20/05/2015

Just back from Viking Star: Hits & misses

Viking Star Atrium

After putting river cruising firmly on the map, Viking Cruises launched a new effort last month: Its own ocean cruise line. The first new cruise line in over a decade, Viking Ocean Cruises also is the first line to launch with a brand-new, custom-designed and -built ship since Disney introduced Magic in the late 1990s.

The 930-passenger Viking Star, which underwent a series of shakedown cruises leading up to its christening in Bergen on May 17, is a ship that redefines affordable luxury in the marketplace. It’s luxuriously and sumptuously decorated, its crew is service oriented and well trained, and itineraries, which rarely repeat a port, are a perfect blend of destinations marquee and offbeat. Venues range from the superb Manfredi’s Italian restaurant to a best-in-cruise spa. There’s also its elegant sun deck, the kootchy-kootchy Torshavn nightclub, and its efficiently styled and larger-than-average staterooms (all of which come with balconies), among others.

Ultimately, however, what really distinguishes this new line — and its debut ship — is this: Viking has effectively transferred much of what really works for river cruising — a more value-added, inclusive experience — and brought it to the high seas. This means that passengers onboard Viking Star enjoy complimentary wine and beer with meals, free Wi-Fi, at least one free shore excursion in every port of call, where — and this is another standout of Viking’s Ocean product — immersive experiences are the focus.

And that’s what’s most interesting about cruising’s newest line: It feels like luxury, with a more moderate price tag. It’s the industry’s best oceangoing bang-for-the-buck cruise experience we’ve experienced.

With that in mind, here are our hits and very few misses.

Hits

Decor

Viking Star Explorer Lounge

Most passengers we’ve met onboard our two sailings agree that Viking Star is a beautiful ship. The style is eclectic Danish modern — very sleek and contemporary, but with vibrant colors, and lots of lovely touches. Intriguing collections of books dot bookshelves in public rooms. Shelves are also furnished with lovely art pieces (in particular, we love the gorgeous glass vases scattered throughout), antique artifacts, such as the ship models in the Explorer’s Lounge, and furniture throughout that’s both handsome and comfortable.

Read on for more

19/05/2015

Member review of the week: A taste of Britannia

P&O Cruises’ newest ship Britannia has been getting some fairly mixed reviews from Cruise Critic members since its launch in March.

However, for member Biscay Bay, the pluses far outweighed the minuses and she gave it a four star review.

Read on to find out more.

18/05/2015

Just Back From Windstar Cruises’ Star Breeze: Hits & Misses

wine on a cruise ship

Taking three ships, all designed and built in the 1980s, from one cruise line to another is a challenging task — as small ship cruise line Windstar discovered. Despite an ambitious $2 million plan to upgrade Star Pride, one of three 212-passenger Seabourn ships, the effort wasn’t perhaps ambitious enough, leading to poor reviews when the line relaunched the vessel last year.

Now on its second time around with Star Breeze (and Star Legend, which arrives in May), Windstar got a lot more right. First, it upped the ante on the refurbishment budget to almost $9 million. And one badly designed feature — the ships’ sun decks, which felt carved up, choppy and unwelcoming — has been redesigned, to magnificent effect. And finally, Star Pride’s time in service provided Windstar executives with plenty of feedback; the line has relied strongly on insights from its passengers when making improvements.

So now that we’re off the ship, here are our hits and misses.

Read on for more

15/05/2015

Hot on the Forums: Is it better to be overdressed or underdressed onboard?

Formal couple  (photo: Everett Collection/Shutterstock)

According to Mark Twain “clothes maketh man,” and there’s nothing like the topic of dress codes to get cruisers hot under the sartorial collar. Most times, the debate concerns passengers who shun suggested formal night attire, donning T-shirts and flip-flops instead of tuxedos and fancy shoes.

Style police aside, we’ve all had moments when we’ve dithered in front of the closet. I’ve always been stumped by the ambiguous ‘smart casual,’ choosing to err on the smarter side of the spectrum — and then wondering if the resulting outfit will be over the top. And of course, you never know if you’re heading for a potential wardrobe malfunction until you get there.

How dressed is too dressed is the exact topic launched on the Cruise Critic forums by Eglesbrech on the Cunard board.

Read on to find out more!

13/05/2015

Just Back From….Celebrity Eclipse: What’s new onboard

 

Gastrobar: 45 different craft beers on offer

 

Built in 2010, Celebrity’s S-class ships are by no means “old.” But Celebrity is not a line to stand still, and has been updating its popular Solstice-class ships with new bars and new restaurants.

We got onboard Celebrity Eclipse last week, just after an eight-day drydock. Here’s what’s changed on the Southampton-based ship.

Read on to find out more.

12/05/2015

Member review of the week: A big “WOW”

Well the first reviews of Anthem of the Seas – Royal Caribbean’s newest megaship – are in, and the general consensus is: Wow.

Frequent cruiser and this week’s reviewer Jb-lhr gave the cruise that he (she?) took this month a resounding five star rating.

Jb-lhr, who has been on almost 40 cruises, began this three-day “taster cruise” in Southampton and, at the end of the voyage, seemed extremely impressed – saying that they definitely planned to be back onboard the Anthem of the Seas.

Read on to find out more.

11/05/2015

We try out Celebrity Cruises’ Suite Class (and we like it)

Luminae Restaurant, Celebrity Eclipse

More and more mainstream cruise lines are adding separate areas for their highest-paying passengers.

Think executive floors on hotels or premium cabins on aeroplanes, with lounges, separate dining areas and personalized service — only at sea. MSC Cruises has the Yacht Club, Norwegian Cruise Line has The Haven, and Cunard has long had Grills Class. Just last week Royal Caribbean CEO Michael Bayley said it’s likely Suite Class will roll out across the Royal fleet.

Celebrity Cruises’ entry into the market is its Suite Class, launched this year. Although the only structural difference suite passengers will notice is a brand-new restaurant, Luminae, high rollers on Celebrity ships now receive priority embarkation, premium drinks, dining across specialty restaurants, private minibar, exclusive access to Michael’s Club and your own personal butler, among other perks.

Do these perks smack of “elitism?” Arguably, yes. On a ship such as Celebrity Eclipse, where we sampled the service, just 132 people — out of a total of 2,852 — get to experience all of this. But is there any difference between traveling in Suite Class and First Class on planes? (Also, the trend isn’t going away: Celebrity President & CEO Lisa Lutoff-Perlo has said the line’s new Edge Class of ships, debuting in 2018, will continue Suite Class.)

We got onboard to find out for ourselves. Here’s what living the “suite life” is like on Celebrity.

Read on to find out more.

08/05/2015

Hot on the Forums: Would you ask a butler to unpack your clothes?

Regent Seven Seas butler service

For most of us any day-to-day experience of butlers is what we’ve watched on TV – Jeeves, Mr Carson from “Downton Abbey”, Mr Hudson in “Upstairs, Downstairs” and Lady Penelope’s Parker (“You rang, m’lady?”).

However, these days butlers aren’t just confined to stately homes, and you’re just as likely to encounter a butler on an ocean or river cruise if you splash out on a suite. Which leads to a question in the forums from Cruise Critic member LouisV – is it OK to ask your butler to unpack?

“For those of you who have been fortunate enough to have butler service on your cruise, do you have your butler unpack your luggage or not? We’ve splurged for a penthouse on our upcoming September cruise and I’m trying to decide…I wouldn’t want to be seen as a demanding person. It would just be such a novelty for us!”

(For guidance, here’s Cruise Critic’s take on what cruise ship butlers will do for you).

We all know butlers are the epitome of discretion, but if you’re not to the manor born, do you relish the idea of someone sorting out your clothes?

Read on for more

07/05/2015

What new speciality cuisine do you want on your next cruise?

middle eastern spread

Cruise lines spend countless hours making sure their passengers have the best cruise vacation possible. But sometimes cruisers want more.

This week, an interesting topic came up in our forums courtesy of Cruise Critic member bangzoom6877: What speciality restaurant venue would you like to see onboard?

Bangzoom6877’s suggestions for new cuisine on Norwegian Cruise Line included Belgian – “pots of mussels, Belgian beer, waffles for dessert” – German (sauerbraten, various schnitzels, German sausages, apple strudel, German beer), and Greek (moussaka, souvlaki, spinach pie, baklava, Greek wine and ouzo).

Other members quickly chimed in.

More wishlists and dream menus.

06/05/2015

Live from Windstar Star Breeze: First Impressions

Windstar Star Breeze (photo: Carolyn Spencer Brown)

When Windstar Cruises officially welcomes Star Breeze, its new motor yacht to the fleet later today, it’ll represent a new chapter in history for the storied ship. Until a few weeks ago, the vessel had sailed as Seabourn Spirit.

It’s also a continuation of a new chapter for Windstar. The small-ship cruise line — best known for its trio of sailing vessels — made headlines last year when it announced plans to double its fleet. It is achieving that goal with the acquisition of Seabourn’s smaller trio of ships, the nearly identical 212-passenger Pride, Spirit and Legend. After a $2.5 million renovation last year, Windstar introduced Star Pride.

But Star Pride hasn’t fully won over small ship fans (the ship’s approval rating by Cruise Critic members is about 55 percent). Windstar executives told Cruise Critic that the experience taught them more investment would be needed before introducing the other two ships. Star Breeze (the Spirit moniker is, alas, already in use by another Windstar vessel) launches today and Star Legend follows in a few weeks.

Our first impressions onboard in Nice: The line has kept its word with some major new improvements. Here are the five key things to know about Star Breeze.

Big money. Having turned on the financial spigot, Windstar has spent almost $9 million to revamp Star Breeze (and Star Legend, just now beginning its refurbishment, will get an equal spend). That’s over $6 million more than it splashed out on Star Pride (which will get more enhancements next year when it goes back into dry dock).

Read on for more.