Embarking Viking Sky in Bergen, Norway

Embarking Viking Sky in Bergen, Norway on June 17, 2017 for her christening cruise. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

“When you really philosophize about it, there’s really only one thing you don’t have enough of – and that’s time. Time is the only scarce commodity.”

Those are the words of Viking Cruises Chairman and founder, Torstein Hagen, in Viking’s newest commercial. It makes for compelling voiceover, but there’s a lot of truth in what Hagen says. And nothing demonstrates the passage of time better than the company he founded, which is celebrating its 20th Anniversary this year.

Yesterday, I arrived in Bergen, Norway – a favourite city of mine. I never get tired of walking its inner harbour, past the old Hanseatic houses of Bryggen, remembering that time eight years ago when I first came here, not long before I began this journey as a cruise writer.

Although the weather was unusually chilly for this time of year, a cold day in Bergen is better than no day in Bergen. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

I’m here for one reason: to board Viking Cruises’ brand-new Viking Sky, which will be christened in Tromsø on June 22, 2017. Sister-ship to Viking Star and Viking Sea, Viking Sky hasn’t tinkered much with Viking’s magic formula for success; so well-designed was Viking Star when she first set sail back in 2015 that the line has only had to make the smallest of adjustments here and there; minor changes that are likely to go unnoticed by even the most eagle-eyed guests.

Bergen, Norway, as seen from the stern of Viking Sky. Note the infinity pool in the foreground. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

I have to leave Viking Sky in Tromsø, just five days into her 14-day Into the Midnight Sun itinerary that ends in Greenwich (England) and includes port calls on Geiranger, Molde, Tromsø , Honningsvag, and Lofoten, Norway; in addition to three Scottish ports, namely Kirkwall, Lerwick and Rosyth, for Edinburgh. I can’t make the entire voyage because I have to fly to the other end of the world world to embark on a cruise to Alaska in Vancouver. It’s one of those things that I was able to sandwich into my schedule; much in the same way you’d make time for a good friend that you hadn’t seen in a while.

The full itinerary, at least as far as I’m taking the ship. Viking Sky will eventually conclude her journey in Greenwich, England.

Viking Sky - Christening Cruise

Saturday, June 17 - Sunday, June 18, ,2017Bergen, NorwayEmbark & overnight1700
Monday, June 19Geiranger, Norway08001700
Tuesday, June 20Molde, Norway08001730
Wednesday, June 21Summer Solstice at Sea
Thursday, June 22Tromso, Norway - Christening08001800

Viking was founded in August of 1997 – just twenty years ago. Even in his wildest dreams, I’m not sure Torstein Hagen ever envisioned that by the end of two decades, he’d be the proud owner of the largest river cruise fleet in the world, or three magnificent oceangoing cruise ships that have won numerous design awards and accolades from press and guests, right out of the gate.

Like her sisters, Viking Sky is a visual feast…Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

…filled with colours, textures and patterns. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

More importantly, Viking brought the ocean back to ocean cruising. Public rooms have windows galore, and one is never far from sight of the sea. Books adorn every public room. Board games and scrabble line the atrium’s upper reaches. Guests are encouraged to learn, converse, and mingle; to treat the ship as if it was their home-away-from home. Little wonder, then, that the three-storey atrium area is known as, “The Living Room.”

The Living Room, Deck 1, facing aft. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

The entire idea of this atrium was to create a concept that was relaxing and inviting. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Like much of the ship, the Living Room Atrium has one of the most wonderfully-curated selection of books I’ve seen onboard any ship…Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

…and before long, I have a pile ready to read back in my stateroom. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

The Viking onboard experience is fun, informal, educational, and enriching. Formal attire is never required here.  Like its river cruises, beer, wine, and soft drinks are included with lunch and dinner. Coffees come at no additional charge. And the massive hydrotherapy room in the LivNordic Spa on Deck 1 – which includes an honest-to-God-snow-room – is complimentary. All day. Every day.

Launched this past February, the 930-guest Viking Sky follows the magic formula established with Viking Star and Viking Sea. You can expect an identical cruise experience aboard any of these three oceangoing wonders. Rather than making each ship unique with different décor, Tor Hagen felt it was important to standardize these ships so that guests can be offered the same experience, regardless of which ship they sail on.

Art also plays a huge part in the overall character of Viking Sky, which boasts its own unique art collection. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

The one thing that does vary, however, is the onboard art collection, which is so extensive that Viking publishes an entire brochure explaining it all that is specific to each ship. You can even download a guided Art Tour from the Apple App Store and follow along with narration from Karine Hagen.

There is one important difference aboard Viking Sky, and I think it’s worth sharing. It’s not a physical change, but a branding one: the bar in the Explorer’s Lounge on Deck 7 forward – the ship’s two-storey, glass-walled observation lounge that also acts as a lounge, a library, a dining venue and an entertainment space – is now known as Paps.

Viking’s signature two-storey observation lounge, the Explorer’s Lounge, now features a bar called…Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

…Paps, intended to pay tribute to Torstein Hagen’s father, affectionately known as “Paps.” Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Read about the family history…Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

…and settle down for a drink in this wonderful venue. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Here, you’ll also find plenty of artifacts on polar exploration…Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

…as they relate to some of Norway’s most famous explorers, like Fridtjof Nansen and Roald Amundsen. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Situated right next to Mamsens – the casual Norwegian dining venue named affectionately after Torstein Hagen’s mother, Ragnhild, Paps honours Tor’s father. An accountant by trade, Paps was known for his generous laugh, his commitment to his work and his family, his love affair with licorice (to which I can relate), and the pencil he always kept behind his ear. How do I know this? The elegantly-designed bar menus in Paps are book-ended with photos and memories of the man. You can even order his favorite drink to toast his memory: a “Paps Brandy Special”, made with 1/3 Norwegian Vinmonopol, 2/3 hot water, and sugar. I had it last night. For $5, it’s a heck of a good drink.

Everything about Viking Sky is unique…Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

…and individual. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

That’s the other thing I like about Viking: it embraces its Norwegian heritage in its design, décor, and cuisine. Viking resists the “me-too” temptation that’s all too common in the cruise industry, where one line comes up with a trend, and others follow suit. But more importantly, Viking is kind enough to let its guests into the personal history of the Hagen family, and it does so in a way that is heartwarming and endearing.

My Category PV2 Penthouse Veranda Stateroom on Deck 5 is actually the middle of the accommodations ladder aboard Viking Sky; even so-called “standard” staterooms like this are generously sized. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Stateroom bathrooms have full, glass-enclosed showers…Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

…along with heated floors and anti-fog mirrors. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Viking now offers Freyja toiletries on both its ocean and river cruises. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Closet space: generous and illuminated. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Viking’s staterooms are soothing and elegant…Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

…and remarkably well-designed. So cozy, you’ll want to spend an increasing amount of time here. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Torstein Hagen is right. Time may be the only scarce commodity – but it’s one that, I feel, is well-spent when I’m on Viking. My first twenty-four hours aboard the new Viking Sky are no exception: this is one great ship.

Illuminated signage outside Torshavn, Deck 2. Is it named after the city in the Faroe Islands, or an homage to Torstein “Tor” Hagen? Your call! Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Our Voyage Report from Viking Cruises’ Viking Sky Christening Voyage continues tomorrow, as we stop in Geiranger, Norway. Follow along with our latest cruise adventures on Twitter: @deckchairblog.

Viking Sky - Christening Cruise

Saturday, June 17 - Sunday, June 18, ,2017Bergen, NorwayEmbark & overnight1700
Monday, June 19Geiranger, Norway08001700
Tuesday, June 20Molde, Norway08001730
Wednesday, June 21Summer Solstice at Sea
Thursday, June 22Tromso, Norway - Christening08001800

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