In May 2019 Viking Jupiter, the sixth ship to join Viking Cruises’ ocean-going fleet, was floated out. Two months later she was officially named in Oslo, in the company’s homeland, by godmother Sissel Kyrkjebø, one of Norway’s most popular singers. With Barbara Streisand as one of her biggest influences, her pure soprano voice and rich, quality performances make Bergen-born Sissel a befitting godmother for Viking Jupiter and the Viking Cruises brand.
“It is always a proud moment when we are able to welcome a new ship to our fleet,” says Torstein Hagen, Chairman of Viking. “Viking Jupiter is our sixth ocean vessel in just four years, a clear sign of the positive response to our approach to ocean cruising.”
Viking Jupiter is 745ft long and has 465 staterooms that can accommodate 930 guests, just like her sister ships Viking Star, Viking Sea, Viking Sky, Viking Sun and Viking Orion.
There are some differences that the ship shares with Viking Orion, such as the record-breaking 26-seater Planetarium. It is the highest definition Digistar planetarium in the world, and when it launched on Viking Orion it was the first 3D Stereo Planetarium on a ship.
Yet overall, each vessel in the fleet is designed to provide the same experience on board, a strategy that fuels the company’s high repeat booking rate.
“The soul of a ship is its people”
Around 55% to 60% of Viking Cruises ocean ship guests come from repeat bookings. Joachim Scherz, Viking Cruises’ hotel general manager, says this is due to the highly personalised level of hospitality, which he says is difficult to find elsewhere.
“The most important thing that people don’t realise about the cruise industry is that the soul of a ship is its people, not the design or technology,” says Scherz. “You need to create a team culture of belonging and pride to succeed and we have done this very successfully since the first Viking Ocean ship was launched in 2015.”
Scherz stresses that part of Viking’s successful screw culture strategy is based around the ‘freedom to act’, a strategy demonstrated by the on-shore leadership team, which guides against micro-managing employees.
“It is very important to give employees the freedom to decide, in whatever situation, what is in the best interest of our very valuable guests,” he explains. “We never criticise such decisions and whenever mistakes are made, we treat them as learning opportunities. Even in such cases were the guest experience could be improved, our crew is empowered to take action and resolve issues as they see fit.”
As a guest on Viking Jupiter’s “Into the Midnight Sun” itinerary, which sailed from Greenwich to Bergen in July 2019 – I was on board for the Norway stage, from Tromso to Bergen – I experienced this five-star service first-hand.
On arrival at the stateroom your cruise steward provides a personal stateroom tour, explaining any useful functionality, such as how to dim the main lighting on Viking Jupiter (which, I was told, is new to this ship), how to control the bathroom’s underfloor heating, that there are USB charging ports by the bed, and how to use the room’s coffee machine, which comes with coffee and milk pods.
When I asked if there were any dairy-free options, the steward, called Max, said he would organise some for me. On returning to my stateroom I discovered a carton of Almond milk in the fridge, which I could use as I wished – it was the perfect solution as I had also mentioned that I enjoyed lattes, which require generous servings of milk. This is a good example of the type of care you will receive as a passenger on board.
“This stems from a company culture of continuous improvement, going above and beyond, striving for excellence and ownership,” said Scherz. “Many organisations are afraid to give such freedom and attribute, but at Viking we do, and I believe it is critical to success.”
Maintaining the high level of service on board across Viking Cruises’ ocean fleet and keeping it consistent, as well as exceeding expectations, are one of the biggest challenges for the team on board. While people come first, technology plays a crucial role in helping the crew to identify personal preferences of customers.
The Viking Voyager app allows passengers to organise their cruise on their smartphone and to keep on top of the daily schedule. It is possible to reserve activities such as shore excursions, spa treatments and Planetarium shows, as well as dining reservations.
This means that the hospitality team has access to any special requirements guests may have. Whether I was eating at Manfredi’s Italian, Chef’s Table or The Restaurant the staff knew that I needed dairy-free options and will go out of their way to meet guests’ needs. On a previous cruise on Viking Sun, the sommelier, Andrej, remembered the wines we were enjoying on previous evenings to help guide his recommendations, and General Manager Sujith Mohan went beyond the call of duty to ensure guests’ needs were met, as did Viking Jupiter’s General Manager, Maurice Andrades.
“We are a small team, overall, that lead the operations of all our ships,” says Viking Cruises ocean operations executive director Ralph de Klijn. He ensures operations run smoothly across the fleet and has a particular passion for innovation and finding new ways to improve the guest experience. “We see it as a big puzzle that we are all a small piece of,” he adds, “so it’s essential that we all work together so all fits in the right order.”
Removing friction to enhance the passenger experience
For Viking Cruises, harnessing technology to store guests’ preferences before embarkation (such as allergens, wish lists, celebrations and dietary requirements) means the team can cater to passengers’ needs more effectively. “It gives us the chance to be prepared in advance, especially for items that are not part of our standard range,” he says.
Viking Cruises’ digital platform, which includes the app and the stateroom TV, has been designed to remove friction on board, which has resulted in less waiting and more leisure time. The latter provides safety videos, destination films, access to on-board lectures, as well as a daily show presented by Cruise Director Vicki Van Tassel that tells guests what to expect throughout the day.
While the average age of passengers is 70 (although the cruise line caters for the needs of the 50-plus market), Viking Cruises’ innovation team confirm that around 80% of guests have smartphones. Approximately 90% of these will interact digitally with the company within four days of coming on board.
The team note that guests spend at least 11 minutes each day on the app and so the team are now working to extend the digital service to the river fleet.
Technology also supports the crew, enabling a more efficient service. “The crew is becoming more flexible with more portable devices and remote working possibilities throughout the ship,” says Scherz. “We are aiming to fine tune this service going forward.”
He says that the remote ordering devices that waiting crew use communicate directly with the culinary team.
“This reduces the ordering time and handwritten checks, and reduces the missing items or mistakes by providing accurate and instant orders,” he explains.
“In addition, our culinary team shore side worked on the system to be able to place orders based on cycles and recipes accurately – that helps with time efficiency and waste reduction.”
Success through consistency and ownership
The launch of Viking Jupiter comes during a year when Travel + Leisure readers voted Viking Cruises as the best ocean cruise line (for its ship size) for an unprecedented fourth consecutive year. In the Cruise Critic awards earlier on in 2019, for the small to mid-size ship group, Viking Cruises won: Best Overall Ship, Best Cabins, Best Dining, Best for Public Rooms, Best Service and Best Value for Money.
For Scherz, preparing Viking Jupiter to join the fleet required an intense focus on consistency and ownership.
“As you can imagine, launching a new vessel is a lot of work: logistics, purchasing, storing, planning itineraries and technical matters, just to name a few,” he says. “It is imperative that given procedures, service standards and practices are being implemented correctly right from the start, and a team effort is demonstrated and executed.”
But he adds that the process is also “exciting and a lot of fun”.
“Once a new ship is launched, you literally feel the amount of pride throughout the vessel, which certainly has a tremendous effect towards our guests when welcoming them on board,” he says.
“Our colleagues across the fleet are valued as individuals – they share their stories and experiences with our guests, who do the same in return.”