WOMEN OF IN­FLU­ENCE

We speak to Michelle Black of Vik­ing Cruises and po­lar ex­plorer, Sun­niva Sorby

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Michelle Black counts her­self lucky to work in travel. Grow­ing up, her father worked as a Qan­tas en­gi­neer and fam­ily hol­i­days in­volved ex­plor­ing the world at a time when this wasn’t the norm. Hav­ing spent the last 30 years of her ca­reer in mar­ket­ing and sales, dip­ping in and out of the travel in­dus­try, Michelle is now at the helm of one of the most dy­namic river and ocean cruise lines as the Man­ag­ing Di­rec­tor, Aus­tralia & New Zealand, of Vik­ing Cruises.

“To be able to work in an in­dus­try that is about help­ing peo­ple ful­fil dreams, cre­ate life­long mem­o­ries and achieve per­sonal growth … it doesn’t get much bet­ter than that,” she muses, hint­ing at what drew her to this ca­reer.

With a port­fo­lio of ships on the rivers and at sea, Vik­ing has made its name by fo­cus­ing on per­sonal en­rich­ment and en­gag­ing with each des­ti­na­tion, all in sleek, de­sign-driven sur­rounds.

Con­stant ex­pan­sion is the only way Vik­ing can keep up with the de­mand for its so­phis­ti­cated style and ser­vice. By the end of next year, it will lay claim to the world’s largest fleet of river ships, with 69 ves­sels in Europe, Egypt and Asia.

Lux­ury by na­ture, not by name

While Vik­ing has been a dom­i­nant force in river cruis­ing for the last 20 years, its foray into ocean cruis­ing be­gan more re­cently in 2015. With five 930-pas­sen­ger ships, and an­other ar­riv­ing in 2019, Vik­ing is on track to be­come the largest small-ship cruise op­er­a­tor next year.

Vik­ing does not pro­mote its adult­sonly ships as ‘lux­ury’, but their de­sign and high-qual­ity fin­ishes, in­spired by Scan­di­na­vian chic, has won the cruise line favour among so­phis­ti­cated guests.

“We make sure there’s plenty of space and lots of beau­ti­ful fur­nish­ings, nat­u­ral light and homey touches,” says Michelle. “It’s a pri­or­ity for us that our guests al­ways feel truly wel­comed and at ease. For our re­turn­ing guests, it feels like they’re com­ing home.”

“We call our­selves the ‘Think­ing Per­son’s Cruise Line’,” she con­tin­ues. “We have vis­it­ing guest lec­tur­ers ... We also have a Res­i­dent Vik­ing His­to­rian.”

The line’s lat­est ad­di­tion, Vik­ing Orion, is a per­fect ex­am­ple of this fo­cus. Her cer­e­mo­nial god­mother is Dr Anna Fisher – “Amer­i­can chemist, emer­gency room physi­cian and re­tired NASA astro­naut” – and there’s a ce­les­tial theme to her fa­cil­i­ties: “She will have a plan­e­tar­i­um­like the­atre, an ‘Ex­plo­rations in Space’ ex­hibit pro­duced by NASA, and a Vik­ing Res­i­dent As­tronomer who will sail with the ship dur­ing her maiden sea­son.”

Although Scan­di­navia and North­ern Europe re­main the hottest des­ti­na­tions for Vik­ing’s Aus­tralian and New Zealand trav­ellers, Michelle tells us that it is a more un­usual route – the North Pacific Pas­sage, from Tokyo to Van­cou­ver – that has been most pop­u­lar in the mar­ket.

Michelle’s rec­om­men­da­tion? The 2019/2020 Vik­ing Ul­ti­mate World Cruise aboard Vik­ing Sun: “At 245 days, it con­ducts a full cir­cum­nav­i­ga­tion of the globe from Lon­don to Lon­don and is the longest-ever con­tin­u­ous world cruise.”

01 The Ex­plor­ers Lounge aboard Vik­ing Star 02 Vik­ing fo­cuses on per­sonal en­rich­ment 03 An in­fin­ity pool on the rear deck is one of Vik­ing Star’s stand­out fea­tures. All images © Vik­ing Cruises 01

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