Tag-Archive for » Torstein Hagen «

About The Laying Of A New Cruise Ship's Keel…

Having never seen the laying of a keel on a cruise ship, we were intrigued by the opportunity to watch the procedure online. It was courtesy of Viking, the river cruise line that's soon to be an ocean cruise line, once its Viking Star is in the water next year.

If you're interested, click here: vikingcruises.com.

It only takes two minutes but be forewarned: about 25 seconds of it is devoted to the "breath-taking moment" — the laying of the keel. The rest is information and Star-keel layingface time for Viking owner Torstein Hagen, whose vision it was to add a 928-passenger ship to the worldwide fleet.

The Viking Star will be an evolution of sorts. Billed as "the ship our river passengers inspired us to build" it hopes to fill one of the remaining niche markets that still exists on the ocean.

And by the way, the Star is sold out for 2015.

Holland America Statendam
7 nights
September 21, 2014
Vancouver (return): Juneau, Skagway, Tracy Arm, Ketchikan
Inside: $529
Cost per day: $75

The Booming 'Other' Kind of Cruising

Our first experience of "river cruising" consists of a week on the Midi Canal in the south of France on a 27-foot "ship" with a crew of two, neither of whom knew much about how to steer a vessel in the water, never mind negotiate the 64 locks that lay ahead of us. Oh yes, and the person tying our little ship to the bollards in each of the 64 locks didn't know how to swim.

Experts, we are not. Credible commentators, we are not. We are, however, intrigued by what's happening on the rivers of Europe…and Asia…and North America…and South America.

River ships are being built with amazing regularity. The industry leader, Viking, put 10 new ships in the water this year and will add 12 next year. That will bring the size of the fleet, according to the Viking website that lists them all but the class of 2014, to 68 ships.

Our esteemed colleague Phil Reimer of Ports and Bows has filled screensful of space enlightening the cruise world about the man behind Viking, Torstein Hagen. He is, if nothing else, a fascinating and wealthy Norwegian with a physics degree from his homeland, an MBA from Harvard and an ambition that taunts (or should) the cruise industry at large. Other than being the 69-year-old founder (also CEO, Chairman, President and chief cook and bottle washer) of Viking, not a lot is known about him…even Wikipedia is only able to come up with two paragraphs, one of them to simply identify him as "a Norwegian citizen."

Last week, not content to blow the river cruise industry out of the water with his expansion, Mr. Hagen dipped into the "other guy's" pond and unveiled plans for an ocean ship. The Viking Star will be relatively small by ocean standards (about 1,000 passengers) but it will mirror the marketing of his river ships.

Which is?

In a word, destinations.

Viking ships carry a couple of hundred passengers, each of whom can figure on paying $200 and $300 per night for a week of seeing the sights of (plug in the continent) from the rivers that at one time were the principal form of transportation. The emphasis is on spending time in what ocean cruisers call ports, sometimes for a day or two, as opposed to six or eight hours. There are no casinos, no plethora of fancy restaurants, no explosion of entertainment.

"I like to say ocean cruising is a drinking man's cruise," Hagen has often said. "River cruising is a thinking man's cruise."

It sounds like the accommodation is classy, the shore excursions are eclectic and the cuisine is elegant.

Hmm, just like on our 27-footer on the Midi Canal.

Norwegian Jade
7 nights
August 3, 2013
Venice (return): Corfu, Santorini, Mykonos, Olympia
Inside: $849
Cost per day: $121


Internet Issue Bound To Change

Remember when…

Every time you checked into a hotel and asked about getting on the Internet, the hotel was happy to provide you with an ethernet cable to connect, for a price?

Remember when…

WiFi was available at airports, at a cost that bordered on the ridiculous?

Today, almost every hotel provides free WiFi, if not in the rooms then in the lobby. Today, the diminishing number of airports that charge to let you go online do so for what seems to be a more reasonable fee.

What about cruise ships?

Often vilified for charging an average around 75 cents a minute — cell phones are more (up to $6 a minute) — and that's almost always for slow and often interrupted connections, cruise lines are surely going to have to get with the program. For too long, they have justified what could be described as gouging their customers by pointing out the exorbitant infrastructure required to connect their moving objects with the satellites.

There's a story making the rounds this month about a service  that will result in phone calls from cruise ships for about $1 a minute. It's called Connect At Sea, from MTN, the company that provides most cruise ships with satellite transmission, and AT&T. The partnership is called Wireless Maritime Services.

A lot of tekkie talk is involved in the story. The bottom line is you'll have a better connection on your phone from a cruise ship, and it will cost about the same as roaming does on land. Anybody who uses Vonage (as we do) or some other VOIP (Voice Over Internet Protocol) connection will be familiar with the quality.

Meanwhile, will realistic Internet prices be next?

The appetite for it is ravenous. Last week, our colleague Phil Reimer of Ports and Bows attended a press briefing about the first ocean ship for Viking River Cruises and when company owner Torstein Hagen said there would be no charge for Internet on his Viking Star, the applause was deafening.

It seems to be such a sore point with passengers that cruise lines would be better off to build their Internet profits into the price of a ticket. Unless, of course, their profits are even bigger than what we all imagine.

Holland America Zaandam
7 nights
June 16, 2013
Anchorage, Glacier Bay, Haines, Juneau, Ketchikan, Vancouver
Inside: $399
Cost per day: $57

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