New York state of mind onboard new ship Viking Saturn

If you’re looking for culture, fun and plenty of pinch-me moments, head to the Big Apple on new ship Viking Saturn

New York captured my heart a long time ago, and decades later it still has the power to thrill with every towering skyscraper, steamy diner and imposing museum.

But while my younger self went shopping, made a pilgrimage to the Magnolia Bakery in the West Village and headed to speakeasy bars at 4am, these days I crave a more cultural visit.

Judging by the queue (sorry, line) outside the Metropolitan Museum of Art, it seems I’m not the only one.

But there’s no waiting for me, as together with my fellow travellers I’m whisked away from the crowds to meet our expert guide who’s there to show us some of the museum’s most celebrated exhibits, including Jackson Pollock’s Autumn Rhythm and Rodin’s powerful statue The Burghers of Calais.

Viking is passionate about promoting the arts, and our hugely enjoyable visit to the Met is just one of the complimentary excursions offered on many of the line’s itineraries.

Access like this feels precious, and when you’re only stopping off at a port for a day, it’s a fantastic way to enjoy a destination’s cultural treasures.

Not surprisingly, New York is one of Viking’s most popular destinations, so it’s fitting that they’ve chosen to launch their tenth ocean ship, Viking Saturn, against the glittering backdrop of the City that Never Sleeps

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Viking Saturn's Christening

With only 400 guests on board for the gala night, there’s plenty of space to enjoy the ship – and the skyline.

Viking is so confident in the design of its quietly luxurious ships that they all follow the same template, with cool Scandinavian interiors in restful blue and cream, roomy cabins and great restaurants – including the celebrated Manfredi’s (home of the best steak I have ever eaten at sea) and The Chef ’s Table, which offers the chance to try out new cuisines from around the world.

As 6pm approaches, you can feel the buzz on board as the stage is set for Saturn’s christening. Resplendent in a bright blue dress, ship’s godmother Ann Ziff – chair of New York’s Metropolitan Opera – welcomes Saturn to the world.

With a towering bearded Viking and the line’s chairman, Torstein Hagen, beside her, she cracks a bottle of traditional Norwegian aquavit against the bow, to rapturous applause.

But wait, there’s more to come. As the sun sets and the city lights up, three of the Metropolitan Opera’s most celebrated singers step on to a temporary stage on the pool deck and serenade the audience with some classics from La Traviata and La Bohème, as well as a rousing rendition of New York, New York to draw the evening to a close.

There’s such an air of confidence to the evening that I’m not surprised to hear about Viking’s ambitious plans, including 14 more river ships by 2026 and 10 new ocean ships by 2030 (though whether they can top this spectacular christening is another question).

Strawberry Fields in Central Park. Credit: Shutterstock

Exploring New York

The following day, Hardy, our chatty tour guide, is waiting on the quayside to whisk us around the city in a minibus.

An ex-soap actor who has lived a couple of blocks from Times Square ‘forever’, he’s the perfect New York guide. His knowledge of the city is both historical and gossipy, and (like most New Yorkers) he walks pretty fast, which is good because we’ve got a lot to see and do on this tour.

First stop is Strawberry Fields in Central Park, a 3-acre tribute to John Lennon, who was gunned down at the age of 40 nearby. It’s a peaceful spot to reflect on the great songwriter and enjoy some nature in this urban jungle.

Top of the Rock (that’s the Rockefeller Center to us Brits) is a total contrast, with its 360-degree views of the city from 259 metres up. You can practically hear the Instagram likes pinging our way as we share the incredible views.

But it’s the art deco delights of Grand Central station that I love the most. With its soaring main concourse and black-and-gold details, this has to be the world’s most beautiful transport hub.

We stop for lunch at the historic Oyster Bar, where local office workers and tourists alike slurp down bowls of clam chowder. It feels like being in a Woody Allen movie, with Hardy as the lead character.

9/11 Memorial’s twin pools. Credit: Shutterstock

Our final ride takes us to the 9/11 Memorial’s twin pools, built on the site of the World Trade Center, which pay tribute to the 2,977 people killed in the terror attacks of September 2001.

It’s a sombre site, where fresh white roses are placed every year for the birthdays of those who died, but it’s also a powerful reminder of how precious our lives are.

As Hardy says goodbye after a great day touring the city, we have one last question for him. Should we visit the newly built Hudson Yards, a 28-acre site that boasts shops, architectural gems and the frankly terrifying Edge observation platform? For once, he looks stumped, admitting that he’s yet to give it a try.

Well, there’s only one thing for it – we’ll have to take a look for ourselves. Rather than hail one of New York’s famous yellow cabs, we choose the quicker and easier option of the subway, and it turns out Hudson Yards is well worth a visit.

With its wacky architectural centrepiece (a sort of giant pine cone, by British designer Thomas Heatherwick), plus great shops and a fine view of the Hudson River, it’s a popular new neighbourhood, full of fun things to do.

Though one look at The Edge brings on wobbly legs and I decide to remain on the ground.

The energy in New York is electrifying, whether you’re enjoying an action- packed Viking excursion or prefer to see the city at your own pace.

But after a long day’s sightseeing you need somewhere good to come home to. While my younger self slept on friends’ floors, this time I enjoyed all the comfort and convenience of Viking Saturn. I know which I prefer.

Get onboard

14-night ‘Iconic Iceland, Greenland & Canada’ cruise aboard Viking Mars, from Reykjavik to New York via Westman Islands, Seydisfjordur, Akureyri & Isafjordur (Iceland), Nanortalik & Qaqortoq (Greenland) and L’Anse aux Meadows & Halifax (Canada), departing 8 June 2024, from £5,740. A two night post-cruise stay in New York is also available from £599.

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About Vicky Mayer

Vicky began her career working on young women’s magazines before moving on to TV and entertainment titles. Her passion, though, has always been travel, so as Editor of World of Cruising, she combines her love of magazines with the chance to shout about cruise holidays around the world.