Viking’s latest ocean liner Viking Orion has arrived in Asia, making her debut voyage from Bangkok to Hong Kong.
The move signals the start of an association with Asia for the fast-growing three-year-old brand, which already has a fleet of six mid-sized 930-passenger vessels proving immensely popular with US and UK passengers.
Australians, too, are taking to the ships, which belong to the same fleet as Viking River – one of the world’s biggest river operators in Europe, Asia and the Middle East.
Viking Orion started her Asian maiden itinerary at Bangkok’s Laem Chabang port on 23 September and cruised to Cambodia’s Sihanoukville, Vietnam’s Ho Chi Minh City, Danang, Ha Long Bay before heading to China’s Haikou island and ending her 15-day journey in Hong Kong on 7 October.
Orion was greeted with red balloons and a spectacular lion and bamboo dance at Haikou and there was a dramatic dragon dance welcome show in Hong Kong when the ship berthed at Ocean Terminal.
ASEAN Cruising was on board the Orion when she had more than 850 passengers and 460 crew from 39 countries. Over 670 guests came from the USA including several Asian families, followed by 60 Australians, 41 from the UK and 35 from Canada.
Many on the Orion were Viking newbies, attracted by the size and style of the six-strong fleet of Viking small ocean ships.
An Asian couple from New York is delighted with the ship’s food, décor and understated style. Originally from Thailand, they wanted to revisit some of the Asian countries they once frequented.
They particularly enjoyed a bit of adventure when they chose a motor-bike tour in Ha Long Bay and tasted the famous Hainanese chicken rice at a local restaurant in Haikou.
Viking’s brilliant compact design, “no kids, no casinos” mantra and philosophy of creating the thinking person’s cruise looks set to be a winner.
The 745-foot Orion is perfect for exploring and getting passengers closer to cities like Ho Chi Minh City and for parking in front of the main town in Ha Long Bay.
Each ship is identical in almost every aspect so passengers can feel at home right away.
Indeed, it was the proud boast of executive chef Edward Phillips that consistency in flavour across the fleet was a passion. Even the menus, apart from local dishes, are exactly the same.
Food is a high point. Manfredi’s – impishly named after one of rival luxury line Silversea’s owners – is one of the best Italian restaurants on the oceans. The steak was a sensation and the zabaglione was stunning, considering we were thousands of miles from its heritage.
The Chef’s Table served up a series of exclusive dishes including soft shell chilli crab made from a famous recipe by Singaporean restaurateur Cher Yam Tian. There was also a Chef’s Kitchen where you can go to local markets with Edward and then cook what you bought for lunch. At the World Café buffet you can try a spicy, stir-fried Szechuan beef with vegetables or a lamb madras curry with papadums.
The Scandinavian interiors are clean, light and modern without the glitz and flashy glamour of Las Vegas according to cruise director Nolan Dean.
Guests enjoy free wine at meals, free water, free laundry and a minibar with free soft drinks and snacks, replenished daily. There is no cover charge for specialty restaurants.
There are nooks and corners everywhere to hunker down with a good book or enjoy the free WiFi with your iPad.
Viking’s general manager, Marcel Gademan insists Viking is more “deluxe” than luxury.
“Viking brand is low-key. We allow guests to do what they want. We are very destination-oriented,” Mr Gademan said.
For more details contact vikingcruises.com.au.