CRUISE ships are an imposing feature of Lerwick’s harbour landscape in the summer months. The massive liners spill hundreds of passengers onto Commercial Street and elsewhere in Shetland on tour buses, but the locals rarely get an insight into the luxury flotels, writes Chris Cope.
The Viking Sea made its maiden visit to Lerwick on Wednesday having only been inaugurated in a lavish, fireworks ‘n’ all naming ceremony on London’s River Thames in May.
Its owner, Viking Cruises, began the day in generous fashion by gifting the Lerwick lifeboat crew a donation of £5,000 as a goodwill gesture to celebrate Shetland’s Norse links and the ship’s first visit to Scotland.
The company invited six members of the RNLI as well as local journalists to sample the gargantuan ship in its full glory as it lay anchored in Bressay sound, not long after real-life vikings from the Lerwick jarl squad had just done the same thing.
The vessel can accommodate 930 passengers, but with most of them out gallivanting around Lerwick tourist hotspots like the windows of High Level Music and Harbour chippie, the 460-odd crew were the main inhabitants of the 47,800 tonne ship at the time.
Champagne was doled out to those hankering for a liquid lunch in the lavish atrium while a Steinway grand piano lay dormant just yards away; Hjaltland, eat our heart out.
However, the decor wasn’t too dissimilar to the ol’ NorthLink ferries, with an emphasis on “Scandi-chic” and subtle, neutral colours.
The captain’s deck offered grand views across to Bressay as the MV Leirna streamed past, looking more like a kid’s play toy than a council ferry, while the RNLI crew were taught about the ship by staff captain Svein-Rune Stromnes.
Particularly eager to learn was NAFC Marine Centre cadet Iain Derbyshire, who was “very chuffed” to get to visit a cruise ship – his dream future place of work.
Stromnes only joined Viking Cruises in December last year having initially started working in the field in 2000, and the company plan to deliver another four ocean cruise ships in as many years.
It’s not very often you see an outdoor swimming pool in Shetland, but the Viking Sea had just that. Valiantly called the Infinity Pool, it gives off the illusion that its water is falling away off the side of the deck, and it’s kept between 20-28 degrees centigrade to stave off the North Sea chill.
There were multiple eateries on board, but the visiting party dined in the World Café, which dished up everything from Norwegian fish to spicy tofu.
There was an army of staff, but their robotic hellos and goodbyes a felt little corny. They sauntered around giving the ship’s guests free wine though, so all was forgiven.
Stromnes had earlier let slip that one English couple had paid £13,000 for their cruise, which started off in Bergen and will visit Orkney and Edinburgh later this week, but they were in posh rooms.
The cruise, dubbed Into The Midnight Sun, has rooms priced from around £3,600 for commoners like you and I.
Alongside the cabins, restaurants and bars, there’s a spa, gym, lecture room, cooking school, some shops and just about everything else, including a “snow grotto” – a wintry enclave complete with artificial snow.
It’s all geared towards the “thinking person” – excluding the fake snow, perhaps – and this was reflected in the guests’ average age, which fell around the 60-something mark.
Stromnes joined the party for lunch, but he didn’t stick around for long.
An urgent tannoy message rang around the cafe before he picked up his portable telephone. “Someone downstairs has a broken leg,” he said, before rushing off, half-drunk coffee left to go cold on the table.
It was back on the floating taxi and towards Lerwick’s Victoria Pier once more, but we had to wait for the massive tanker Shannon Fisher to pass, otherwise it definitely would have been the end of us.
Stepping back onto dry land felt like coming back into the real world, away from the five-star luxury and back to true Shetland-style authenticity. And it felt strangely reassuring.