Viking Venus – which also features an on board laboratory that can process 3,000 coronavirus tests per day – arrived into Portsmouth International Port at 7am today.
Venus is the newest ocean ship in Viking’s ocean fleet of identical sister ships, which also includes Viking Star, Viking Sea, Viking Sky, Viking Orion and Viking Jupiter.
Venus will set sail on May 17 – as soon as restrictions allow – for its naming ceremony, with journalist Anne Diamond performing the honour.
The sailing will be one of the country's first when the latest lockdown restrictions are lifted.
Viking’s chairman, Torstein Hagen, who is on board Viking Venus, said that while the company was one of the first to stop sailings last year due to the pandemic, it is proud to be one of the first to return.
He said: ‘We were the first cruise liner to stop operating on March 11 last year and we have been studying how the virus works and what kind of measures we could take.
‘Here we have installed a lab to do PCR testing, based on saliva which is much more convenient than having a stick up your nose.
‘We are doing the testing daily for all passengers and crew. With the vaccination project, which has been amazing in this country and in the US, which are our two main target audiences, we require that all guests are vaccinated.
‘We will also get all of our crew vaccinated as soon as possible. Here on the Viking Venus all the crew has been vaccinated in round one, and we are getting the second as soon as it is possible.
‘Some of the crew started crying as it would take years for them where they come from.’
More than 95 per cent of the 465 strong crew – who come from 91 different countries – have received their second vaccinations – with the rest soon to follow.
Three people have been employed on board Venus to permanently work in the ship’s laboratory.
A range of other measures have been brought in to encourage social distancing and hand sanitising, and new air purification technology has been installed.
The ship, which features indoor and outdoor pools, including an infinity pool, spa with steam and snow room, plus cinemas, bars, theatres, restaurants, gyms and more, can accommodate 930 guests in its 480 rooms.
The business has kept its fleet in warm lay-up, waiting for the right moment to start again.
Torstein said: ‘As an owner it will be nice to have money coming in again but the main thing for us is that we are getting back employment for our staff. We have 10,000 people working or us. We are a family – most people who have travelled on board Viking will realise that.’
Wendy Atkin-Smith, managing director of Viking UK, said: ‘The arrival of Viking Venus into the UK is a momentous occasion for us and marks a significant milestone as we look forward to welcoming back guests on our England’s Scenic Shores itineraries.
‘As a proud seafaring nation it is fitting that the UK is where Viking will restart operations globally and, with its rich naval and shipbuilding history dating back more than 800 years, we are thrilled that Portsmouth is Viking Venus’ maiden port of call, especially as it is the place Viking Venus will call home for the next two months.’
Torstein said: ‘It was a fantastic sailing in and we are delighted to be here, next to the naval base. It will be interesting for our guests to come here.’
The occasion was also momentous for Portsmouth International Port as it marks the first cruise ship arrival this year, into its new cruise liner berth following major investment from Portsmouth City Council, which owns and operates the port.
Mike Sellers, Portsmouth International Port’s director, went on board Venus this morning for a tour and to meet Torstein and swap plaques.
Mike said the port was proud to welcome the Viking Venus, and that he hopes it would mark the start of more cruise ship calls.
The port will also welcome Virgin’s Scarlet Lady in July, which set sail on August 6.
Mike said he hopes to be able to reach 150 cruise ship calls this year.
Mike said: ‘It is momentous. We are incredibly excited about the start of cruising again, especially into our new berth which was developed during lockdown.
‘Our ambition is to grow, but also to attract visitors into Portsmouth. Tourism has been impacted by the pandemic so it’s great to see it starting up again.
‘We should double our cruise calls from where we were at the start of the pandemic this year thanks to the support of our customers and we will go from strength to strength.
‘Our success is the city’s success. Our profits go into essential council services. We will bounce back quickly and as we do, so will our profits.’
A temporary second terminal has been put up at the port to accommodate the extra passengers, and plans to make this permanent are currently being put out to tender, with the hope of opening a new permanent terminal in 2023.
Mike also said it is hoped that other sailings from the port, ferries to France and Spain, will be able to resume later this summer, as the countries move off the amber travel warning list.
Viking will depart from Portsmouth on May 22 on to its Welcome Back collection, the first three sailings of England’s scenic shores.
The 47,800 tons ship will call at Liverpool, the Isles of Scilly, Falmouth and Portland.
The ship is fully booked within a week and two additional sailings were added to meet demand – departing on 19 and 26 June.