggage is handled by the porters for Viking guests. Unlike embarkation in Miami or other ports of call, there is no need to bribe…er, tip…the porters simply to do their jobs. Here, luggage was taken off the coach and whisked away before we even knew it. Guests then filed into the terminal, went through a customary security screening and passport control, and receive keycards and established onboard accounts in the terminal. The entire process, start to finish: under five minutes.

Aboard Viking Star, every stateroom features its own private balcony. There are no interior staterooms, and no oceanview staterooms. Categories are differentiated mainly by size, and by amenities and features.

Viking Star corridor shot. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Viking Star corridor shot. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

One such feature afforded to each stateroom is a set time when staterooms will be ready. Suites are ready the earliest, with some available for guests as early as 11:00 am on embarkation day. My own Deluxe V stateroom on Deck 4 was ready at 2:00 pm, which meant that by the time I reached the ship just after two, I could head straight up and start unpacking.

My Deluxe Veranda Stateroom on Deck 4 is warm and inviting. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

My Deluxe Veranda Stateroom on Deck 4 is warm and inviting. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Luggage mats are out, complete with Norwegian sayings. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Luggage mats are out, complete with Norwegian sayings. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Viking also adds other features to each stateroom category. My mini-bar, for example, is complimentary and replenished daily. There’s a small selection of items, like soft drinks, spirits, and a few beers. Let’s say I drink both cans of Coke and would like a third. The first two are free, but the third one would cost $2. It’s a very fair system that should please most guests, especially those used to big-ship cruising where nothing (and I mean nothing) is ever complimentary in the mini-bar.

Bathrooms are a high point on Viking, with heated floors, glass-enclosed showers...Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Bathrooms are a high point on Viking, with heated floors, glass-enclosed showers…Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

...and anti-fog mirrors. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

…and anti-fog mirrors. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Bathrooms have Freyja toiletries included. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Bathrooms have Freyja toiletries included. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

The stateroom itself is wonderful. Slightly smaller than the Penthouse Veranda suites I’ve had in the past, it nonetheless includes one king-sized bed that can be split into two; a seating area for two; a full-sized desk and vanity area, with a fold-out makeup mirror; a massive flat-panel TV mounted to the wall; a full-sized closet; in-room podded coffee machine; and a bathroom with a glass-enclosed shower, heated floors, anti-fog mirror, and Freyja toiletries. There’s also ample North American and European-style power outlets placed throughout the room, along with no less than four USB outlets that are great for charging your iPhone.

QuietVox audio receivers are provided for select tours ashore. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

QuietVox audio receivers are provided for select tours ashore. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

The balcony, meanwhile, is big enough that it has two chairs and a full-sized table. There’s also still plenty of room to maneuver around the furniture, which is an important point – I feel many newer ships tend to put too much emphasis on the furniture at the expense of personal space.

If there is a drawback to the stateroom, it is that there’s not quite enough storage space. I’m having a tough time trying to figure out where to put my carryon bag. I normally don’t put it under the bed, as it has lots of electronic doo-dads that I use frequently. But it can’t fit under the coffee table due to its low clearance, and there’s no way to put it near the desk as it starts to encroach on the available space. It’s a very minor complaint in what is really a superbly-designed stateroom.

The Viking Daily keeps guests abreast of all the latest developments...Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

The Viking Daily keeps guests abreast of all the latest developments…Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

...whether you read it in your room our out on your private balcony. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

…whether you read it in your room our out on your private balcony. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

This morning, I set out on an included walking tour of Bergen. Viking includes at least one complimentary shore excursion in most ports of call – usually a walking tour focused on local history. I couldn’t be happier with this: most of the time, all I really want is a tour that will show me around, on foot, and give me an overview of the port and its history. Viking’s enigmatic founder and Chairman Torstein Hagen calls this “the thinking man’s cruise”, and offering these free, culturally-immersive tours is a wonderful way to emphasize that.

A quick walk around the decks of Viking Cruises' Viking Star reveals her to be drop-dead-gorgeous. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

A quick walk around the decks of Viking Cruises’ Viking Star reveals her to be drop-dead-gorgeous. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

The Living Room, Deck 1, is the lowest level of Viking Star's three-story atrium, and also one of the coziest places onboard. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

The Living Room, Deck 1, is the lowest level of Viking Star’s three-story atrium, and also one of the coziest places onboard. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Viking also offers a selection of additional fee tours that are great for guests who may have been to a particular port of call before. These tend to be more in-depth, and in many cases explore outlying areas outside of the port or city itself. Today, no less than eight optional excursions are on offer, from the “Fish Farming & Maritime History” tour; to the “Fantoft Stave Church & Grieg’s House” or the agricultural and culinary offerings found on the “Taste of Norwegian Farm Life” excursion.

Today, I set out on Viking's complimentary touring option here in Bergen. You still need to register for tours (even the free ones) in advance using My Viking Journey online. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Today, I set out on Viking’s complimentary touring option here in Bergen. You still need to register for tours (even the free ones) in advance using My Viking Journey online. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

What’s great about most of these excursions – including my own walking tour of Bergen – is that Viking utilises the QuietVox audio devices on its ocean shore excursions. Common on most river cruises, they are a rare feature among ocean going cruises. Their importance became apparent in historic Bryggen, where a land-based tour guide was shouting loudly in German to his flock of retiree travellers.

Our walking tour sets out to explore Bergen's historic Castle, not five minutes away from our ship. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Our walking tour sets out to explore Bergen’s historic Castle, not five minutes away from our ship. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Our guide, by contrast, never had to raise her voice above a conversational level thanks to our digital QuietVox headsets that allowed each member of our 18-strong group to hear her loud and clear.

A look at our morning walking tour of Bergen with Viking Cruises, in pictures:

Our Viking guide explains the history...Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Our Viking guide explains the history…Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

...of Bergen Castle. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

…of Bergen Castle. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Ships tied up in the harbour reflect the struggling oil and gas market; these unique ships were designed to service offshore oil rigs in the North Sea. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Ships tied up in the harbour reflect the struggling oil and gas market; these unique ships were designed to service offshore oil rigs in the North Sea. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Our journey also included a visit to the historic Bryggen Museum, located just adjacent to the Raddisson Blu. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Our journey also included a visit to the historic Bryggen Museum, located just adjacent to the Raddisson Blu. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

The museum contains examples (like these leather shoes) of life in medieval Bergen. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

The museum contains examples (like these leather shoes) of life in medieval Bergen. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Inside the Bryggen Museum. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Inside the Bryggen Museum. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

The Bryggen Museum is located, appropriately, near the historic section of Bergen known as Bryggen. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

The Bryggen Museum is located, appropriately, near the historic section of Bergen known as Bryggen. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Once the thriving trade center of Hanseatic Bergen, the wood timbered buildings of Bryggen were so prone to fires that oil lamps and candles were banned hundreds of years ago. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Once the thriving trade center of Hanseatic Bergen, the wood timbered buildings of Bryggen were so prone to fires that oil lamps and candles were banned hundreds of years ago. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Ignition sources - like smoking - are banned to this day. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Ignition sources – like smoking – are banned to this day. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

A devastating fire in 1958 swept through here, leaving just a handful of buildings standing. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

A devastating fire in 1958 swept through here, leaving just a handful of buildings standing. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Bryggen is now protected as a UNESCO World Heritage site. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Bryggen is now protected as a UNESCO World Heritage site. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

At 6:00 pm tonight, Viking Star pushed away from her berth in Bergen, and we set out on a circuitous route through the fjords that would eventually give way to the open North Sea. The skies had darkened perceptibly from what they had been in the morning. Clouds hung low over the mountains to the north. Temperatures dropped sharply by several degrees. Winter is coming – that much is clear. But the moody skies seemed to spark a certain electricity in the air. With three blasts from her horn, Viking Star was away from her homeport city. Only the open ocean – and adventure – stand between us and our arrival in Montreal now.

Viking Star rumbles to life as our hour of departure approaches. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Viking Star rumbles to life as our hour of departure approaches. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Goodbye, Bergen! Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Goodbye, Bergen! Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Passing under one of the many bridges that line the path from Bergen to the open North Sea...Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Passing under one of the many bridges that line the path from Bergen to the open North Sea…Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

...our departure provides many great photographic opportunities! Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

…our departure provides many great photographic opportunities! Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Sailaway Dark & Stormy to complement our rather 'dark and stormy' departure! Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Sailaway Dark & Stormy to complement our rather ‘dark and stormy’ departure! Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Our next destination – Lerwick, Scotland – isn’t so far away. We only have to sail about 200 nautical miles, or roughly 359 kilometres, in order to arrive there tomorrow morning. But tonight definitely has a historic feel to it here onboard, as our departure from Bergen heralds the last time Viking Star will see its homeport city until mid-2017. In just under two weeks, we’ll be arriving in Canada – my home country.

Viking Star may be setting out to explore new lands, but she’s returning me to my homeland – a place that is still over 5,000 kilometres and 14 days away.

Viking Star, flying the Norwegian Flag. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Viking Star, flying the Norwegian Flag. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Our Live Voyage Report aboard Viking Cruises’ Viking Star continues tomorrow as we arrive in Scotland! Be sure to follow along on twitter by following @deckchairblog.

Viking Star : In the Wake of the Vikings

DAYPORTARRIVEDEPART
September 18, 2016Bergen, NorwayEmbarkOvernight
September 19Bergen, NorwayOvernight6:30 PM
September 20Lerwick, Shetland Islands, Scotland8:00 AM5:00 PM
September 21Torshavn, Faroe Islands / An Unexpected Day at Sea9:00 AM6:00 PM
September 22At Sea
September 23Reykjavik, Iceland8:00 AM5:30 PM
September 24At Sea
September 25Cruising Prince Christian Sound / Nanortalik, Greenland2:00 PM8:00 PM
September 26Qaqortoq, Greenland7:00 AM2:00 PM
September 27At Sea
September 28L'Anse aux Meadows, Newfoundland7:00 AM2:00 PM
September 29Cruising the St. Lawrence Seaway
September 30Saguenay, Quebec8:00 AM9:00 PM
October 1Quebec City, Quebec8:00 AM6:00 PM
October 2Montreal, Quebec4:00 AMDisembark
 

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