March 18, 2024

Viking Cruises Arouses History

Viking Orion in Sydney (supplied)

As cruising makes a post-COVID resurgence, veteran journalist, Ian McIntosh, recalls earlier times at sea.

Before I outline why Viking is the best cruise line I have sailed on in recent times - a little bit of background. The cruising industry in this part of the world started when the P&0 line ships that used to cart just about everyone to Europe along with a hold full of produce suddenly faced an uncertain future. Aircraft were finally making an impact despite the fact that they were incredibly expensive. Qantas started to snatch away the younger crowd by introducing what was called the Pacesetter fare - a cheap deal to London that included a few days in Hong Kong and Greece. In my case Mykonos. These were the days of DC8s and 707s. 

I recall as a young reporter being sent to Adelaide Airport because a South African Airways 707 had made a forced landing due to a technical fault. The captain took me onboard and I can still recall how amazed i was at the size of the plane. There were 150 passengers onboard - today’s A380 carries up to 526 by the way. New regulations to protect European farmers killed the frozen meat business from New Zealand and Australia. Increasingly operators like P&0 were wondering what to do with oil guzzling ships like Iberia, Arcadia, Himalaya - Chusan. These were two class ships - carrying around 1000 passengers. I travelled on most of them on pacific cruises as part of my job as a travel writer - and what a ride it could be. Without a hold full of cargo they creaked and floated about like corks - and reared like a bucking horse in bad weather. These were the days when there were fold-up flaps on the tables in the dining room to stop plates sliding onto the floor. In really bad weather it was not unusual to be one of only a handful of passengers still standing in the dining room. 

P&O's Himalaya - once a common sight in Sydney Harbour (P&O postcard)

One after another these wonderful old girls were scrapped and a new era for cruising began. Probably the most significant new development was the building of eight R-class cruise ships from 1998 originally built for Renaissance Cruises. Following the bankruptcy of Renaissance in 2001, the eight ships were dispersed across the cruise industry. Now they have settled with four each at two up-market lines: Azamara (Azamara Journey, Azamara Quest, Azamara Pursuit and Azamara Onward (ex Pacific Princess); and Oceania (Regatta, Insignia, Nautica and Sirena). Each of the ships is approximately 30,000 gross tons and can accommodate 684 passengers at double occupancy. 

I have travelled on most of them and they are in remarkable condition given their age - just imagine if we were taking about an aircraft 26 years old. There have been major developments in other aspects of the cruise industry of course - particularly in the small yacht segment and in expedition cruising. Passengers today are offered increasingly sophisticated trips to remote destinations in the Arctic, North Pole, Svalbard, Greenland, and the shores of Antarctica. New ships are splashing into the water on a regular basis - including Royal Carribean’s monsters. 

Interior pool and spa area (supplied)

So just why is Viking Venus - the ship we are travelling on right now as we search for the fabled Northern Lights - the current number one in my book? Firstly the design. This ship was launched in May 2021 and the designers have taken all the elements of the R series ships to new heights. The staterooms are bigger - better equipped. You are not going to bang your elbows in the walk-in shower, the floor is heated, the mirrors are mist free. No chance of you getting jammed into a tiny corner what you head for the toilet either. There are no inside cabins in this ship which means there are more public areas where guest can sit, relax, read. 

World Cafe (supplied)

The World Cafe where most passengers enjoy breakfast and lunch is double the size of the R class facilities. There is always a table available and bundles of room. No having to shift you chair a bit to let someone through. No casino or kids either - this ship is for older adults looking for a completely relaxing upmarket holiday. I noticed on boarding how quiet and orderly everything is on this ship. Furnishings are so clean and new walking about reminds me of a joining a new hotel inspection. Finally the staff - extremely well trained, always polite.

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