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Viking Sea approaches Greenwich with fanfare.

British House and Garden  calls it “Nouveau Nordic” in a June 2016 article.    They are talking about Viking Cruises’ onboard design.  They could just as well be talking about Viking Cruises newest ocean cruising experiences.    “The Viking Way” of immersing their travelers in the destinations was never more evident than at the christening of their second ocean going ship, the Viking Sea,  at Greenwich, London on May 5, 2016.

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Sailing up the Thames with the water cannons welcoming, “Rule Britannia” playing and red shirted sailors hanging on the masts of the Cutty Sark waving at us was my top travel experience of 2016.  But that was just the welcome.

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Sailors on the mast of the Cutty Sark welcome Viking Sea to Greenwich.

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Viking Sea and the London Skyline.  Right at home.

I was invited to the christening by Karine Hagen, Senior Vice President of Viking and my friend for the past 15 years.  We met when she came to my office at the Smithsonian with a Viking itinerary for a winter visit to St. Petersburg.  It was, and still is, the most in depth, insider access, VIP doors-opening itinerary I had ever seen.  I realized that this woman, whose father had started a popular river cruise line, understood that travelers wish to experience a destination on a level few others understood and fewer executed.

You know Karine by the Viking videos that were shown before and after Downton Abbey where she is, appropriately, opening doors in China, Budapest, Russia, Portugal and beyond.  Marketing masterpieces that coupled with the Masterpiece Theater sponsorship, many claim propelled Viking and river cruising to levels no one dreamed possible.

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Guests on the Viking Sea

Most appropriately, Karine was chosen as the godmother of Viking Cruises’ Viking Sea.  She was joined by her golden labrador, Finse the world’s first goddog of a ship.  His mother Bella came to watch from Highclere Castle with her owner Lady Carnarvon.  Finse also has his own series of books about traveling the world.  Assisting them both was Karine’s lovely goddaughter Maya Asimus Minnbergh.

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Photo credit: Viking Cruises

The gala dinner prior to the ceremony was not a list of all the world’s most expensive dishes as you often see at such events.   Delicious poached salmon, boiled potatoes and cucumber salad was served.   This is owner Tor Hagen’s favorite meal and one that continued the nordic theme perfectly.  And unlike many caviar, lobster, gold tinged dessert feasts, this one was delicious.

Stein Olav Henrichsen, Director of Oslo’s Munch Museum, launched a show of Edvard Munch images on the Atrium screen onboard.  Norway’s leading soprano, Sissel Kyrkjebo sang and Norway’s national costume was the dress code for the evening.  Viking is not shy about it’s heritage, in design, food, events and every small touch onboard.   And it is this national pride, coupled with the seafaring, Viking explorer past, that gives an entire cruise line, river and ocean, a resounding and very luxurious, yes luxurious, identity.  They are Viking and need no branding expert to analyze it.  It is refreshing.

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A Norwegian Forest….

How  would they impress their guests at the actual christening after the sailing up the Thames with great fanfare this morning?  The  picture below says it all.

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Photo Credit: Viking Cruises

Godmother Karine Hagen smiles as Maya sits on the broad shoulders of Viking Geir.  The axe is a  replica of a Viking axe found in the Thames. The chopping block for the axe was wood from the woodlands at Highclere Castle, aka Downtown Abbey, carried to the ship by Karine (40kg of wood).

And for the final touch?  Champagne was not broken to christen this nordic lady.  Aquavit, a flavored spirit of Norway, and Karine’s grandmother’s favorite drink was used.  Brilliantly branded.  So much so that future Christal champagne bottles breaking on bows will seem rather ordinary.   After all, it is 2016 and luxury is all about the experience and that experience is enhanced, infused and unapologetically branded with a most pleasing “Nouveau Nordic” sensibility…in all things.

Well done Vikings. Well done.  I am ready to go forth and explore the oceans and waterways of the world.  You are redefining luxury and it matches my definition of travel excellence.

20160504_153824Please note:  I know this review is glowing, but it is not sponsored or requested.  I was an invited guest as a friend of Karine Hagen. I have written it 7 months after the christening because it remains the most “luxurious” travel I have done in 2016 and I was very impressed.  I will choose to sail on Viking again and again, and that is my strongest endorsement. 

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