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Cruise News: Viking Takes to the Seas

Plus: Gauguin offers shipboard credits, and Oceania takes you inside the Caribbean kitchen.

Viking Ocean Cruises is coming to the Americas in autumn 2016 with itineraries in Canada/New England, along the Eastern Seaboard, and in the Caribbean. This new line, an offshoot of the well-known Viking River Cruises, has been getting glowing reviews in Europe where its midsize Viking Star began sailing in the spring.

The 930-passenger ship brings a new style of cruising that eschews typical shipboard games and entertainment (there’s no casino) in favor of enrichment and a destination focus. Many travelers read or converse in the public areas, and lectures by guest experts and TED Talks aired in the cinema are often packed. The cruise fare includes an excursion at every stop, and the ship lingers longer than most in ports.

Viking Star has a casual, residential ambience. The atrium is called The Living Room, and it’s laid out with intimate sofa groupings, armchairs, quiet spaces, and social spaces. Books to borrow can be found around the ship, including in the gorgeous, glass-topped Wintergarden, with its Frank Gehry Cross Check chairs and comfy chaise lounges facing the sea.

The overall décor is modern Scandinavian, with clean lines and details in stone, wood, wool, leather, metal, and glass. The bathroom floors are heated. The spa has a snow grotto. Skins drape sofas in the Explorers’ Lounge, with its realistic-looking faux fireplace and a library dedicated to Nordic heroes such as Thor Heyerdahl. A Scandinavian deli serves homemade waffles and brown Norwegian goat cheese, fresh berries, and pastries at breakfast, smørbrød (open-faced sandwiches) during the day and, at night, charcuterie.

Appropriate for its name and Norwegian heritage, Viking Star will make its first landfall in the Americas at L’Anse aux Meadows, Newfoundland, where Viking explorer Leif Eriksson established the earliest known European settlement in the New World. The ship will reposition from Bergen, Norway, on a Viking-themed crossing to Montréal, Québec. Besides Newfoundland, the 15-day cruise includes the Shetland and Faroe Islands, Canada’s Saguenay region, and Québec City.

From Montréal, Viking Star will sail to New York on a 13-day cruise that includes Québec City, Prince Edward Island, Halifax in Nova Scotia, an overnight in Boston, and a rare crossing of the Cape Cod Canal. From New York, Viking Star will skirt the Eastern Seaboard en route to the Caribbean. This 15-day cruise visits Newport, Rhode Island; Baltimore, Maryland; Norfolk, Virginia; Fort Lauderdale, Florida (overnight); the Turks and Caicos, Antigua, and St. Thomas, before arriving at San Juan, Puerto Rico.

San Juan will be Viking Star's base for its 2016/17 winter season of 11-day Caribbean cruises to Tortola, Antigua, St. Lucia, Barbados, Guadeloupe, St. Kitts, St. Maarten, and St. Thomas.

Viking Ocean Cruises is introducing its new Americas itineraries with two-for-one pricing. Fares for the 11-day Caribbean cruises, for example, start at $2,999 per person. Along with the excursion in every port, fares cover the alternative dining (and deli snacks), wine, beer, and soft drinks with lunch and dinner service, and Wi-Fi.

SHIPBOARD CREDITS IN THE SOUTH SEAS

Paul Gauguin Cruises unwrapped a holiday season bonus for voyages in 2016. The line is offering a $500 to $1,000 shipboard credit for January through June 2016 sailings aboard Paul Gauguin in Tahiti, French Polynesia, and the South Pacific when reservations are made by Dec. 31. The credit can be used for such purchases as shore excursions (a motu picnic, lagoon snorkeling, SCUBA diving) or spa treatments (monoi oil or volcanic stone massages, a black sand body scrub). The credit varies by itinerary. For example, it is $500 per stateroom on seven-night Tahiti & the Society Islands voyages and $750 for 10-night Society Islands & Tuamotus sailings.

CRUISING THE CUISINE OF THE CARIBBEAN

Cuban family recipes, patio grilling, and classic brunch dishes are among the new cooking classes available aboard Oceania CruisesRiviera during its Caribbean season starting in December 2016. Plus, new Culinary Discovery Tours include a farm-and-ocean-to-table experience in Honduras, a market tour and Mayan cooking class in Cozumel, and a Puerto Rico gourmet excursion. Riviera sports a sophisticated Culinary Center, where students work at well-equipped individual cooking stations. The new “Cuban Family Table” course will cover pastries, stews, meats, and desserts, plus how to mix a perfect mojito. Among the tours, “Gourmet San Juan,” in the artsy Santurce district, has rising culinary star José Santaella whipping up a lunch of local dishes, followed by a market visit, a chocolate-making demonstration and tasting, and a coffee-brewing seminar.

CANAL PARTY AFTER DARK

During its new nighttime transits of the Panama Canal, Windstar Cruises will make over its upper deck into a fiesta, with local drinks, music, decorations, and food. As the ship approaches the first locks in the early evening, a Panama Canal authority will come aboard to narrate the 40-mile transit. Passengers will be invited to stroll the deck and sip local beverages, beers, and cocktails from a mobile drink cart while regional music plays. After dark, with the deck transformed, passengers dine on Panamanian fare curated by Windstar executive chef Michael Sabourin, and lights illuminate the inner workings of the waterway during the nighttime passage.

Anne Kalosh doesn't count the cruises she's taken, though there have been hundreds—including five years as a shipboard newspaper editor, sailing the world. She loves the experiences sea travel offers. Her byline has appeared in many major publications, and she's on top of the latest cruise developments as the long-time U.S. editor for Seatrade-Cruise.com and Seatrade Cruise Review.