Truth in advertising: Modern day Viking takes back the seas

Photos courtesy of Viking Cruises The ship’s christening in 2013 was a spectacular event.

Photo courtesy of Viking Cruises
The ship’s christening in 2013 was a spectacular event.

Victoria Hofmo
Brooklyn, N.Y.

Most of us try our best to avoid commercials while watching television: whether we purchase a DVR to eliminate the advertisements or do it the old fashioned way, by heading to the kitchen for a quick snack. However, I am delighted—nay, enthralled by—the Viking Cruises commercials. I don’t mind when they precede Mr. Selfridge on PBS, sharing this coveted airtime with the likes of Ralph Lauren. I just become hypnotized by the calming voice inviting me along for the ride, as I imagine myself sailing down the sparkling river.

Then, I began receiving email ads from VC with informative videos. It’s through these short films that I learned the connection between Penny Loafers/Wegians and Norway. Others arrived. Their marketing was brilliant, so much so that there were several I wanted to savor at a time of the day when I had a few quiet minutes. I started planning when to watch them. The ones I especially love are those in which the nice blonde lady, Karine, invites you to join her while you check out the local culture with behind-the-scenes experiences not found with your average tour guide: Fado Music of Portugal in a local pub, truffle hunting, cooking Czech Duck with a Prague chef, and having dinner at an Uglich family’s home. Here my favorite travel magazines and books come to life.

Last Veterans Day Viking Cruises provided a history lesson, with a moving photo of the landing at Normandy and seven videos related to WWII. Another time they provided a little-known history lesson in a short film, “Danish Heroes: Helping the Jews Flee the Nazis.” In fact, their website has an entire section dedicated to WWII.

This past April, VC sent an email promoting PBS’s long-anticipated Wolf Hall, with sneak previews. The company’s only presence was a tiny scroll-shaped Viking ship logo in the right-hand corner. A few weeks ago, I received information that hit closer to home: a Cultural Calendar of Manhattan’s summer events.

So I became curious to learn more about the company that was producing such wonderful visual delights and educational tidbits and revealing local culture from around the globe. And did Viking Cruises actually have a Norwegian connection?

Viking Cruises was established by Norwegian Torstein Hagan in 1997 and is owned by a Norwegian and Dutch consortium. They began by offering Russian river cruises with Russian ships they had purchased. They began to grow by purchasing more ships and adding other European river cruises. In 2000 they expanded into the U.S. market, establishing their headquarters in L.A. Today they are the largest river cruise line in the world and offer trips as far away as Asia, where you can sail down the Mekong or Yangtze Rivers.

In May 2013, VC announced their intention to add small ship ocean cruises to their itinerary. This time they were building a ship especially for this endeavor, The Viking Star. It was christened in a ceremony held on May 17 (Norwegian Constitution Day) this year. At 9:00 p.m. Viking Cruises began the ceremony along Bergen’s magnificent harbor, as thousands welcomed the ship with fireworks, festivities, and frivolities.

It began with a concert, followed by a film, “a tribute to the spirit of Norway’s legendary explorers…” including Leif Erikson and Roald Amundsen, “and highlighting the vessels that carved out and shaped nautical history in Norway…” Lastly, Trude Drevland, the Mayor of Bergen, who was named the godmother of the Viking Star hit the button that released the champagne bottle that christened the ship. Gene Sloan of USA Today called Viking Star “the most significant new cruise ship of the year,” and said, “It marks an era of a new age in ocean cruising,” with only 930 guests.

Photo courtesy of Viking Cruises The Viking Star’s infinity pool on it’s “Aquavit Deck.”

Photo courtesy of Viking Cruises
The Viking Star’s infinity pool on it’s “Aquavit Deck.”

Scandinavian in design, nature surrounds you, as the sea becomes your walls and light pours fourth, including a retractable poolside megadome. There is not only a beautifully designed sauna, but also a snow grotto, where snowflakes gently fall, brushing your skin. The branches of a Norwegian forest envelop you and make you pause in awe. The outdoor infinity pool has a crystal clear wall that allows you to imagine you are actually swimming in the ocean.

The company is also interested in innovative maritime engineering, which dominates this ship. Viking Cruises had sent an informational video about the ship’s construction months before it was launched. The technology and industrial design is fascinating. It was made to be green, beginning with the shape of the bow and aft. Thin like a pencil, it glides over the water. Underneath, the rudder and propeller system are almost touching, a cutting-edge design by Rolls Royce that promotes efficiency. The water goes around the rudder differently, saving 3-5% in fuel. Engines on this ship can work in tandem or not and when unnecessary they turn off. Cooling water for the engines comes from seawater. The heat from this is used in the cabins. When the water goes back over the sides it is about the same temperature as the ocean. It is an amazing video to watch, especially for engineer dummies like me:

It only makes sense that a cruise line operating in an innovative manner has marketing to match. You can see the niche they are aiming for in their website. “Viking Cruises offers destination-centric river and ocean cruising designed for experienced travelers with an interest in geography, culture, and history.” You can even customize your trip. There is no cookie cutter, follow the leader with the umbrella tour here. They even send you a recommended reading list.

VC is targeting a sophisticated traveler, retired or close to (as evidenced in their images of vibrant grown-up people on board)—targeting those Americans with the most disposable income. Not necessarily the richest, but rather those who worked for their money and search for “value”—a catch word they use in their literature.

VC’s focus on quality, good design, and intimacy reminds me of what I heard about the Norwegian American Line. People who took the NAL reminisced about how it had been their favorite ships to sail, not for their grandeur, but for their craftsmanship and subtle understatement. Two other sister ships to Viking Star are in the works: Viking Sea and Viking Sky. Perhaps a new Norwegian American Line is being created.

At a time when Norwegian sailors are few, when Norwegian ships are built under other flags to avoid taxes, it is wonderful that this company is reclaiming Norway’s rich maritime history. They reclaimed their Viking heritage when they began sailing longships down European rivers and beyond. And now they are in the vanguard of ship construction and exploration for travelers.

We usually bemoan the lack of truth in advertising. However, in this case Viking Cruises looks like the real deal, from a time when your word and a handshake sufficed. There is no bait and switch. A skål to Viking Cruise line for putting Norway’s ship-building and cruising in comfort prowess back on the map.

This article originally appeared in the June 26, 2015, issue of the Norwegian American Weekly.

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The Norwegian American is North America's oldest and only Norwegian newspaper, published since May 17, 1889.