Credit: Viking Cruises

A Viking voyage of discovery: Review of new cruise ship Viking Venus

Author: Jeannine Williamson

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Viking Venus marked a maritime milestone when she became the line’s first ship to successfully resume sailing on a series of Welcome Back cruises in the UK.

Viking Venus is a brand new ship on the cruising scene. World of Cruising headed onboard to find out all about it.

The red carpet stretches before me as I alight from the shuttle bus and stroll towards the gleaming Viking Venus. We’re hardly celebrities, my fellow guests and I, but there is palpable excitement in the air, and after so long on dry land, this feels like a fitting way to step back aboard.

‘Welcome madam,’ says a smiling crew member as she greets me in the atrium, her eyes twinkling behind her face mask. ‘We have missed you’.

Inside the lift, I spot some trolls – those little folk from Nordic mythology – peeping out from the shaft as we rise between decks, and it’s immediately clear this is no run-of-the-mill ship.

A few minutes later, with everything unpacked and stowed in my stateroom, I venture out on my balcony. Docked in Portsmouth, all I can see is a giant cargo ship bearing the name of a well-known banana brand. But we’ll soon be underway, and with a veranda for every cabin, a Viking voyage is always a cruise with a view.

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Viking Venus shares the classic lines of her five sister ships in the impressive fleet that followed the launch of Viking Star in 2015.

This latest addition was named in May by broadcaster Anne Diamond, and in a nod to the ship’s Scandinavian heritage a bottle of Norwegian aquavit – rather than Champagne – was broken across the hull for good luck.

I certainly feel fortunate to be here, on a voyage that also marks Viking’s return following a 14-month hiatus due to the pandemic. Ours is a six-night ‘England’s Scenic Shores’ itinerary, one of a series of ‘Welcome Back’ cruises that have proved hugely popular. So much so that, with Viking Venus heading to the Med for the rest of the season, two extra UK sailings have been added for twin sister Viking Star.

It’s natural to experience a few qualms on a first post-pandemic cruise, but I feel very safe knowing that Viking Cruises is the only cruise line to have onboard PCR testing laboratories. Each day all guests and crew take a non-invasive saliva test, while other measures include mask-wearing in public areas and daily temperature checks.

Viking Venus is beautiful to look at, with an airy, pared-down Scandi aesthetic. Credit: Viking Venus

Apart from that, life on board is delightfully normal. Having missed the pleasure of live music, I head to the Viking Bar in the atrium, where I listen to a classical string duo while works by Norwegian painter Edvard Munch – best-known for The Scream – appear on the video wall at the top of the wide staircase. Later, as Viking Venus noses out of Portsmouth, pianist Sofia serenades us on a gleaming Steinway.

That’s just one example of how Viking Venus and her sisters are different from those all-singing, all-dancing mega-ships. Here there is no casino, no blaring music on the pool deck, no intrusive announcements (aside from the captain’s noonday briefing), no in-your-face photographer and no under-18s. With a focus on destinations rather than fun and games at sea, it’s a recipe that appeals equally to seasoned cruisers and to first-timers who previously felt that cruising wasn’t for them.

Living up to her name, Viking Venus is beautiful to look at, with an airy, pared-down Scandi aesthetic that does away with cruising traditions such as a big reception desk. Instead, staff work from individual tables in different areas of the Living Room, making the guest experience much more personal.

Each day brings new discoveries. An ever-changing programme of scenic photographs lights up the video wall during the day, and if you look beneath the stairs you’ll see a paintbox-bright lichen garden.

There’s also a (strangely hypnotic) animated Bayeux Tapestry, eye-catching collections of contemporary glassware, all manner of maritime artefacts and model sailing ships in the Explorers’ Lounge, walls lined with artworks – plus a self-guided tour app for those who want to glean more – and hundreds of volumes to satisfy the most voracious bookworm.

Viking Cruises: There’s the ever-popular Manfredi’s Italian restaurant. Credit: Viking

Food options include two speciality restaurants, separate from the main dining room and the World Cafe, all available at no extra charge. The Chef’s Table features imaginative tasting menus, with an optional premium wine pairing selection.

On our cruise, this includes a novel take on British classics, with quail Scotch eggs, fish-and-chips, a gin-and-tonic palate cleanser, braised brisket, Yorkshire pudding and trifle. Every dish is exquisitely presented and served with panache.

Elsewhere, there’s the ever-popular Manfredi’s Italian restaurant, as well as Mamsen’s deli, which serves classic Norwegian dishes such as open sandwiches and waffles. Vegetarian and vegan options are plentiful and there’s also 24-hour room service at no extra cost.

Viking’s culinary excellence is difficult to resist, but in a token effort to offset the inevitable over-indulgence I head to the gym and try out the wonderful glass-sided infinity pool at the stern. Needless to say, more time is spent gazing out at the ship’s wake than swimming.

We might be sailing in home waters but, as the week progresses, our cruise is filled with all manner of surprises, both in terms of the places we visit and some totally unexpected experiences. In addition to included shore tours, Viking’s optional trips feature ‘privileged access’ and ‘special interest’ excursions.

These include a visit to Liverpool’s magnificent Knowsley Hall, with a personal welcome from its owner, Lord Derby, while in the Scillies we get a special tasting visit to the bijou St Martin’s vineyard. Most surprising of all, however, is our visit to Falmouth which finds me strolling through verdant bushes of Camellia sinensis before drinking a refreshing all-British cuppa at Tregothnan, Britain’s first tea plantation.

After our final stop in Portland, Viking Venus returns to our starting point at Portsmouth. I note that the banana boat hasn’t moved – but in the meantime, we’ve been on a thoroughly wonderful Viking voyage of discovery.

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Viking's Seven-night ‘Western Mediterranean Escape’ cruise aboard Viking Venus, from Valletta to Barcelona, departing 12 October 2021, from £1,390.

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