The history of cruising and cruise ships is a popular subject, and one that I particularly enjoy studying, so today I’d like to give you a closer look at the Royal Viking Star, a ship which was operated by Royal Viking Line from 1972 until 1991, and which is still sailing today as the Black Watch, for Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines. I chose this ship because she was one of the finest cruise ships afloat when she was built, and because I have several Royal Viking Star artifacts in my collection. The photo to the right is a Royal Viking Line promotional postcard from the early 1980s.
Royal Viking Line was formed in 1970 by American businessman Warren Titus and 3 Norwegian steamship companies, “with the intent of offering ‘world class cruising’, a notch above all other cruise ships of the decade”, according to my 1988 edition of “Stern’s Guide to the Cruise Vacation”. The Royal Viking Star was built at the Wärtsilä Helsinki Shipyard in Finland, was launched on May 12, 1971 and entered service the following summer. She was the first of 3 identical ships built by Wärtsilä for Royal Viking Line – the Royal Viking Sea and the Royal Viking Sky both entered service in 1973. The graphic to the right is from a postcard posted on the ship on July 27, 1972, during her maiden voyage.
The Royal Viking Star was 21,847 gross tons, 177.70 m (583 ft) long, with a 25.19 m (82 ft 8 in) beam, and carried 539 passengers. In 1981 she had a 27.77-metre-long section added midship, bringing her GRT to 28,221 tons and her passenger capacity to 725, in 374 cabins. The added section included new penthouse cabins and outdoor lounging facilities. The enlarged ship had 2 outdoor swimming pools, a gym, sauna, whirlpool, flotation tank, golf putting greens and driving nets, and other facilities such as a casino that you find on today’s ships. As well as the expected activities such as enrichment lectures and theatrical performances, trap shooting was offered.
In 1984, Royal Viking Lines was purchased by the Kloster family, owners of Norwegian Caribbean Lines (NCL), but continued to be operated independently. The 3 Royal Viking ships were offered as the high end of NCL options, as “the food, service, and accommodations [were] superior, the itineraries longer and more exotic, and, of course, the price far higher”, again quoting Stern’s Guide. Unlike most of today’s cruise ships, her dining room was large enough to seat all passengers for dinner at one time. The food was said to be among the best of any cruise ship. “Dress tends to be more formal, and private entertaining and cocktail parties [were] more prevalent” than on other ships of the time. On longer itineraries, a private supper club that seated 60 was available.
Cruise fares were high by today’s standards – in 1988, inside cabins on the Royal Viking Star were $200-295 per person per day including free air fare. Oceanview cabins were $320-430 per person per day, and the penthouse suites went as high as $800 per person per day. Today, cruises are often available for $50 per person per day and occasionally even less through cruise-specialty travel agents.
The Royal Viking Star was scheduled to be transferred to NCL upon delivery of the new, larger, Royal Viking Sun in 1988, but that transfer was delayed until 1991, at which time she was renamed Westward. In April 1994, she was again transferred, to NCL subsidiary Royal Cruise Line, and renamed Star Odyssey. Two years later, she was sold to her current owner, Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines.
This photo shows the best of my Royal Viking Star artifacts, a promotional model from 1981. It is 13.2 inches long.