As a fanatical devotee of Viking river cruising, I was admittedly anxious when I booked passage on the ocean-sailing Viking Star. However, an itinerary called the "Viking Homelands" both enchanted and piqued my curiosity, proving to be the tipping point for giving it a try. After all, with 15 days in eight countries and 11 ports, I knew I would satiate my quest to discover more of my Viking heritage.
Don't think that just because I made reservations for the Viking Star, it minimized my concerns, notably: I don't like big ships and get motion sickness when the going gets rough. Also, it's easier to meet and make friends with fellow passengers when the numbers are smaller. Furthermore, I didn't know if the land excursions would match my river-cruising experiences.
The Viking Star hosts only 930 guests, a relief to know it's actually a "small" big ship. Built in 2015, the award-winning ship features subtly coloured modern Scandinavian décor with Nordic references throughout the ship. (Think Viking artifacts, Munch moments, lichen gardens and more). One of my favourites was the ship-wide library corners for a slice of solitude.
Standout features on the Viking Star include a grand staircase and three-deck atrium define with sophisticated elegance and an indoor/outdoor Winter garden that beckons guests to enjoy a sumptuous afternoon tea accompanied by more than ample scones, sandwiches, and macarons. The LivNordic Spa and Wellness Centre delivers hot and cold wellness treatments and is the first to offer a "snow grotto" at sea. A favourite with many is the expansive Explorer's Lounge with bird's-eye views of the horizon and delicious fare at Mamsen's — where Norwegian waffles with mixed berries, sour cream, blueberry jam and Norwegian brown goat cheese rule the day.
I shared a deluxe veranda suite with my cruising friend Alana, a spacious room of 270 sq. ft. that included a mini-bar with soft drinks, water and snacks that were replenished daily; luxury robes, slippers and toiletries; with movies-on-demand, Wi-Fi, and 24-hour room service which proved to be a real bonus for breakfast due to our early-morning land excursions. Plus, our cabin entitled us to priority embarkation and stateroom access, as well as a priority reservation at each specialty restaurant.
Homeland of the Vikings
Our journey sailed through the ice-carved Norwegian fjords and the Baltic Sea. From historic Bryggen wharf in Bergen, Norway and Nyhavn in Copenhagen where Danish fairy tale writer Hans Christian Anderson penned many of his tales to charming historic city centers in Tallinn and Gda´nsk, our journey was laden with Viking haunts, legacy and lore. Other land excursions included Alborg, Denmark, which was founded by the Vikings in late 900s; Berlin, Germany; Helsinki, Finland; St. Petersburg, Russia; and Stockholm, Sweden.
I quickly developed a liking for what turned out to be my favourite Norwegian (hint: he looked a bit like a troll) and sobered to the heartache of "Checkpoint Charlie" and remnants of the Berlin Wall in the former East Germany. St. Petersburg, Russia enchanted with ballet, palaces, and maritime monuments while I paid tribute to Finland's most famous composer at the Sibelius Monument in Helsinki. Gda´nsk, Poland was a surprising favourite of mine, and like a phoenix rising from the ashes, the town has rebuilt in medieval baroque and gothic architectural-style with statues and etched wall-flourishes everywhere.