Eight months on a cruise ship — could you do it? For some, it's an unimaginably long time at sea, while for others continuous cruising has become a way of life.
For well-off and time-rich travelers, there's a hunger not only for expeditions to novel, remote and less-accessible destinations, but also a growing interest in super-long world cruises that can last the better part of a year.
Take the Viking Sun's Ultimate World Cruise. Now well into its Guinness Record-breaking endeavor — to complete the world's longest continuous cruise — the ship departed on a round-trip journey from London on August 31 of last year.
Just 54 of her guests are "world cruisers," each paying just more than $90,000 to visit 111 ports in 51 countries across six continents in the span of 245 days. The rest are doing one of two segments: 127 days from London to Los Angeles, or 119 days from Los Angeles back to London.
A round trip on the Ultimate World Cruise starts and finishes in London, England. The ship visits various U.K. and Scandinavian ports before heading west to Canada; from there it circumnavigates South America (with further stops in the Caribbean and Costa Rica) before docking in California.
Then it's on to French Polynesia and New Zealand, Australia and Asia, with the remaining weeks spent exploring the Middle East and the Mediterranean, before ending in London where it all began.
Viking's first World Cruise launched in 2017. The cruise spanned 141 days and visited 35 countries.
"We received resounding feedback from guests on our first sold-out World Cruise in 2017 that they were interested in spending more time with us," said Viking marketing executive Richard Marnell. He noted that a "good number" of guests on Viking's first World Cruise also booked on the latest, much longer cruise.
He added that the Ultimate World Cruise itinerary "was developed with feedback from our guests who desire to experience the cultures of the world in-depth, over an extended period of time, while sailing onboard a ship that was designed for discovery, with all the comforts of home."
However, one person's idea of home comforts may be wildly different from the next. Someone who fancies a floating family vacation with young children in tow, gaudy umbrella-topped cocktails, or nightly flutters at a casino should not choose Viking.
Tranquility rules on Viking ships. Apart from the captain's noon-day message, PA announcements are a rarity, and melodious birdsong plays in all the restrooms.
Cruising is one of the fastest-growing segments of the travel market — and one of the most fiercely competitive. Viking has a savvy approach. Instead of trying to be all things to all people, it focuses on a very specific target market: experienced travelers, aged 50 and older.
It seems that Viking launched its Ocean Division in 2015 with the goal of reinventing the small-midsized ship category. According to Viking's Chairman Torstein Hagen, his ships offer "the thinking person's cruise," not "the drinking person's cruise."
The Basel, Switzerland-based company drew upon two highly successful decades in river cruising to decide what the Viking difference would be, and here it is in a nutshell:
So much for exclusions. What needs to be included in order to keep 930 well-heeled passengers happy, healthy and contented for four or eight months at a stretch?
For starters, there is free Wi-Fi and the LivNordic Spa's state-of-the-art thermal suite is open to all guests at no extra charge.
There's also a well-equipped gym and morning sessions of Pilates, yoga or tai chi at the poolside. Immaculately fresh salads, fruit and vegetables form part of the excellent cuisine in all the restaurants.
In case this all sounds too virtuous, be assured that complimentary beer and wine flow during lunch and dinner service.
On the cerebral side, Viking cruises are "designed for discerning travelers" with an interest in art, cuisine, history, science, culture and exploration. Itineraries are aimed at attracting this type of traveler, and a destination-focused approach underlies all activities.
"For more than 20 years we have been committed to connecting travelers to culturally immersive experiences that allow them to explore the world in comfort," said Hagen.
To this end, one included tour is available at every port — some better than others, it must be said — in addition to a variety of payable excursions. As a result, almost every passenger goes ashore. Guest lecturers on various topics provide plenty of cultural enrichment, too.
Meet Canadian veteran cruisers Barry and Ilene Cole. While they were working, the Coles did cruises of seven to 14 days; now they choose cruises ranging from 14 to 30 days. They do about five cruises a year — their favorite lines being Regent, Crystal, Silver Seas and Seabourn — and will complete their 100th cruise in 2020.
"We thought the Viking Sun was beautiful," said Barry. "The food was very good, the service excellent, staterooms beautifully appointed, and most of the entertainment on board was good."
The main thing these elegant Canadians don't like about Viking is its relaxed dress policy, a matter of much debate in the cruising world. "Viking does not enforce its own dress code, and this to us was not up to the standard of a five-star cruise line," said Ilene.
What's more, they would never commit to doing a world cruise. Anything over "a hundred days" is too long, said the Coles.