Viking's thinking-person's cruise includes a trip to space, writes Steve McKenna.
A trip into space is certainly not the normal cruise ship shore excursion. But on Viking Jupiter and her twin sister, Orion, that's exactly what you get. Each vessel is uniquely fitted with a high-tech planetarium-theatre, which can transport guests to distant lands and galaxies.
Seating up to 26 people, you enter on the upper level of the two-deck, forward-facing Explorers' Lounge, which is decorated with antique globes, displays of star constellations and a golden telescope.
On my cruise, three panoramic films are beamed onto the dome's ceiling screen. There's Experience the Aurora, a 2D film that follows a team of photographers to the Arctic Circle as they track down the mystical Northern Lights in temperatures of -50°C.
For the other films, Explore and Hidden Universe, we wear 3D glasses and are drawn in by the mesmerising visuals and tales of space exploration, faraway stars and planets, and the potential for humans to settle on Mars.
Cruise ships are increasingly diverse, catering for a wide array of passengers. You have family-friendly vessels with giant, twisting waterslides and fun-packed activity programs. Then you have another type of cruise ship: smaller, more intimate and with a greater onus on culture, wellness and cuisine. Viking Jupiter is a fine example of that.
I've embarked Jupiter in Barcelona for a 15-day voyage that'll take us from the Mediterranean to Scandinavia, a region whose influence infuses Viking vessels, from the stylish, yet understated furnishings, featuring materials such as Swedish limestone, birch and juniper wood, to the sleek spa and its Nordic-style sauna bathing. Founded in 1997 by Norwegian Torstein Hagen, Viking initially specialised in river cruises before branching out into the ocean in 2015. Jupiter is the latest in a six-strong fleet of more-or-less identical 930-passenger vessels that sail the seven seas - with 11 more of these adults-only ships planned over the next decade.
The staterooms and suites are chic and spacious, all boasting a private veranda (we're staying in a Deluxe Veranda cabin, one of six categories, the swankiest being the 135-square-metre Owner's Suite). Free wi-fi, in-room movies and 24-hour room service are among the complimentary perks. But the atmosphere on board is so calm and inviting, we're happy to linger in the public areas.
Viking's ships attract the thinking traveller, with an emphasis on cultural enrichment, but the vibe is generally unpretentious and laid-back, the dress code never more formal than "elegant-casual" and the service polite yet not over-bearing. On our cruise, we often find our fellow passengers perusing the ship's (largely) Scandinavian art and artefacts, sometimes while listening to a narrated tour via the Viking Art Guide app. There are paintings by Edvard Munch to seek out, outfits once worn by Vikings and, in the stairwells, reproductions of the Bayeux Tapestry, which charts the 1066 AD invasion of England by the Vikings' Norman descendants.
When we're not in port - and appreciating the charms of places such as Malaga, Falmouth in Cornwall and Amsterdam - we also enjoy live performances from classical violinists, attend history lectures and relax in the ship's cosy lounges, dipping into a superb collection of coffee-table books about architecture, polar exploration, fashion and astronomy.
One of the nicest hangouts on Jupiter (the ship, that is) is the Wintergarden, a glass-enclosed space where afternoon tea is offered daily. This is complimentary, as are the culinary delights - including many dishes inspired by the ports of call - in the main a la carte restaurant and the buffet-style World Café (don't miss the topnotch sashimi).
By the main pool, which has a retractable roof, there is a grill and salad bar and themed dinners are held here some days. After departing Le Havre in France, for example, we're spoiled for choice with Gallic temptations, including confit de canard, moules marinieres and pungent cheeses. The ship's two speciality eateries are also "free", but require a booking: Italian affair Manfredi's (where I have delicious seafood risotto and bistecca alla fiorentina) and The Chef's Table (which has a revolving nightly menu; it's Mexican when we go).
Wine, beer and soft drinks are served complimentary during meals, but at other times, most beverages, excluding tea and coffee, cost extra. At $7.50 a glass of wine and $11 for a cocktail, though, they're reasonably priced. Other snack-friendly retreats include Mamsen's, named in honour of the Hagen family matriarch. For breakfast here, you can order waffles coated with Norwegian brown goat's cheese or jams made with ancient family recipes, and for lunch there's a choice of smorrebrod (Scandinavian open-faced sandwiches).
Our favourite part of the ship may well be the LivNordic Spa, which is free to use for all 930 guests but we have it almost to ourselves each time we go (the quietest period is about 7pm, when most passengers are having dinner). The spa has a smorgasbord of spots designed to cool you down and heat you up again in true Nordic style. Ask at the spa reception and they'll give you instructions for a self-guided Nordic bathing ritual (you can also book facials and massages where therapists apply authentic Scandinavian products like birch scrubs, blueberry body wraps and lingonberry face creams).
Start off somewhere warm, perhaps in the "Experience" shower, where jets fizz hot water from all directions. Alternatively, there's the 38°C hot tub or the dark steam room, where it's 46°C with about 99 per cent humidity. After five minutes' sweating, you'll want to chill. Literally. So, walk over to the Snow Grotto, which has icicles dangling from its ceiling and fresh snow pumped in, similar to the white powder produced by machines at ski resorts.
The temperature plunges to -10°C, but it's soothing and relaxing in here. Or at least that's how it feels until my other half, a big grin on her face, chucks a snowball at me. It's amazing what you can do on cruise ships nowadays.
More on the Viking Jupiter
- Between April and November, Viking Jupiter sails around Europe, with voyages in South America - including on the Chilean fjords - from December to March
- Viking Jupiter has a gym with cardio and weights equipment, heated outdoor infinity pools, a ping-pong table and golf-putting on the top-floor sports deck
- A free shore excursion is offered in every port (as well as extra ones that incur a cost). Among the included experiences on our voyage was a sightseeing cruise of Amsterdam's canals, guided walking tours of Porto and Bruges, and a visit to the ancient Roman ruins of Cartagena
Take me there
Fly: Flight Centre has return flights to Barcelona from $1139 (ex-Melb) and $1117 (ex-Syd).
Cruise: A 15-day Barcelona to Bergen cruise on Viking Jupiter costs from $7195 per person.
Explore more: vikingcruises.com.au
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